Reducing class size, adding after-school programming, creating more resources for Spanish-speaking English learners – these are services Harvard School District 50 officials said would not be possible without new funding from the state.
McHenry County schools will receive $7.26 million in additional funding through the state’s new evidence-based funding formula lawmakers approved in August, which gives needier districts extra money for educational services.
In the state of Illinois, District 50 is the third farthest from adequate funding, and it will receive $2.28 million in new state contributions – the most in McHenry County.
The district’s annual spending is 51 percent short of what is considered adequate under the formula, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Superintendent Corey Tafoya said the district plans to add more teachers and resources for English-language learners, such as expanding the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which helps prepare first-generation college students. District 50 also hasn’t had art teachers specific to elementary school.
“Our diversity is important, and we embrace it and value it, but we haven’t been able to afford all of the same educational opportunities,” Tafoya said. “This is a launching pad for us to catch up to some of our colleagues who have had these resources for years.”
Tafoya said he knew the district was far from adequate funding, but he was surprised when he saw the amount the district would receive. He believes the new formula helps to show differences between schools, such as demographics, and different challenges each school must face.
About 60 percent of District 50’s students come from low-income families, and
34 percent are Spanish-speaking English learners.
“We have needs that can’t be addressed by the simple formula that was used for everyone around the state,” Tafoya said.
Tafoya said the district has begun sending teachers to train as educational coaches, who help teachers refine their craft and better learn a particular element of teaching. Also, the district currently does not offer after-school programming, which is something Tafoya hopes to change.
Huntley School District 158 chief financial officer Mark Altmayer said officials already planned to receive $600,000 of the $775,000 the state allotted, and they included the funds in their fiscal 2018 budget. The budget includes some capital improvement projects, such as replacing the roofing on four buildings.
Altmayer said District 158 has the lowest spending per student in the western suburbs, spending $9,769 a student in 2016 versus the statewide average of $12,973 a student.
“Every single dollar that comes our way is very, very important to the district,” Altmayer said. “I would love to say those dollars are earmarked for special education or Chromebooks, but we are already doing those things with or without the money. We find a way to make it work and do the absolute best we can with the dollars we have.”
Altmayer said $175,000 could go toward supporting two or three new teachers or covering the cost of Chromebooks for an entire grade level, for example.
“We are 68 percent of adequacy because we don’t have a lot of funding coming to our district – whether it’s local funding from property taxes or state funding – which is why we are one of the lowest spending per pupil,” Altmayer said.
Another unique factor in District 50 is that it is one of the only districts in McHenry County that still is growing. The district grew by 140 students this year, and the new funding recommends using a 15-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
“Our schools are full, and that’s a challenge,” Tafoya said. “We are excited, but it’s also daunting because we can’t do this without the space to add those classrooms. We need eight more teachers and eight more classrooms, but we are full.”
The district’s board is examining ways to find new spaces for learning, starting with conducting a demographic study. The board also will consider buying mobile classrooms, looking at spaces in the community that could be renovated into classrooms or calculating costs to build a new school, Tafoya said.
Schools began receiving checks last week after the Illinois State Board of Education released final calculations this month for how much each district will receive. School districts statewide will receive $395 million in additional funding this fiscal year.
Lawmakers approved the new funding model in August to try to have a more equitable funding structure across the state.
The formula looks at enrollment and 34 essential elements to determine a school’s funding, such as low-income families and teacher-to-student ratios.
For Community High School District 155, an additional $504,068 is a small portion of the district’s $100 million budget, but assistant superintendent of finance and operations Jeremy Davis said the district is pleased.
At this point, he said he could not say what the funds would be used for, but the top priority is instruction in classrooms and facility improvements.
Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 plans to allocate its portion to operational funds, including education, operations/maintenance and transportation, assistant superintendent of business Cathy Nelson said.
Although several school officials said they are excited about additional state funding, they said the possible pension shift proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner would undo the funding revamp.
Rauner proposed a $696 million savings to the state’s bank account by shifting the employer portion of teachers’ pension contributions to local districts over four years.
“This would be a concern for any school district relying on state funding, and from what I’ve heard, no additional funds would be allocated,” Davis said. “We are already tax-capped, so it’d just be one more cost that we have to pay for that would come at the expense of our programs.”
• The Associated Press
contributed to this report.