BLOOMINGTON — Illinois school districts are closer than ever to receiving the first payment of additional money through the new K-12 funding formula, but Pantagraph-area districts remain guarded while drafting their budgets.
Though the new funding formula was passed months ago, officials with the Illinois State Board of Education said this week that the $350 million in additional funding would be distributed to K-12 schools in April.
“It’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing for that money to actually show up. Hopefully they stick to that timeline and the money does get out in April,” said Barry Reilly, Bloomington District 87 superintendent.
Marty Hickman, McLean County Unit 5's business manager said many schools were hoping to see the money sooner, but that attention to detail is necessary.
"I believe all of us understood a change of this magnitude would take some time to fully implement. The most important thing is that they get it right the first time," said Hickman.
But before the new money is dispersed, about 20 issues in the formula must be addressed and clarified, said state school Superintendent Tony Smith during a meeting with the Senate Education Committee.
The specifics of those changes remain unclear, but local school officials said the adjustments are likely clarifications, and minor in nature to ensure the formula works.
“The model is solid and the foundation of the math is also solid. It seems there are people interpreting the language differently,” said Gary Tipsord, superintendent of LeRoy schools.
"I’m hopeful that people are simply being hyper-vigilant in making sure that what was intended to happen is what happens, and that the math and data work.”
District 87 is expecting to receive about $180,000 in additional annual money from the state through the new formula, but Reilly said the district isn’t relying heavily on that money, thanks to reinforced reserves.
Unit 5 is expecting about $400,000 in extra funding. Hickman said the number might change after pending updates to the formula.
LeRoy is counting on about $40,000 in new money, said Tipsord.
“More significantly for most of us in McLean County is the fact that (the state) has been distributing our base funding minimum throughout the year, which resulted in no loss in state funding whether our EAV (property equalized assessed value) increased or not,” said Tipsord.
Before the new formula, if the assessed property value rose in a district, the state would decrease general state aid funding, said Tipsord.
However, several officials mentioned that the state remains behind in mandated categorical payments for the fiscal year that help cover special education and transportation costs.
Brian Dukes, superintendent of Pontiac District 429, said when his district budgeted for the current school year, the board did not account for the expected new state money — about $100,000 in additional funding.
“We didn’t feel it was realistic, even though we were told it would come,” he said. “We’re being very conservative. Looking at past practices in Springfield, we weren’t comfortable adding that to our expected budget.”
If the new funding does arrive in April, Dukes said the district plans to use it for “staffing and programming opportunities.”
Tipsord said transparency from state officials is necessary for the new funding model to be a success.
“It’s reasonable that there will be some frustration as they try to ensure the language matches the math," he said. "If we are all patient and the brokers are honest about any change that is needed, I think we will end up in a great place."