State funding for Chicago schools on lawmaker’s agenda

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SPRINGFIELD – The House Elementary and Secondary Education-Appropriations Committee meets Thursday in Chicago to take testimony on programs funded through the Illinois State Board of Education budget. This committee will have a great deal to say about FY 2013 funding for programs that include After School Matters, started by the late Maggie Daley, and programs for dropouts and homeless students.

Between now and the end of May, funds for these and other programs will be allocated – or not – for the fiscal year starting July 1. The influence of the legislators on this appropriations committee will be significant. They are the ones to be contacted by folks who have an interest in ISBE budget lines. This year, the committee will also take a look at CPS funding—something it typically has not done in the past.

State money for CPS usually is provided as a statutory percentage of funding that is distributed for specific purposes to the other 866 school districts of Illinois. Transportation is an example. Other school districts must account for every child who rides a school bus every day and, at the end of the school year, apply to the state for funding to cover their costs. CPS, however, does not have to count the kids or costs involved, as state law stipulates that CPS receive 3.9% of the transportation appropriation through a block grant. This year, that would be about $10 million.

Since the funding is mostly automatic, CPS has not been required to testify before appropriations committees of the Illinois House and Senate. Why would the committee depart from routine this year? Many Chicago legislators are displeased with CPS, particularly with respect to the district’s school closing and turnaround policies. Rep. Luis Arroyo filed legislation that would require CPS to come before the committee and justify the dollars it would receive from the state. At a recent House education hearing, CPS officials pledged to do so.

The programs to be reviewed Thursday include:

Truants’ Alternative/Optional Education Program: This is the primary state program for dropout prevention and retrieval. Students who are identified as at-risk of dropping out are retained in educational settings through the TAOEP. Traditionally, funding limitations have meant that only about one-third of students eligible for TAOEP can be served. The peak was in FY 2009 when funding reached $20 million. It was cut to $18 million in FY 2010, then to $14 million in each of the last two state budgets. ISBE recommends $14 million for TAOEP in FY 2013, and Governor Pat Quinn concurs.

CPS automatically receives 26.8% of state funding for TAOEP. This year, that amounts to about $3.7 million. The rest of the state funds are distributed through competitive grants.

Homeless Education: This program is authorized by state statute even though it has not been funded since 2009, when it received $3 million. The goal is to reach out to students from homeless families, to advocate for their needs and find ways to keep them in an educational setting. ISBE now proposes $1 million for FY 2013. Quinn recommended zero funding again.

AfterSchool Matters: AfterSchool Matters is a non-profit organization which offers after-school activities and job training opportunities for Chicago students, and has worked in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Public Library, and community organizations. A 2011 Northwestern University study funded by the Wallace Foundation found that, while problem behavior increased during the three-year study period both for students in After School Matters and a similar group of students not in the program, the negative trend was less significant for After School Matters students.

The researchers reported the program’s impact as “negligible” with regard to improved academics and teaching of marketable jobs skills, while cautioning that further study would be needed to assess the program conclusively. ISBE has recommended zero dollars for After School Matters in FY 2013, but Quinn proposed $2.5 million, the same as for FY 2012.

Regional Safe Schools: This program was launched in 1997 as an educational setting for students in grades 6-12 who are eligible for suspension or expulsion from regular schools. The idea was two-fold: to keep these kids off the streets and to curtail their disruption of other students. Regional offices of education administer the safe schools programs, except in CPS. Currently, funding is at a low ebb. In FY2009, Safe Schools received $18.5 million; but this year and last year, just $9.3 million. ISBE proposes $9.3 million again for FY 2013, and Quinn has concurred.

District Consolidation: The program provides funds as incentives for school districts to consolidate or be annexed. This has been a hot topic recently, since Quinn has suggested Illinois should have only about 300 districts, not the 867 or so that it now has. The Classrooms First Commission was established to look into the issue, but preliminary findings do not suggest consolidation is automatically a good thing. The commission’s final recommendations are due by July 1. For FY 2013, ISBE has recommended $4.6 million, a $2.8 million increase. Quinn proposes $1.8 million, the same as FY 2012.

Education Investigators Hearings: This program funds investigations of incompetence or misconduct by teachers and administrators. Recent legislation imposing stricter reporting requirements on school and other officials could lead to an increased number of investigations. Funding has been at $375,000 since FY 2009, when the program was begun, but ISBE recommends a cut of more than half, to $184,000 for FY 2013, and Quinn agrees.

Financial Oversight/School Management Assistance: This is a new budget line item in response to the growing number of school districts with financial problems. ISBE staff are traveling more to these districts, so ISBE has proposed a $150,000 budget for FY 2013 to cover these costs.  Quinn has not recommended any funding.

Regional Offices of Education: This is a special problem for Quinn and the legislators. The offices are run by elected regional superintendents, whose 44 regions cover every county in the state except Cook County. ISBE functions as the regional office for CPS, and three service centers do so for suburban Cook. Aside from administering a number of programs, the offices function as an arm of ISBE in terms of district compliance with an ever-evolving state education policy. The offices and duties of regional superintendents are codified in the School Code. Despite this deep entrenchment, Quinn has proposed to zero out the regional office funding for FY 2013, as he did for the current fiscal year. ISBE has proposed restoring them with $14.8 million.

Jim Broadway is publisher and Pam Monetti is a correspondent for State School News Service.

RELATED LINKS

Illinois State Board of Education’s Budget Book.