• Dr. David M. Mouser

Why do we allow our state to fail our schools? On the edge of crisis....

Today I received an e-mail from the Illinois Association of School Administrators regarding how to communicate the outcomes associated with no state budget being passed in Springfield. The e-mail provided talking points for our school community about how to explain the loss of all state funding. A communication kit was delivered would help me as a superintendent explain the harsh realities that are to come should we receive no funding from our State. One of the possibilities many schools are considering involve only being open for only a portion of next year, or cutting everything except core academics. I cannot even believe what I read…it is surreal that we are here. We are talking about how to successfully communicate the fact that we are failing our kids!

Over the last two weeks, I’ve attended press conferences with local superintendents and Governor Rauner to support fully funding our school districts under the current formula for our upcoming school year. Tri-Valley has lost around $2 million to proration and late payments since 2009. We have eliminated over 33 positions, and have worked hard to innovate ways to meet the needs of our kids. Fully funding our school for the next year would provide more funding than we have received in years, and would push us forward toward a balanced budget in our education fund. This would be a positive outcome for Tri-Valley schools.

To watch our legislators leave Springfield without passing a budget is beyond frustrating. Everyone in education in Illinois knows that finance reform is necessary. What is most important is that the reform does what it is intended to do. We can’t have a system that robs some districts while bailing out others. Our local tax rate is very high, and a system that puts more pressure on residential property owners will negatively impact all of us.

The latest reform measures that were brought forward resulted in Tri-Valley schools losing hundreds of thousands of dollars due to our demographics and low poverty levels. I keep telling those that will listen that just because there is not a high rate of quantifiable poverty, it does not make us a “rich” district. We are an interesting case study in terms of demographics, and simply don’t have the commercial property to help offset the pressure on residential property taxes. With around 25% of our funding coming from the state, we can’t simply ignore the situation like some schools north of I-80 can. Our children literally are caught in the middle of a ridiculous political battle.

I’m really not a political guy, and couldn’t care any less about listening to politicians bicker about who is at fault for the situation we are in. In fact, I truly believe the only reason we have no funding for next year is that neither side wants the other to gain a perceived win. I don’t understand it, and really don’t care to try.

What I’ve learned time and again in my lifetime is that amazing things can happen if nobody cares who gets the credit. It is time for Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan to get everyone back to Springfield to fully fund schools though the current formula for FY17. It certainly seems like an obvious solution that would help Illinois children the most at this critical time. Governor Rauner claims there is funding available to make it happen, and I’m choosing to believe it. Providing non-prorated funding for the first time in 7 years would be a positive, and will keep schools open for the next school year. Both sides of the aisle need to work hard over the next year to create FY18 reform. The evidence-based model of school funding seems to be the answer that most are looking for, but it takes time to craft the plan and share the message. I will be kicking out information soon to keep you informed.

Many local schools are pushing out the message about the limited number of days they will stay open next year if a budget is not passed. I don’t want to play that game, and believe we should do whatever we need to do to meet the needs of our kids! As of now, we will deplete our reserves until they bleed us dry if that is what is necessary. Your board of education will discuss and make the ultimate call about the direction we will head in the coming months.

In the interim, please contact those that should be in Springfield to ask them to pass a budget and fully fund our schools for FY17 under the current formula. Proration of funding in general state aid and our categoricals (transportation) must stop! Being held hostage in the hope of political gain is not something that our children deserve. Illinois is better than this. I still have faith that there may be a positive outcome for the upcoming year. We all need to stay informed and make our feelings known.

#illinois #schoolfunding #vision2020 #evidencebasedmodel #educationfunding

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