Blagojevich mulling over plan to make sure no Illinois school districts lose state funding

By Gus Bode

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is considering extra funding for schools that would lose money under next year’s state budget.

In his April 9 budget address to the General Assembly, Blagojevich called for a $250 increase in guaranteed state spending per student. Most of that money would come from the elimination of 24 grants that pay for programs such as gifted students and family literacy.

Not all districts would benefit from the shifting of funds. The governor’s office estimates that of the nearly 900 Illinois school districts, 620 will see an increase in state aid, 180 will break even and 100 will lose funding.

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To help districts that would lose money by the fiscal year beginning July 1, Blagojevich is considering adding up to $20 million to the education budget.

The governor’s office is waiting for the Illinois State Board of Education’s input before the plan is further discussed. The ISBE is currently preparing reports that would show which districts would gain money and which would lose money under Blagojevich’s budget.

Wade Nelson, ISBE public affairs director for the Springfield office, said the reports could be released as early as today. As of press time, Nelson said he had not heard of any new developments.

Carbondale Elementary Schools District No. 95 would probably not lose money under the governor’s new budget. Curriculum Director Linda Meredith said the district has a $212,848 budget for its gifted students program. $14,904 (only 7 percent of the budget) came from state aid. Superintendent Elizabeth Lewin said that a 7 percent loss would not hurt the program very much.

“It will not impact us,” Lewin said. “The children may not be able to compete nationally, but that’s not a significant cost. We can afford to support the system.”

Cairo School District 1 may see more significant hits to its state funding. Superintendent Robert Isom said the district receives $80,000 in state aid for its truancy program. If that program is cut, Isom said Cairo schools might not even benefit from extra funding.

“With the $250 increase in the foundation level, it becomes a wash if we have to turn around and pay for the things that we received out of other programs and if we have to pay for some of the services that the regional office provides us,” Isom said.

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While he is skeptical of the new plan, Isom said he appreciates Blagojevich’s interest in extra funding.

“I’m not familiar with the details regarding the governor’s plan,” Isom said. “However, I certainly do appreciate the governor’s efforts to make sure that education is the priority in the state.”

Reporter Burke Wasson can be reached at [email protected].

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