Who Is In Charge

School finance bill set to launch

The 2012-13 school finance bill will be focused on shoring up state aid to school districts, according to its sponsor, with a modest amount of spending for special programs.

Legislature 2012 logoImproved state revenues have made it possible for the Joint Budget Committee to set aside $57 million that’s intended for maintaining average per-pupil spending in 2012-13 at the same level as this year, a little under $6,500.

In years before the state budget squeeze, the annual school finance bill often was used to fund various specialized education programs as well as to set the overall level of school funding. Four years of budget cuts have not only dried up funding for those programs but also forced cuts in operational funding for school districts.

Given that improving revenues make it possible to avoid K-12 cuts, Rep. Tom Massey said Wednesday the school finance act will focus on accomplishing that. The bill could be introduced as early as Thursday.

Massey is a prime sponsor of the finance bill and chair of the House Education Committee. He said he’s proposing two significant “extras” in the finance act, $1.3 million to fund the Department of Education’s regional services program and an extra $1 million for charter school facilities costs.

The regional services program, created a few years ago but not funded, is intended to pay for CDE to provide small districts and boards of cooperative education services with expertise and consulting for work they’re unable to do on their own.

For charter schools, current law provides $5 million a year, distributed on a per-pupil basis, that charters can use for building needs. Massey’s proposal would add $1 million to that amount.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said Wednesday that the bill also will include $300,000 to pay for giving every student skills tests such as the Accuplacer once during high school.

Massey hopes – and thinks – other lawmakers will resist the temptation to dip too much into the $57 million for special programs.

“Everyone understands the realities” of the budget situation and the need to maintain K-12 spending levels, he said.

Massey and other House Ed members met Wednesday morning with CDE staff and two JBC members for a briefing on the budget situation and its effect on K-12.

“I just want you to know we’re in a very tentative position financially,” said JBC chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, subtly urging lawmakers to avoid the temptation to “go shopping” in the school finance act.

Budget hightlights

Leeanne Emm, CDE school finance director, walked the meeting through the expected school finance situation for 2012-13. Based on her analysis, here’s what things look like:

$5.29 billion in total program funding would be available to schools, compared to the current $5.23 million.

  • Average per pupil funding would be $6,474.24, compared to this year’s $6,404.49 without the additional $57 million. (Actual per-pupil funding varies widely by district.) The amount would still be below the $7,076 per-pupil average in 2009-10, a figure approved in the last legislative session before the recession hit.
  • Base funding per student would be $5,843.26 up from $5,634.77 this year. Base funding is the minimum amount guaranteed under Amendment 23 to every school district and is driven by inflation, calculated at 3.7 percent for next year.
  • Next year’s statewide enrollment is estimated at 817,185, an increase of 9,027, or 1.1 percent.

While the latest budget news is a welcome change for education, next year’s funding will be considerably less than what it would be under the original method of applying Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional change that set a funding formula for K-12.

Prior to 2009, the legislature multiplied both base funding and other parts of school support by inflation to come up with total program funding for the following school year. (Amendment 23 originally required addition of another 1 percent, but that provision has expired.)

Because of declining state revenues, in 2009 the legislature created a “negative factor” that allowed it to cut annual school spending enough to balance the budget without gutting other state programs. K-12 spending accounts for more than 40 percent of spending from the state’s general fund.

The expected negative factor for 2012-13 is estimated at $1 billion, meaning that total program funding for schools would be $6.3 billion next year if Amendment 2 were being used as it was prior to the recession.

See Emm’s slide presentation to the committee here.

The main 2012-13 state budget bill, House Bill 12-1335, was introduced in the House Wednesday. That measure sets the base level of school funding as required by Amendment 23. The “long bill” proposes state funding of about $512 million for state colleges and universities, plus another $100 million for financial aid.

The House isn’t expected to finish work on the budget bill until the middle of next week. Then the Senate has to consider the bill.

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.

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From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!

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From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.

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From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.

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From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!

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From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.

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From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!

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From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.

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From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.

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From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”