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Cost per student data to be required of U-46


By Seth Hancock
  This year’s school district report cards from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will now include a break down of per student spending for each school.
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 received a presentation on the changes as well as on expectations from the so-called “evidence-based” funding at its meeting on Monday, July 15. Board members John Devereux, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith were absent.
  The change to the ISBE report card stems from new federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) according to Robyn Cornelissen, financial controller.
  ESSA will require site-based expenditure data be reported starting with information gathered from the 2018-2019 school year. The ISBE report card will be released at the end of October according to Cornelissen.
  “The act reads that every per pupil expenditure needs to be reported, both personnel and non-personnel expenditures have to be reported and disaggregated by federal and state and local on each school’s district report card,” Cornelissen said.
  Cornelissen added: “Illinois is in a unique position along with our evidence-based funding. Having the ESSA be site-based, it puts us in a unique position to be able to use the information to not only coordinate our funding but then also use our school systems and then use that holistically in our schools to make the best decisions.”
  The new reporting will lead to better equity in funding Cornelissen claimed and will help determine if student performance matches spending. She said that every expense must be accounted for under the new reporting with some exclusions like charter school tuition, adult or continuing education, community services, payments to other government bodies, debt services, capital assets, reimbursement expenditures.
  “We don’t have to explain that, we don’t have to detail that. It’s just a number,” Cornelissen said of the excluded data.
  U-46 will create a database for compiling and analyzing data officials said and will develop what it calls a “narrative” for 60 separate sites in the district.
  “This is the story,” Cornelissen said. “These are all of the spending variations that could cause a school’s spending to go up or down.”
  Some schools in U-46 will spend more per student than others according to Cornelissen who said some schools have higher free or reduced-price meal students and English language learners, some have different transportation requirements and different enrollment levels leading to variations.
  Cornelissen said the district will segregate spending into separate categories as being site-level or central school district spending to determine the per student spending at each school.
  How each district reports and segregates data will be different according to officials who claimed the public would not be able to compare U-46 to other schools because of it.
  “Individual districts can determine how they go about that process,” said U-46 CEO Tony Sanders who added: “I think it’s important that the board understands and the community understands that when you (get the report cards) you need to look into the details of how that school district reported these types of numbers to the state.”
  “Our families would not be able to go and compare Elgin High School to Schaumburg High School and be able to make a fair assessment,” Cornelissen said.
  Board member Melissa Owens asked if the method U-46 uses will be in the report card to which Cornelissen said its included in the narrative for each site.
  Owens asked if the district will “instruct people on the best way to read this?”
  Cornelissen said U-46 wants “to be more proactive than reactive” in getting the narratives out early so the district can tell the public how to digest the information.
  Owens said that the public, including “families and parents,” may be unable to understand the data and “there’s going to be a learning curve” and Sanders agreed. Sanders said “context matters” and could “envision a CAC (Citizens’ Advisory Council) meeting” where parents see their children are in a school that spends less per student than others in the district.
  Sue Kerr, the board’s president, also agreed saying “people will just look at the number.” She asked how long the narratives will be for each site and Cornelissen said: “It shouldn’t be that long. We’re going to just use the data, we’re going to just use the numbers, to tell the story. We have some that will be longer than the other.”
  Kerr asked if the narrative was required to which Cornelissen said it was not as some districts will not include a narrative. Kerr said that means the public will be unable to compare U-46 schools to other school districts.
  Owens asked if each U-46 site will use the same template for its narrative and Cornelissen said they would.
  U-46 has consistently lagged behind the state in academic results on the annual ISBE report card, but Sanders said “I think we’ve led the state in a number of areas” and  “they’ve looked to us… on how they implement across the state” the new reporting.
  Regarding the “evidence-based” funding, this upcoming school year will be the third year under this funding formula from the state according to Dale Burnidge, director of financial services.
  The state added $300 million to the formula in Fiscal Year 2019 and $312 million in additional taxpayer dollars in FY2020 according to Burnidge while U-46 received $158.4 million from the formula in FY2018 and $179.4 million in FY2019. The district expects the spending increases from the state to continue despite evidence and data showing Illinois is in poor financial health.
  In presenting a tentative budget earlier this summer, the district claimed it was making conservative estimates by expecting at least $5 million of additional taxpayer funds each year from the state from the “evidence-based” funding formula.
  Illinois is currently $160.8 billion in debt according to usdebtclock.org, it is ranked the worst in the nation for financial health according to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center’s annual ranking, the population has continued to decline and Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed 21 new tax and fee hikes with more being proposed.
  U-46 has used the additional state taxpayer dollars to hire more counselors, administrative supports and instructional coaches according to Burnidge, and U-46 plans to hire 54 new employees this year.
  The hiring continues despite a continued trend of enrollment declines. U-46 saw its fourth straight year of declines in 2018-2019 as it lost 633 students from the previous year to fall to 38,572 total and has lost 1,915 total students since the 2014 enrollment total of 40,487 while spending has increased nearly $100 million during that time which is over $70 million faster than the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

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