State gives D91 meager $1,100 increase in school funds

District will take more than $1 million out of financial reserves

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By Nona Tepper

Forest Park District 91 schools will receive a little more than $1,000 in new state funding this year, thanks to an updated state formula that attempts to distribute money to schools, based on district need rather than a flat rate. After failing once, the House of Representatives passed the funding reform bill, known as SB 1, in August, as a way to give struggling districts more money. 

"The new formula is a better way to close the adequacy gap in funding for school districts that do not have the resources they need for their students," Ed Brophy, assistant superintendent for operations, wrote in an email. But "for districts like ours, the new formula will produce little in new revenue." 

While the new state formula stipulates that schools cannot receive less than they did in 2017, a preliminary estimate by the Illinois State Board of Education said D91 will receive just $1,093 more this year to keep its five buildings, preschool, gifted program and other operations going, far below the 2 percent cost of living increase. Overall, D91 anticipates receiving at least $1.4 million from the state in fiscal 2018, although "the unpredictability of the state's ability to pay makes it difficult to accurately project what will ultimately be received," a school spokeswoman wrote in an email. "Legislation does not guarantee payment."  

Brophy said the district will have to pull more than $1 million from its Education Fund this year just to keep the status quo. D91's Education Fund held $15.8 million as of Jan. 1, 2017. Across its nine funds, the district held $21.2 million as of Dec. 31, 2017. Because D91 will not receive much in new funds, Forest Park schools will continue to rely on local property taxes as its largest source of revenue, Brophy said. Traditionally, the district uses about 20 percent of its state funds to continue operation. 

Brophy said the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) should have finalized how much each district will receive in new funds by the spring and hand out district checks by June 30. 

According to the board's early calculations, D91 is already 154 percent "above adequacy," which is the state's new term for measuring how well-funded a district is and how much local education costs. D91 is one of the few schools in the state that has achieved this distinction; 80 percent of Illinois schools are funded below adequacy, according to estimates by Advance Illinois, an education policy organization that works with ISBE. 

The state's new formula does not "incorporate how districts are logistically configured," Brophy wrote in an email.

ISBE's formula is driven by student enrollment data, like how many learners are in a district, what portion are low-income, receive free or reduced price lunch, and more. It discounts the fact that D91 has five facilities to maintain, a preschool program and spends above the allocated $40 per student on its gifted program, Brophy said. Preschoolers are not included in the state's enrollment analysis. 

Furthermore, Brophy said he feels uncertain about how much funding D91 will receive for the 2018-19 school year, since Springfield politicians are known for their inability to agree on a budget. 

"The state legislature still has to fund what is needed," Brophy said. "There's always the chance that doesn't happen. We know that because in prior fiscal years they didn't fund what they were supposed to."

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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