Urbana schools still missing vital state payments

Urbana schools still missing vital state payments

URBANA — While the state has promised to fully fund K-12 education in fiscal year 2017, the Urbana school district still has not received vital pieces of its annual payments.

And Urbana is not alone, according to Superintendent Don Owen, who addressed the issue with the school board Tuesday evening.

News that K-12 education would be fully funded this year, and not prorated for the first time since 2012, was celebrated in July and August, but Owen said it has turned out to be a "bit of a misnomer." Programs that qualify as "mandated categoricals," like special education and transportation departments, have not been paid at all this year, he said. Normally, at least first-quarter payments for these programs would have been made by now, according to Chief Financial Officer Carol Baker.

In Urbana, that means the state owes the district about $1.5 million for fiscal year 2017 for special education and transportation. The state is also behind by about $1.7 million in grant payments to Urbana, and the district still hasn't even been approved for its title grants for 2017, Baker said.

"That paints a little bit of a different picture of the state of Illinois' financing for public education" than what legislators are saying, Owen said. "That's a direct result of the budget impasse. While Illinois is fully funding general state aid, almost every district in the state is in a much worse financial state than it was a year ago."

While Urbana is doing "OK" at this point, Owen said there are a number of smaller districts that rely on the mandated categorical funding more heavily and may end up having cash flow issues by this spring.

"The budget impasse is having a major effect on K-12 education because the comptroller doesn't have the money to pay off the mandated categoricals," he said. "That is a critical piece I want the board and public to be aware of because there's a lot of focus on other pieces of the state budget, but the K-12 education is going to become more and more of a focus as certain districts run into issues because the state is not paying out what it vouchered in these mandated categories."

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