Sunday, March 10, 2013

Educate Illinois School Districts about State Charter Schools and Support HB2660

Charter schools have gained much attention over the past decade, as many seem to think they could be a ‘silver bullet’ in education and make an enormous difference for children and families.  Certainly there are some outstanding charter schools, but at the same time there are also mostly average charters, relative to public schools, and some charters that under-perform compared to public schools. 

In Illinois, the normal process for creating a charter school includes a group presenting their proposal to a local School Board, and then allowing the School Board to vote either for or against allowing the charter school into the district.  If it is a yes vote, then the district works with the charter to arrange the finances for the charter school.  If it is a no vote, the charter group may take their proposal to other districts.  

However, over a decade ago, when a charter school was denied in Woodland School District 50 and Fremont District 79 (in the Gurnee area), a new law allowed the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to overturn the local School Board’s decision.  Not only did Woodland and Fremont have to allow Prairie Crossing Charter School (PCCS) to run in the district, but the financing formula stated that Woodland and Fremont had to fully pay for the charter school, using its general state aid (GSA) at a per capita cost.  

Today, some twelve years later, Woodland receives about $3.5 million in GSA for some 6600 K-8 students.  But it must then proceed to give $3.1 million to PCCS for only 330 students.  This is over $3 million that any other school district in the state of Illinois gets to keep for its annual budget, but that Woodland must somehow make up.  In the time PCCS has existed, Woodland has lost some $27 million! 

About a year and a half ago, more new legislation created the State Charter Commission, which has seven members appointed by the governor.  The ISBE used to have control of what I’ll call ‘state charter schools’ such as PCCS, but now the new commission has control.  The commission has said in the next decade, it would like to see as many as 100 of these charter schools across the state, where they have sole power to induce on any local school district if it sees fit.  This process has no oversight or control from local School Boards, the ISBE, or the state legislature! 

A second state charter school has been put into the Rich Township District 227 about two years ago, costing #227 multiple millions of dollars already.

Suppose your district spends $10,000 per student total in its budget.  For every 100 students that would attend a state charter school, that is $1 million your district would lose to the charter, and would have to make up.  In an era of already tight budgets, this is devastating to the educational budget of a local district.  

More are certainly on the way.  The issue is not necessarily whether or not one likes charter schools, because for some families this is beneficial, and that is great.  The issue is to change the funding formula so that it does not decimate local school district budgets! 
Hence Woodland, Fremont District 79, and Rich Township have a proposed bill in the Illinois House, HB2660, that changes funding from a per capita cost to the district, and instead take the percentage of state funds (revenue) that a district has in its budget and multiply that percentage by the number of students going to the charter school.  That will determine the amount of money the district would pay the charter school.  The rest would need to be paid by the state, through the GSA funding mechanism, since this new school was in fact created by the state – the state should have some ‘skin in the game’  to fund a school it alone is responsible for.

The two State charter schools that have been created in Illinois have already caused 3 districts to lose a combined $40 million dollars is General State Aid.  These funds are diverted to the state charter without your school district’s consent or ability to deny.
Woodland as well as the other two schools with State Charters located within their boundaries (Fremont Elementary District #79 and Rich Township #227) have fought the good fight expending thousands in legal fees to change how the charters are funded to no avail.  We have been advised by the ISBE (Illinois School Board of Education) that this issue requires a legislative solution. 

This is a crucial time to gain support for a change in how these charters are funded.  We believe HB 2660 may be a solution. 

The knowledge that the new State Charter Commission can add charters at will with absolutely no authority of the State legislature, Illinois School Board of Education or the Local Districts to deny the charter or control the funding is a ticking time bomb.  This opens up the door to anything from Virtual Charters to Home School Charters to drain what little State funding public schools receive.  With forecasts of 82% funding levels for General State Aid and 19% for State Transportation in FY14, the affected 3 districts will soon have no state funds left.

Presently, there is a group, Virtual Learning Solutions in St. Charles, that wants to set up a virtual school district, and may take 18 districts in the Fox Valley area to the State Charter Commission, trying to force the virtual school on these districts.  They would like to start this in the fall of 2013.  This means 18 more districts are at risk to lose large portions of their GSA to a charter district they do not want.  This will continue to affect potentially any public district in the state of Illinois. 

We need to educate school districts about this, and get them to ask local state representatives and state senators to support the HB2660 legislation that does not punish the local district alone when a charter school is created and forced on a local district by the State of Illinois.  With only 3 affected out of over 850 districts in the state, this is NOT on anyone's radar - but it needs to be.

Let your district school board and superintendent know about this issue.  If they agree it could be a financial impediment to the district budget, should a state charter school be forced on them, then ask them to contact the state rep and senator.  


Charter School Supporter said...

The essence of the current funding source and formula is to ensure that student education funding follows the student to the public school where the student is educated. HB2660, if approved, would cost the taxpayers double to educate the same child, since the home district would be allowed to keep the funds for the student, though not educating them, and the state would be paying for the student to attend the charter school.

The home district gets to keep the property tax and state aid funds associated with the student attending the charter school, so the state has chosen to use the general state aid money instead of asking the district to pay the charter school directly. It is unlikely that the home district would pay the charter school without a fight if they had to surrender the funds directly.

Woodland school has had 14 years to adjust their budgeting to the reality of the charter school in their district. Is it coincidental that Woodland shows a budget deficit almost of an identical amount as the funds that the charter school receives for the students not attending Woodland? That doesn't seem likely on the surface.

Donna Rochino said...

Thank you for explaining HB2660 in plain English. My son is scheduled to attend PCCS kindergarten this fall. Therefore, this is my first experience with any school system, public or otherwise. I believe in being truly fair with state funds, and maybe the formula needs to be changed. Honestly, will PCCS be closed if this bill is passed?

Mark Vondracek said...

Woodland has had to reduce the staff by some 70 positions and over one-quarter of its administration in order to maintain its budget, and the continued delay in state funds as well as reductions in state funding for education, has made this funding formula unsustainable. The money for PCCS is guaranteed, which is not the case for all other public schools.

Woodland is close to using all of its GSA to fund PCCS. In another one or two years, with the present law, all GSA will be given to PCCS. This will then lead to a question that is unanticipated in the current legislation - where will the funds for PCCS then come from, if costs needed by PCCS are larger than Woodland's GSA? The bill will benefit both schools by allowing Woodland to keep a larger portion of the GSA than it currently does, and also provide PCCS with full funding. PCCS will not close with the passing of HB2660.