Friday, March 22, 2013
ISBE: More than half of Illinois school districts face budget deficits this year
By Jamey Dunn
More than half of Illinois school districts will spend more money than they have this fiscal year ,according to analysis from the Illinois State Board of Education.
According ISBE report, more than 570, or about 67 percent, of schools will deficit spend this fiscal year, which ends in June. That number has increased from 425 districts, or about 48 percent last fiscal year. The analysis ranks schools on their fiscal stability based on factors such as how much cash a district has on hand and its debt load. More than 100 school districts have dropped out of its highest ranking category since last year and the number of districts in the lowest category, called financial watch, has doubled, going from 17 districts to 45. But 13 percent of Illinois districts fell in the bottom two rankings, up from about 6 percent last year. The number of districts on the financial watch list decreased each year from 2004 to 2009. The number went up in 2010, declined in 2011 and 2012 and spiked under the current analysis. (Financial rankings for all of the state’s school districts can be found at ISBE’s website.) This is the 11th year that ISBE has done such an analysis.
The rankings have been changed to account for slow payments from the state to schools districts. The state currently owes schools more than $630 million. According to ISBE, no schools are put on financial watch based solely on late payments.
ISBE officials attribute the decline in districts’ financial stability to cuts in state funding. They say that K-12 education has been cut by almost $900 million since 2009. “It is no surprise that our analysis shows the harmful effects of multiple cuts to education funding by the legislature. School districts have already eliminated thousands of teaching positions, increased class sizes, delayed facility repairs and so on, all in an effort to reduce expenses,” ISBE Chairman Gery Chico said in a prepared statement. “We cannot expect Illinois to remain competitive in a global economy if we continue to shirk our responsibility to children as our schools struggle to make ends meet.”
The board has requested $875 million in additional funding for Fiscal Year 2014. “The Illinois State Board of Education is simply asking for what is required by law in fully funding General State Aid,” Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said in a prepared statement. “While we understand that difficult decisions must be made and that there is a great deal of pressure on the state budget, we are asking the legislature to meet its constitutional commitment. This recommendation is aggressive but desperately needed to provide much-needed financial relief to districts.”
Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal would cut K-12 education by $275 million from current fiscal year levels. Quinn said growing pensions costs necessitate cuts in education. “Skyrocketing pension obligations leave our state with no choice but to continue reductions to our core priorities,” Quinn said when he presented his budget plan. He is calling for early childhood education to be spared further cuts.