Monday, Dec 9, 2013
Lawmakers Look to Make Chicago School Funding More Accountable
JACKSON COUNTY -- Illinois lawmakers are hoping to force the Chicago Public School system to show how they're spending grant money. It's a process many of them believe lacks accountability and leaves districts in other parts of the state shortchanged.
Downstate lawmakers say almost every school district in Illinois has to show exactly where they're spending state funds. That money then goes to specific educational needs.
However, they say that's not true for the Chicago School System. That district has been overpaid by millions of dollars.
A group of bills filed this month by Representative Sandra Pihos is looking to change that payment procedure.
Many southern Illinois schools have spent the past few years watching their funding shrink.
"We're really a small district," said Elverado Superintendent Kevin Spain. "We're operating on bare bones."
Elverado is a district with four schools and 480 students. Superintendent Spain has felt their $4.3 million budget only getting smaller.
"We're looking still at a $220,000 deficit this year," said Spain.
Teachers and students programs have already been cut. It's a tough process for administrators.
"Looked at where we were spending money, went through line by line, you know where could we reduce," said Spain.
Another point of frustration for Spain are reports that the Chicago Public Schools receive more funding per student. Another review found Chicago schools spent grant money they we're not supposed to have.
"I would like to know why they're getting that extra funds when districts like us are struggling," said Spain.
Illinois lawmakers are now looking to fix that issue. The audit of the 2011-2012 year discovered the Chicago schools were overpaid $235 million dollars.
"They'd spent it," said Representative Mike Bost. "We just don't know where."
Bost believes the problem is that the Chicago district is paid in block grants, a type of funding that doesn't come with many restrictions.
"We're not accusing them of anything," said Bost. "But why in the world should we allow them to have the opportunity to do something incorrectly."
Bost is a co-sponsor for a series of bills that would push for more detailed reporting of expenses and change how grant funding is handed out.
He feels it will make Chicago follow the same rules as other districts in the state.
"All we're saying is if we're sending you money, let's be accountable," said Bost.
Legislation involved with school funding include House Bill 3690, HB 3691, and HB 3692.
On the Senate side, Senator Dave Luechtefeld is co-chair of a committee on how funding is given to different schools. They've held several hearings and will likely make their recommendations for change in the coming months.
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