State funding allows McHenry County school districts to add staff, programs

Evidence-based formula allows school districts to support success, safety

Harvard School District 50 has received more than $4 million in new revenue from the state since the evidence-based school funding formula was initiated last year, making it one of the largest beneficiaries in the state.

Total funding was about $2.28 million in fiscal 2018 and about $1.94 million in fiscal 2019.

In part, the new revenue is because of the district’s calculated adequacy target, or the total resources needed to support the best practices for students to succeed. District 50 had the third-lowest adequacy level in the state in fiscal 2019, according to Illinois State Board of Education data.

The calculation is drawn from numerous factors and is critical to address the individualized needs of districts with diverse student populations.

In District 50, 58.3 percent of the estimated population of 2,700 students are in low-income households, and
34.7 percent of students are English learners, meaning their English proficiency is not sufficient enough to successfully participate and achieve success in English-spoken classroom settings, according to 2018 Illinois Report Card data.

But District 50 Superintendent Corey Tafoya said he sees the new revenue as a ray of hope to implement programs the district has lacked the financial support for that would ensure student success, such as a K-12 art curriculum.

In the past, the district has had volunteer-run informal arts programs at its schools, including Harvard High School, Harvard Junior High School, and Crosby, Jefferson and Washington elementary schools.

“Art had been offered just kind of intermittently, so there was no real curriculum or design to it,” Tafoya said. “When you get something once every two or three weeks, at best, [students] are not really learning much. It’s just exposure and appreciation.”

With the new revenue, District 50 has hired additional art teachers at Crosby and Jefferson, added Advanced Placement art at the high school level, and is looking to connect schools with art opportunities at Starline Factory and other businesses. The creation of business connections also will be critical to the success of new incubator classrooms, Tafoya said.

“If you don’t have funding, you close your mind to creativity and you get locked into what you’ve always done,” Tafoya said.

Unlike other districts in the area, Tafoya said District 50 is experiencing enrollment growth, which will require some funding to be reserved for the addition of new classrooms.

College preparedness also is a goal, which Tafoya is hoping to improve through the Advancement Via Individual Determination program.

The nonprofit program seeks to bring college-readiness opportunities for underrepresented demographics in higher education, such as first-generation college students.

Woodstock School District 200, which saw about $541,000 in new revenue this fiscal year, also is looking to implement the AVID program.

District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan said the money also will be used to bring in a math intervention program known as Math 180 for middle school students who are behind a grade level in understanding math concepts.

Additional social workers also have been brought in to meet the socioemotional needs of District 200 students.

Other districts are using their funding for resources in line with student safety.

Community High School District 155, which received an additional $400,000 in fiscal 2019 – on top of the $504,000 in new funding it received last year – used its money for capital improvement projects, activity buses for its high schools and added security.

District 155 assistant superintendent of finance and operations Jeremy Davis said the district is looking to add a second security guard by Thanksgiving to each of its schools – Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central, Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove – as well as hire a psychologist for Crystal Lake Central.

Before recently, Illinois’ school funding formula had remained unchanged for almost 20 years and was highly criticized for providing more funding for wealthier districts. In August 2017, lawmakers compromised on a reform bill that was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

School districts with the lowest adequacy levels are rated as Tier 1 schools and receive the greatest share of school funding because they are in the greatest need of assistance.

In fiscal 2018, three McHenry County school districts were at Tier 1 status: District 50, Marengo High School District 154 and Marengo-Union Elementary School District 165.

Fiscal 2019 saw two additional districts classified as Tier 1: McHenry High School District 156 and Harrison School District 36.

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