Harrisburg District Superintendent Mike Gauch will travel to Springfield on Thursday with 35 other superintendents from across the state to advocate for what he says is a quick-fix reform that would bring $650,000 in general state aid back to Harrisburg schools.
Instead of continuing the practice of making cuts to general state aid, the reform asks the state to cut the same amount per student for all districts in next year"s budget. Supporters say the temporary fix would temporarily bridge the state funding gap between upstate and downstate schools.
The Harrisburg superintendent said schools with higher levels of poverty and lower property values suffer the most from the state"s outdated school funding system.
"Illinois" form of funding has become punitive for students in higher poverty areas," Gauch said. "Our funds in Harrisburg are more reliant on state aid than richer districts."
In places where property is more valuable, tax revenue from those properties goes to supporting area schools. In Saline County, where revenue from property taxes is relatively low, there is not a buffer when general state aid is reduced.
Over the past four years, general state aid to Harrisburg schools has reduced by 11 percent, the superintendent said, amounting to a loss of about $1 million less per year. The district has had to match those cuts by laying off personnel. This year, Superintendent Gauch said the district will be able to avoid cutting staff, but will likely have to do so next year if no state-level reforms are made.
Education reform in Illinois has been touted by state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) since last year when he introduced the School Funding Reform Act, which would bring a $214 million increase in funding for downstate schools. In March, Manar introduced a revised version of the original bill. Under the revised bill, downstate schools would see $60 million less than under the original bill.
But among steep opposition among Republican lawmakers in the Chicago area and a $6 billion hole in the state budget considered a priority, Manar"s bill will not likely be brought up for a vote during this legislative session.
The Harrisburg superintendent said he hopes this quick-fix will bring back at least part of what the state owes the district.
"This is the next best thing to a total funding overhaul," Gauch said.
Live audio of Thursday"s meeting will be available at 10:30 a.m. at www.isbe.net. A link will be available under the "Hot Topics" section.