A new law that aims to give more money to struggling schools is doing just that in Kankakee and surrounding areas.
Under the law’s revised funding formula, the state is releasing more money to school districts. The first of six payments arrived in recent days, officials said.
According to a Daily Journal analysis of 26 area districts, there is a wide disparity between how much more money schools are receiving.
Of the districts, St. Anne High School is set to receive the most additional money per student — $654. About 80 percent of its students come from low-income families, the greatest proportion of any area district.
St. Anne Superintendent Charles Stegall said the new money is a step in the right direction.
“Illinois has been behind for years in the equitability of its funding. I think there is more that can be done,” he said.
Stegall said the new money might mean an expansion of school programs “way down the road.”
“We need to see the funding continue and improve,” he said.
The Bradley-Bourbonnais and Kankakee school districts rank second and third for new money per student, with $433 and $417, respectively. Kankakee’s low-income rate is 57 percent, compared with Bradley-Bourbonnais’ 42 percent.
Manteno, with 37 percent of its student body low-income, will get $55 more per student.
On the bottom of the scale, Reed-Custer and Coal City will get $2 and $1, respectively, per student. Both have nuclear plants within their boundaries, which typically add large amounts of property wealth, reducing the burden on other taxpayers.
Last year, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that intended to reduce the disparity in school funding between rich and poor districts. Studies show Illinois’ system of funding is among the country’s most inequitable, relying too heavily on local property taxes.
To win passage, legislators made sure every district received more money, if only by $1 per student.
Kankakee Superintendent Genevra Walters said the new money was a good step, but “we have a long way to go.”
“This actually helps us maintain balance for a couple more years. Even with the additional money, we’re still at risk of deficits by 2020 because of a decline in taxes,” Walters said.
The dwindling property tax base in Kankakee, she said, means $200,000 less in property taxes every year.
“We’re planning for that by holding personnel costs as stable as possible. We’re going to have cuts, but not the major cuts we had a couple years ago, just slight cuts,” Walters said.
As for equity in state funding, she said, “The work should continue.”