DECATUR – Decatur schools received $1.7 million in additional funding from the state this year under the new education funding formula enacted in 2017, compared to $2.3 million last year.

The General Assembly appropriated $350 million in fiscal year 2018, and $300 million this year for education, which decreased Decatur School District's funds.

The school funding formula remained basically the same for years until the evidence-based funding formula was created. Under that formula, districts with higher property tax revenues won't lose state funding levels, but will not gain more money, either. Districts with fewer resources will receive additional money.

Argenta-Oreana High School's updated football field.  PROVIDED

The advent of the evidence-based funding formula for schools has made education funding even more complex than it was before — and it was already complicated. Now, said Todd Covault, chief operational officer for the Decatur School District, many factors go into the determination of what a district's adequacy target is.

Districts in the past received general state aid and grants that included special education personnel, summer school and English learners. All those have been combined into a single program and distributed as evidence-based funding. The new formula took effect in the 2018 fiscal year that began on July 1, 2017.

No district receives less than they did the year prior to the law change in 2017, but those districts with local revenue that combines with state funds to achieve the “adequacy target” for the district will not receive any additional funds, while districts with greater financial need will receive more funding.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, announces a $1.5 million workforce training grant at Richland Community College Monday morning. JIM BOWLING, HERALD & REVIEW

“The adequacy target is based upon a complex calculation that, in theory, allocated funds to schools to provide all the things that you think schools provide,” Covault said. “Teachers, principals, office staff, teaching assistants, library, counselors, etc. The state uses some averages for teacher salaries and multiplies it out to come up with the target.”

That explanation, Covault said, is over-simplified, but essentially correct. Schools that cannot meet the target with a combination of their property taxes and state funds will receive extra state funding. 

At this point in the process, however, even Tier 1 and Tier 2 schools, the districts in greatest need, are not receiving 100 percent of the funding to help them reach their target. Decatur is at 64 percent of adequacy, Covault said.

“So something in the system is giving,” he said. “Either we can't provide a program, or we're not buying materials or salaries aren't competitive because we don't have enough money to be considered 'adequate.'”

Decatur has years when curriculum is not updated because funds are inadequate, for example, he said.

The formula multiplies 26 necessary elements by the number of students, with the added weight of considering low-income students to have greater needs than non-low-income students, and requiring lower student-teacher ratios in grades K-3.

“We are anticipating about $25,000 in new money,” said Central A&M Superintendent DeAnn Heck. “We don't know at this time what the change in Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax will be. If there is a loss in the CPPRT, that could make the new money just a replacement for the loss. We remain hopeful that all of the (evidence-based funding) money continues to be paid and will not be prorated at any time in the future.”

The corporate personal property replacement tax is based on a business's net income and was enacted to replace tax revenue lost when local governments were no longer allowed to levy a personal property tax on businesses.

Some of the elements and the amount allowed per student are: gifted education, $40 per student; professional development, $125 per student; computer technology, $285.50 per student.

Argenta-Oreana High School's updated football field.  PROVIDED

A district with its own resources to meet the adequacy target will receive no new state money, Covault said. One example is Rondout, in Lake Forest, which he said has 280 percent adequacy under the new formula, and that funding comes from the district's own property tax revenue combined with its state dollars. That district will not receive new money under the tiered system, but will not lose money, either.

The increase in funding has allowed Meridian to add a special education teacher and two elementary teachers, a full-time restorative justice coordinator, and to adopt a new math curriculum for grades K-8, said Superintendent Dan Brue, though the district is still only at 66 percent of “adequacy” under the new guidelines.

And while the state is paying the evidence-based funding on time, there's still a backlog of payments for special education transportation, regular education transportation and early childhood programs, Brue said.

“We are still waiting on a total of $105,000 from the state of Illinois from last school year,” he said. That includes $20,000 in early childhood, $70,050 in regular education transportation and $15,124 in special education transportation. “That being said, the state of Illinois did improve on the number of payments last year, which made a significant difference on our year-end budget totals,” he added.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, was the driving force behind the change in funding formula and has been working for such a change for several years.

Districts are able to hire back personnel that were laid off due to budget constraints and reinstate programs that had to be set aside, Manar said, as well as adding new programs they could not afford before.

Decatur, for example, he said, received $2.2 million in new money under the evidence-based model last year and will receive $1.7 million this year. Public school districts in the 48th Senate District will receive almost $5.8 million in new money this year.

“I am delighted the evidence-based model is working as we expected it would,” Manar said in a statement released on Friday. “It's exciting to learn about the growth and innovation happening in our classrooms because of this new, equitable approach to funding education.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter