Friday, May 12, 2017

Funding Rally!!!

School Funding Rally in Springfield Note from Senator Manar

I hope you will join hundreds of fair funding supporters in Springfield next week to send an urgent message to Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers: that it's time to enact school funding reform in Illinois.

A rally and a foot race – to help advocates run school funding reform across the finish line – will take place the afternoon of Wednesday, May 17 in front of the Lincoln Statue outside the Illinois State Capitol on Second Street.

We're close to having enough votes to pass legislation that ensures fair and adequate school funding for schools throughout Illinois, regardless of their ZIP codes. But some of my colleagues in the General Assembly still need convincing.

That's where you come in.

Show up at the Capitol to rally in support of fair funding for all schools. Invite your friends and neighbors to join you, and bring posters and signs to help convey your message to Gov. Rauner and state legislators.

When: 1-3 p.m.Wednesday, May 17

Where: Lincoln statue, east side of the Illinois Capitol, Second Street and Capitol Avenue

Let organizers know you plan to attend by following this link. The event is organized by Fix the Formula Illinois, a coalition that includes the following partners:

• Advance Illinois • the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability • Educators for Excellence • Equity First • Funding Illinois' Future • High School District Organizations of Illinois • Illinois Association of School Administrators • Illinois Association of School Business Officials • Illinois Principals Association • Teach Plus Illinois • Vision 20/20

With less than three weeks left until the legislature adjourns on May 31 and with schools throughout Illinois facing severe fiscal challenges because of funding disparities and the state budget stalemate, it is incumbent upon parents, students, educators, taxpayers, stakeholders and others to make their opinions known now.

If you can't make it to the rally on the 17th, I urge you to contact your state lawmakers and Gov. Rauner directly to let them know where you stand on fair and adequate funding for all Illinois schools.

I plan to be at the rally, and I hope to see you there, too.


Andy Manar
Senator Andy Manar
48th District – Illinois

Mike Curry, Ed.D.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" 
Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


I hope everyone enjoyed the day off on Monday. I know another day would have been great - especially with this current weather. 

I wanted to let you know that I spent Monday with 5 other area Superintendents at a Quincy area #FixtheFormula town hall meeting/press conference to discuss the great things that have been accomplished in our districts during very difficult financial times, the costs that have been absorbed by depleting fund balances due to proration and unpaid mandated categorical payments, the growing social-emotional needs of today's students, the growing teacher shortages, and the Evidence Based Model Funding Formula. Fix The Formula meetings are going on all over the state over the next two weeks.  

Those who spoke at this meeting:
Quincy Public Schools
Illini West
Bushnell-Prairie City

The Evidence Based Model has the potential to make a positive impact on rural and high poverty districts. Is it perfect? - No.. but as Mr. Todd Fox from the Southeastern School District stated yesterday "Perfect is the enemy of very good."  The current funding formula does not work - fully funded or not. I try not be an alarmist - but it is time to add pressure to the problem of the budget stalemate in Springfield. I urge you to watch the short EBM video.  - Think about the $350,000+ we did not receive during proration and the $220,000+ we are waiting on from this year's categorical payments - both of which are statutory requirements of the state.  Then.. contact your legislators (via phone, email, or in-person) - urge them to push their leaders to reach a budget and fix the school funding formula...will it help? certainly cannot hurt. Here is a link for contact information

Find more information on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #fixtheformula

If you believe the Governor when he says that K-12 "received the biggest increase in school funding in years" or "K-12 schools are fully funded" - then my door is open to provide the true data that disputes both of these ridiculous agenda-padding claims. Both parties are at fault - but our kids - your kids - VIT's kids should not be short-changed by a power struggle.

Make a difference

Mike Curry, Ed.D.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" 
Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Illinois - Ranked as "The Worst."



WHY IT MATTERS: By design, Illinois places an outsized reliance on revenue from local property taxes to fund schools. That has led to dramatic increases in property taxes across the state while also creating a worst in the nation gap in funding between rich and poor districts.

With Springfield mired in epic gridlock, there's still one thing Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on: the way Illinois divvies up money for schools is unfair, inadequate, outdated, enormously complicated and badly in need of reform.

But consensus breaks down rapidly when it comes to constructing any fix. The reason is as simple as it is vexing.

By design, Illinois leaders long ago constructed a school funding system that relies on local property taxes for the lion's share of resources. It's been two decades since the last significant attempt to alter the dynamic, and that hit a dead end in the legislature over Republican resistance to raising the state income tax rate from 3 percent to 3.75 percent.

The lament back then didn't sound all that different from the lament today, with then-state Rep. Douglas Scott warning during one 1997 debate on the House floor that an overhaul of school funding was way past due.

"We have poorer districts because we rely so heavily on the property taxes," the Rockford Democrat complained. "But until we address this, we're just going to keep coming back here every two, three, four or five years with these temporary stopgap programs."

In the intervening years, as the state's financial position deteriorated, the income tax rate has both ballooned and shrunk. Ironically, though, it now sits at the same 3.75 percent rate that lawmakers were loath to impose 20 years ago in what was billed as a swap to trade higher income taxes for both more school aid and relief for beleaguered property taxpayers.

Now, with an explosion of pension debt and a huge backlog of unpaid bills to state vendors, tax swap notions seem a distant pipe dream. And the result is nobody's happy.

Not poorer suburban and Downstate districts with scanty property tax wealth to tap. Not wealthier districts where schools are flush but local tax bills have shot through the roof to pay for it. Not Chicago, which lies somewhere in between but must juggle both special funding rules and the added expense of serving the needs of a student body from largely low-income families.  

In sum, Illinois is left with an education system that has the widest spending gap in the nation between wealthy and poor districts, nearly 20 percent, according to a 2015 report from the Education Trust, a Washington-based non-profit advocacy group.

"The overwhelming finding is that we really have one of the most inequitable and disparate funding systems in the nation," said Stephanie Schmitz Bechteler, executive director of the research and policy center at the Chicago Urban League.

"What you would hope for is that the students in need of more services and supports would receive the most. … What often happens in Illinois is that the schools with the highest number of students coming from the most low income families often receive the lowest."

Compounding the frustration is that the mechanisms and rules governing the distribution of Illinois education funds can seem as streamlined and straightforward as something designed by Rube Goldberg, the late cartoonist famed for drawing designs for machines that performed the simplest tasks in the most convoluted ways.

Case in point is the formula for general state aid, the basic building block for school funding. Under state law, the formula is designed around a minimum dollar amount that most school districts in the state should spend per student per year.

That minimum, referred to in education jargon as the foundation level, is currently set at $6,119—a target that was initially set for 2010. But for several years the cash starved state didn't even have enough funds to hit that mark. What's more, the panel charged with making recommendations to lawmakers about updating the foundation benchmark says the current funding level is not only seven years out of date but woefully inadequate at that.

That panel, the Education Funding Advisory Board, says by its calculations the current foundation level should be 50 percent greater than it is now at $9,204 per student.

"What we actually fund schools at in the state of Illinois is less than adequate," said Sylvia Puente, chair of the funding board. "They haven't even met their statutory obligation much less the EFAB recommendation."

Calculations for the foundation level appear to start out simple enough, but then veer off into a hodgepodge of special wrinkles.

There are more than 850 traditional school districts in the state as well as dozens of other alternative and lab schools, and two-thirds of them receive general state aid under a complicated formula aimed at adding up how much local property taxpayers can kick in to meet the $6,119 goal. The state then, for the most part, picks up the rest.

However, there are still rules aimed at insuring districts get at least a slice of state aid even when the school revenue they derive from the property exceeds the foundation funding goal.

If a district already has property wealth that generates tax revenue between $5,690 and $10,708 per student, the state chips in between $306 to $428 per student. And if a district has more than $10,708 in tax revenue per student, then the state contributes $218-a-head.

This year, the state is spending more than $5 billion on general state aid, an amount that includes $1.76 billion for a supplemental grant awarded to districts based on their concentration of low-income students and does not take local property wealth into account.

General aid underpins school funding, but state and federal taxpayers underwrite Illinois classrooms in other significant ways as well.

Schools also get money from the state for what are known as "mandated categoricals," per pupil grants tied to specific purposes such as special education, transportation and free lunch programs for low income students.

Such expenditures, which collectively cost Illinois $1.57 billion this year, underscore the complexity of the state's funding models, according to some education experts.

"There are lots of different competing line items and we want to really focus those and be efficient," said Jessica Handy, government affairs director for Stand for Children Illinois, an advocacy group with ties to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Handy said funding issues now facing Illinois schools overlap with problems plaguing pension funds for Chicago as well as suburban and Downstate teachers that  are both severely starved of resources.

The state, as well as city schools, for decades diverted investments away from those funds to cover other needs, in effect borrowing from pensioners to avoid tax hikes. Now, however, the state has been left with a whopping pension debt to pay and that is sapping resources that  otherwise could be devoted to classrooms. 

"These are all education dollars and it makes sense to have a holistic conversation on all of them when we're talking about fighting the inequity," she said.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been particularly outspoken about how city taxpayers are required to underwrite pension costs for teachers in Chicago while also kicking in to help cover the pension tab for suburban and Downstate teachers. Meanwhile, the state covers pension money for teachers across most of Illinois except Chicago.

If that seems unfair to the city's schools, then it may also be important to revisit the way Chicago gets treated by the state as it dispenses that big pot of grant money for the mandated categoricals.

The city's share of that money—worth $478 million last year—is determined under a formula drawn up in 1995 when the Chicago Public Schools had far more students than it does today. If Chicago had to abide by the same formula as other districts in the state, city schools would have been in line to receive only $226 million in categorical grants, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

While the state overall does give more money to needy districts compared to wealthy districts, the resource gap still means that districts with considerable wealth still have far more to spend on their students than those less well off.

Efforts to close that gap have fallen short for years. Indeed, the basic funding structure for Illinois schools has been in place since shortly after the failure of that 1997 overhaul plan that was pushed by then-Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican.

The state income tax hike he advocated at the time would have generated $1.5 billion in new revenue, most of it for property tax relief but $600 million for enhanced school spending.

It died when Edgar's fellow Republicans, who then controlled the state Senate, refused to allow a vote. They argued the state's coffers at the time were flush so an income tax hike was unnecessary.

That clearly is no longer the case. And in the absence of any new revenue streams for education, the only way to funnel more state aid to poor schools would be to siphon it from wealthier ones—a political non-starter.

"You're taking money away from some but still not fixing the problem because the $6,000 (foundation level) is not enough," said Matthew Rodriguez, president of the Illinois PTA which represents parents and teachers across the state.

"When you present that to parents and teachers, they get outraged," Rodriguez said. "You can imagine telling me that my first grader is going to lose programs and there will be teacher layoffs when we already pay high property taxes. Everybody in my community is going to be very upset."


Because of an editing error, a graphic in this story initially reflected the wrong amount for recommended per-pupil spending for 2010. The graphic has been updated to reflect that the correct amount was $7,388.

Mike Curry, Ed.D.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" 
Nelson Mandela

Monday, March 27, 2017

Another Take on Fully-Funded

Use this link to listen to an interview with 2 down-state superintendents regrading financial trouble in Illinois School Districts!

Mike Curry, Ed.D.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" 
Nelson Mandela



For the FY 2017 budget, the state fully funded the General State Aid foundation level of $6,119.  While, the outdated dollar amount of $6,119 is not prorated for the first time in six years, it is clearly under the Education Funding Advisory Board's most recent recommendation of a FY 2017 foundation level of $9,423.  The current Governor of Illinois, Mr. Bruce Rauner, and numerous legislators in the House of Representatives and Senate are using the lack of proration as the key point in their stance that

K-12 education has been fully funded for FY 2017.  Upon further inspection, as of March, 2017, fully funded is very inaccurate term to describe the concept of the state making all of their required payments to local school districts.  The State of Illinois is required to make mandated payments to districts in numerous categorical line-items.  GSA is just one of many mandated categorical payments that the state is required to pay and districts rely on to cover numerous expenses.  Four major mandated categorical payments that school districts depend on include:

  1. 3105: Funding for Children Requiring Special Education Services

  2. 3100: Special Education Personnel

  3. 3500: Transportation - Regular and Vocational

  4. 3510: Transportation - Special Education

Currently, ISBE has processed the first two payments for these four line-items and sent the proper notification the comptroller's office. The comptroller's office has not released the funding for two payments due in the first half of the 2016-2017 school year. When applying this lack of payments to Fulton County, Illinois school districts, the amount of unfunded liability placed on the districts can be eye-opening - For VIT these four line-items not being paid equals a current shortfall of $102,500.

Mike Curry, Ed.D.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" 
Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thank You

I wanted to thank our staff and students for the surprise acknowledgement that they planned so well - maybe they should all go into the spy business because they were all so great at keeping this under-wraps :)

To be acknowledged by the staff, in front of our young learners, is a professional moment in my life that I will never forget.

Thank you so much,
Dr. Curry

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Today's Teacher Shortage

I hope everyone is heading into the new year having enjoyed a wonderful holiday break. As I write this post, I am listening to an NPR report on the teacher shortage that the country is facing today. I would recommend you take a listen to the report:

This shortage is not just a national or statewide concern, it is major issue in west central Illinois. As many of you are aware, at VIT we have been unable to find a qualified science teacher for our high school - we are not the only district in this area facing this issue. Additionally, we recently had to find a replacement for our Spanish teacher. Our previous Spanish teacher has been given an outstanding opportunity to take on leadership duties in an area ELL program. I support her move and wish her the best.

Many students and parents were worried that we would be forced to use a virtual Spanish program. While, this option would not be ideal, it is the path that many districts in this part of the state are using or exploring. We were able to find a qualified candidate who was willing to work ½ days. This will impact access to other classes as some students will be forced to change their schedules to fit into a morning Spanish class.  

When we examine the science program, there are benefits and negatives associated with the use of an online science curriculum. Students have mixed feelings, parents have mixed feelings, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, the content is rigorous and available whenever the student wants to access it. On the other, there is no "teacher" to ask questions of. For some students this is real hang-up. For others, there are other avenues to find answers to their questions...fellow students, Google, science textbooks, etc.. An additional concern is that some students are falling behind on their target progress. The science program requires more than just 45 minutes per day to stay on target.  When people think of homework they think paper and pencil assignments, this program requires some students to work on science after school - like a true high school science course would as well. Students have every opportunity to stay after school and work on our devices and wifi. Also, students can take Chromebooks home to use if they have wifi at home. We have extended the semester through the Christmas break in order to allow students to complete the semester course. When our students go to college, they will experience the concept of online coursework. The science program is a precursor to their experience with higher education online coursework.  

I do want to impress upon our community that we are doing all we can to recruit a quality science teacher: Job search websites, networking, reaching out to area universities etc..

Two of the biggest factors we are facing are 1) we are in competition with higher paying parts of the state and 2) teachers of science, math, foreign language and other content areas are in limited supply. We have so many staff members who love this district and have been here a very long time. We have several former students who teacher here - and that is an amazing fact.  The goal is to get a QUALITY candidate to the interview and share the positive attributes of our school.

Finally, teaching in general has become a less attractive job for young people and their parents (who often help pay for college).

The new pension requirements, retirement age, the high cost of a bachelor's degree vs. the starting salaries for many districts, the increased academic requirements for young people to become teachers, and the negative view that some parents, social media bullies, legislators, and shock media outlets put teachers under are all reasons why we and the rest of the nation will be looking for teachers for a long time to come.

While, this post may not be a light-hearted read, it is a fact we must all realize exists in our district, around the state, and throughout the nation as a whole.  

In order to end on a positive note, I offer this:

We have an outstanding staff who care deeply about our students. These people work hard everyday to provide an effective, caring, and supportive learning environment for the students of our community.

Enjoy the break,

Dr. Curry

Mike Curry, Ed.D.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" 
Nelson Mandela