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Unfair funding system shorts schools and hinders students

Illinois’ financial crisis means local schools receive less money from the state. Students in schools that rely heavily on state aid will feel the impact most of all. That’s not fair.

Life isn’t fair. Neither is the way Illinois pays for public education.

These days, that lack of fairness is being felt even more.

The Illinois State Board of Education sets the “foundation level,” which since 2010 has been $6,119. That figure represents the minimum cost for the average school to educate one student.

State aid is money paid by the state to help local school districts meet that foundation level. The wealthier a school district is in terms of assessed valuation, the less state aid it needs, because its taxing power generates substantial money from home owners, businesses and farmland owners. The poorer a school district is, the more state aid it needs.

When the state runs short of money, poorer school districts suffer the most.

For 2 years, Illinois’ ongoing financial crisis has reduced the amount of state aid paid to school districts.

Last fiscal year, state aid was prorated at 95 percent. This year, it’s less – 89 percent.

And next year, school districts can expect only 80 percent of the state aid owned to them.

For districts without a lot of assessed valuation, that will hurt.

Rock Falls Elementary relies on state aid for 51.7 percent of its budget. This year, it is losing out on $604,000 because of the budget crisis.

State aid makes up 35.6 percent of Montmorency Elementary’s revenue. This year, it will be shorted nearly $97,000.

Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico gets 34.6 percent of its revenue from state aid and will lose out on more than $327,000.

Sterling receives 29.9 percent of its money from state aid, and stands to lose more than $1.1 million this year.

Losses to other districts are significant. Dixon won’t receive $474,000 that it is owned this year in state aid. Morrison will be out $355,000; Oregon, $288,000; Polo, nearly $198,000; and Amboy, nearly $169,000.

State aid cutbacks hurt all districts, but the poorer ones feel the impact proportionately harder.

It will be harder for them to make ends meet.

It will be harder for them to keep enough teachers and staff on board.

It will be harder for them to properly educate their students.

That’s not fair.

But that is how public education funding operates in Illinois.

Perhaps the crisis will finally inspire lawmakers to consider reforming an unfair system. Don’t hold your breath.

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