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Out with the old, in with the new for school funding

Reality of Evidence-Based Funding hits schools

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STERLING – Illinois’ new Evidence-Based Funding formula is the state’s latest attempt to equitably determine when a school is adequately funded.

The tiers group schools from least to most funded, according to their local resources and focuses on aiding those that need the most help.

“Being a tier one school, with a 57 percent adequate funding, we are proud of our district, educationally and financially. To have maintained the high standard of achievement with our students is significant,” Sterling School District Superintendent Tad Everett said.

Evidence-Based Funding – combining five individual grants with specific purposes into one, calculates the cost of educating all students and local funding factors to reach an adequate funding target.

While EBF sounds practical and self-explanatory, some of the numbers may be misleading at first glance.

Sterling School District 5 – which includes a high school, middle school and four elementary schools – is receiving $1.2 million in tier funding.

New money versus old money gets a little muddy when the state combines old grants with the new model.

“While it may say we are receiving $1.2 million in new money, we have $1 million of that money from the five previous grants which are now a part of the whole picture,” Everett said.

The Sterling schools are receiving about $273,000 in new money, a significant amount.

Everett says that EBF will help decrease class sizes, balance the district’s budget and address social, emotional and special education services that have fallen victim to recent budget cuts.

Some schools were skeptical about receiving any type of funding and had to consider several scenarios when working on their fiscal year 2018 budgets.

Sterling has budgeted for the influx in funding since the formula was approved last July.

Rock Falls Superintendent Ron McCord called it a step in the right direction.

“We didn’t consider the money in our 2018 budget because we didn’t think we would receive it, but now it will be factored into the 2019 budget.”

Dixon School District was also unsure if it would actually see the funding.

“We had calculated as low as $177,000, and as high as $250,000, once we knew we were tier two,” Superintendent Margo Empen said.

Historically, Dixon school district had not received general aid from the state until after the bills were due.

The state is behind on reimbursing Dixon for transportation bills totaling $875,622.93, forcing the district to transfer working cash to make up the difference.

“We will include the amount received from EBF in our amended fiscal year 2018 budget numbers and utilize them to help offset our deficit spending,” Empen said.

School districts range from having less than half to almost three times the statutory definition of adequate funding.

An adequate funding target is reached by calculating the cost of educating all students according to the defined cost factors for each district and supplemented by the superintendents and local data.

Districts that reach the target and have a more than 100 percent adequacy rating are slotted into tier four, and districts with 50 percent to 90 percent adequacy are in tiers one and two.

EBF utilizes tier funding, on a scale of 1 through 4, with 1 needing the most funding, and 4 needing the least. The percentage of the allocations are as follow statewide: tier 1, 50 percent; tier 2, 49 percent; tier 3, 0.9 percent and tier 4, 0.1 percent.

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office has prepared for the additional payments to be made once they’re approved by the board. They’ll go out at the same time as regular state aid payments on the 10th and 20th day of each month. The additional payments will start next week and continue until June.

Tier funding totals approximately $395 million statewide, including $29 million specifically for English Learners in the highest-need districts.

The State Board of Education said the EBF formula requires an additional $7.2 billion investment to provide adequate funding to every school district in the state.