Take 5: State funding fix, testing opt-out bill, race and discipline

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The Illinois State Board of Education is considering moving away from the current model for how it doles out the recommended per-pupil funding.

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The Illinois State Board of Education is considering moving away from the current model for how it doles out the recommended per-pupil funding.

It doesn’t look like a bill to overhaul the state’s school financing formula will go anywhere this year, but expect some significant changes to how the state funds schools anyway. That’s because the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is considering moving away from current model for handling funding when the state fails to provide the recommended foundation level of per-pupil funding, currently $6119. Instead, ISBE appears to be leaning toward switching to model that would lessen the financial impact for districts with a high percentage of poor students and low local property wealth.

At last week’s ISBE meeting, board members heard from more than a dozen students, superintendents and advocates from across the state that are lobbying for the alternative. Under the current model of “pro-ration,” Illinois provides an equal percentage of state aid to rich and poor school districts when the Legislature fails to provide the recommended foundation level. For rich districts, the cuts have less of an impact because local tax dollars cover more than the foundation level.

But poorer districts with less property wealth rely more heavily on state aid, so the cuts are more significant. “Year after year, the pro-ration further deepens disparities that are baked in our funding formula,” said Mike Gauch, superintendent of Harrisburg Community Unit 3 School District.

Chicago lost more than $45 million in general state aid due to pro-ration this year; if ISBE had operated instead the alternative, Chicago would have actually gained an additional $1.7 million. ISBE will vote in June on whether to change the formula — which board members see as a policy decision, not something that needs to be decided by Springfield.

2. Testing opt-outs … Will Guzzardi’s opt-out bill was given until this Friday to get voted out of the House, about two weeks past the standard deadline for moving legislation from one chamber to another. This is the bill that would clarify parents’ rights for opting their children out of taking standardized tests.

Meanwhile, the second window of testing for the PARCC ends this week. Parents across the district and state have been opting their children out of taking the exam — although it’s too early to know exactly how widespread the movement has been so far. The Illinois State Board of Education won’t receive official testing rates until the summer, according to a Tribune article. ISBE officials say federal funding may be lost if fewer than 95 percent of students take the test in any school, or district, or statewide. ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus says the state will review each district with low participation on a case-by-case basis once the official tallies come in.

3. Dirty kitchens? The Chicago Tribune analyzes health records and finds that inspectors failed to visit about 300 of the city’s day care centers last year — more than 40 percent. When inspectors finally did show up, they’d sometimes find rodent droppings in food areas, standing water and other problems.

State law requires inspections in kitchens at day cares, restaurants and other institutions at least twice a year – but Chicago is one of only three municipalities in Illinois that routinely fails to meet this standard. In the case of the day care kitchens, inspections were “overlooked because of a glitch involving license code numbers and that staff discovered the problem.”

It goes without saying, but frequent food safety inspections are important because they help “keep food-borne diseases at bay — especially for toddlers and young children, who are at high risk of serious complications or death,” according to the story.

4. Delayed audit … What happened with the third-party audit of how CPS awards no-bid contracts in response to the FBI investigation of SUPES? Preliminary findings were expected by this Friday, but the Tribune reports that an auditor has yet to be selected. Now, results aren’t coming until June 12 because the district wants to thoroughly review the review process first. The auditor is being chosen by a three-person committee of district officials, while district attorneys and the inspector general’s office will review the audit’s “final scope” before any auditing can actually begin, according to the story.

“It is essential that the sole-source process review is done effectively,” says district spokesman Bill McCaffrey. “And to make sure that takes place, CPS formed a committee of senior leaders from several departments to select the vendor that will carry out the review.”

5. Talking about race … Absurd. That’s what the father of a second grader called the suspension of his daughter from a Forest Park school. The black girl–apparently upset that she was excluded from a hand-clapping game–told a white classmate that she couldn’t play with her anyway because black children can’t be friends with white children, according to an article in the Forest Park Review. The parents of the black girl, who coincidentally are white, appealed the suspension, but it was upheld by the District 91 Board of Education.

In a letter to parents, the principal of the Western suburban elementary school said the comment fit under a section in the Code of Conduct that prohibits “verbal and/or written threats, intimidation, fear or other comparable conduct toward anyone.”

The father alleges that if his daughter were white she wouldn’t have been suspended. He may have a point. In a related story, the Forest Park Review reveals that District 91 has a disturbing racial disparity when it comes to suspensions. Eighty percent of the students suspended in the school district over the past five years were black, while only 46 percent of students are black. The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is investigating the racial disparity in the school district.

A few last notes… CPS is holding a public hearing on whether to renew 14 charter and schools on Wednesday. Then on Thursday will be a much longer hearing over changes for already approved new schools, including several delayed openings for alternative schools and a proposal to move a Noble Street Charter school to Uptown. This last item, which we wrote about previously, is sure to generate some opposition as it will mean a charter school in a neighborhood on the upswing.

And if you didn’t hear it on WBEZ last week, check out Becky Vevea’s quest to find out whether Chicago schools were ever “good” in an ambitious piece for Curious City.


Photo: Education budget/shutterstock.com