Superintendent Ptacek shares thoughts on new school funding plan

By Gary Scott on September 1, 2017 at 7:12am

School leaders throughout Illinois collectively exhaled yesterday, as Governor Bruce Rauner finally signed the long-awaited school funding plan.

After passing both the House and Senate on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, Rauner made it official yesterday by putting pen to paper to what he has called a “historic” overhaul of how Illinois pays for public schools.

Senate Bill 1947 is now law in Illinois, and it’s biggest change is a new funding formula geared towards sending more state money to schools with the most need.

Jacksonville School District 117 Steve Ptacek has followed the process very closely. Ultimately, Ptacek says ultimately this a major step in the right direction, yet he’ll be interested to see how the new formula matches up with the previous one in the long-term.

“I’m not thinking that there’s any bad situation that’s going to come up, it’s just we’ve gone through so much energy, so much time to get this done, I’m interested in seeing whether it’s going to create a vast positive impact in the future compared to our previous funding formula. But in no way am I concerned that it’s going to make it worse, I think that it will be equivalent to a fully-funded GSA (general state aid) and categorical (payments), which we’ve been asking for the entire time,” says Ptacek.

As for the details of the new bill, Ptacek says there are two aspects that he’s very pleased with, that he feels haven’t been mentioned enough.

“I’m very happy withe compromise they came to that they’re going to start allowing voters in a school district that has 110 percent of education adequacy – your wealthy school district that are getting a lot more money than 110 percent of the money that we’ve determined is needed for educational adequacy for instructing a pupil. It allows the voters to pass a referendum to try to reduce their property tax rate. And if you look at some of the very wealthy school district up north, Waukegan School District for instance, has a school tax rate over ten dollars. Our school tax rate is 4.75, which puts us no where near many of the wealthy Chicago suburb schools that were generating the whole push for a property tax freeze,” says Ptacek.

Ptacek says the biggest part of the entire compromise deals with House Bill 656 which has already gone into law. He explains what the legislation entails, and how it will have a positive impact on not only Jacksonville schools, but schools throughout Illinois.

“That is reducing the TRS penalty for monies that we use on staffers for title programs. It used to have a 39 percent penalty, now it’s down to the normal cost, which are what we pay for all employees. What this basically means is that for everyone $100,000 we got in title funds that we invested in intervention teachers and reading specialists teachers, $39,000 of that was not going to services was going to TRS. And then we’re talking about raising that to a 45 percent penalty. They’re reducing it now to the normal cost that we have for all teachers. It’s going to free up a tremendous amount of money for all districts who receive federal title funds to provide more services for students,” explains Ptacek.

Illinois schools were supposed to receive their first state aid payment for the year on August 10th, and the second on August 20th. With those days behind us, Ptacek says that the latest he’s heard is that general state aid payment could come in ten to twelve days into the future once it’s signed.

Ultimately, Ptacek is hoping to see those payments within the next two weeks. However, he says the district has enough money in their fund balances that state aid money will recoup what the district has lost in fund balances.