SD 227 aims to change how charter schools are funded
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org August 30, 2012 9:00PM
Students are dismissed from Southland College Prep High School Friday, Aug. 19, 2011, in Richton Park, Ill. | File photo
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:33PM
Having lost millions of dollars in state aid to the upstart Southland College Prep Charter High School, Rich Township High School District 227 is pushing legislation that would cut future losses by changing the formula for funding charter schools.
Funding would be capped based on the percentage of District 227’s budget that comes from state aid. If the plan were in effect, District 227 would keep nearly $5 million more in state aid this school year alone.
Minus the money, it has cut staff and eliminated a class period.
District 227 officials say the plan also would make the state financially responsible for granting Southland College Prep’s charter. They argue it would give new charter schools statewide the financial confidence to open, knowing their funding wouldn’t have to come from the local school district.
Where Illinois would find the extra millions of dollars needed remains a question.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said that while she has yet to see the proposed legislation, a financial fix is in order.
“I think anyone who looks at it objectively doesn’t want any of these students to suffer,” Hutchinson said. “Not the ones who are lucky enough to win a lottery (to enroll in the charter school) and definitely not the ones who are left at Rich South, Rich Central and Rich East. You don’t want to pit student against student, neighbor against neighbor.”
The state pays for the charter school out of money District 227 would have received for state aid. The amount is based on the charter school’s enrollment multiplied by the cost of tuition.
District 227 is proposing that the amount it loses to the charter school be capped based on the percentage of the district’s revenue that comes from state aid.
This year, state aid accounts for about 16.8 percent of District 227’s budget. About $5.7 million of that money is expected to go instead to Southland College Prep Charter, whereas only $963,000 would under the proposed formula.
By the end of the 2013-14 school year — when the charter school’s inaugural class is set to graduate — officials estimate that $19 million the district would have received in state aid over four years will have been diverted to the charter school.
District 227 officials say they have taken drastic measures because of the drop in revenue. The number of daily classes was cut from seven to six in April, and the school board also laid off 48 teachers and 33 aides, and cut back on security.
Gurnee-based Woodland School District 50 and Freemont School District 79 are in similar situations. The state approved a charter for Prairie Crossing Charter School in 1999, and it is funded by state money from those two districts.
“I don’t think when they wrote the law they foresaw drastic state reductions in funding of schools,” District 50 Associate Supt. Robert Leonard said. “Funding dwindles and the money available to fund those charters also dwindles.”
Working on behalf of both District 50 and District 227, attorney John Izzo is drafting legislation that he hopes will be introduced in the Legislature in the spring. He calls the proposal a “win-win” that could help the charter schools because they wouldn’t rely on the dwindling state aid of an individual district.
“The state should put its money where its mouth is and fund the state-approved charter schools,” Izzo said.
Southland College Prep CEO Blondean Davis is skeptical about the idea with the state $43 billion in debt.
“We know the state is struggling to finance education,” Davis said. “I do not believe there’s any additional funds available.”
State Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) said District 227 officials approached him about the proposal, and he forwarded the information to attorneys in Springfield to start drafting a bill.
DeLuca criticized the “unintended consequences” of the existing law that takes funds away from District 227 to pay for the charter school and said it needs to be changed.
“We’re trying to do something that will bring fairness across the board,” District 227 Supt. Donna Simpson Leak said.