Illinois misses first state aid payment, schools await funding

For the first time, Illinois missed its first state aid payment of the year for schools.

It’s adding insecurity to the start of the school year as teachers and parents wait on lawmakers to pass funding. Before lawmakers can fund schools, they need to pass a new funding formula.

Senate Bill 1 aims to do that by switching to an evidence-based funding model that appropriates more dollars to low-income districts without taking any money away from wealthy districts. Gov. Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto power on parts of the bill, including a piece that takes millions away from Chicago schools.

For a district like Murphysboro that gets 60 percent of its funding from the state, that funding needs to be passed soon for class to be in session long term.

Thursday morning, Kim Kilpartick was busy registering hundreds of Murphysboro students for the upcoming school year. When kids return to the classrooms, they may feel a little emptier.

"No, we can order no supplies. So, if teachers want, they have to take care of it themselves," Kilpatrick said. Opening up the supply closet, the shelves sit empty. Kilpatrick says they can buy toner for teachers, so they can continue to print papers, but staplers, Wite-Out and everything else will have to wait.

Kids will return to class next Wednesday. But, schools won’t have enough money to hire as many new teachers as they need. That means class sizes are growing too, but they don’t always have enough desks for students to sit in.

"Some of our classrooms are at 35 kids, and we just have no more room. And no, we can’t purchase new desks," Kilpatrick said.

Over the years, the district has made cuts, reducing staff and leaving positions unfilled where it can. It has made reductions to keep up with the state’s continual cuts, years of proration to state aid, as well as late or missed payments from the state. Superintendent Chris Grode says it’s never been this bad.

"This is the most serious that we’ve seen in a long time, because again, they usually just prorate the last payment. This time we’re not getting any payments. August, September, I lose that $800,000 revenue, it’s tough to make payroll," said Grode.

"I’m very concerned about my job. We won’t be paid if we get off, if we’re told to close," Kilpatrick said.

Grode said the district will open its doors to kids next week, and it’s business as usual in the meantime. The district will work to borrow money and serve tax anticipation warrants to get through it, but the school system will need state funds soon.

"November’s probably the drop dead date for us," Grode said.

"We need to get funded," Grode said. "You know, if we close, my students, my children, will have to go home, but there’s a lot of other families also that will have to go home."

"It’s a sad situation, a sad state of the state that we’re in," Kilpatrick said.

If SB1 passes as is, it would bring in an extra $700,000 each year to Murphysboro. But school leaders say it will take years for them to build back their reserves.

Lawmakers will be back in Springfield next week to continue the special session to discuss plans for school funding.

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