Illinois Charter School Funding Draws Fire

     CHICAGO (CN) – Two Chicagoland school districts claim in a lawsuit the state board of education wants to divert more money from public schools to charter schools.
     The Board of Education of Woodland Community Consolidated School District 50, and Board of Education of Fremont School District 79 sued the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Board of Directors of Prairie Crossing Charter School in Cook County Court on May 15.
     In 1999, the Illinois Board of Education authorized the creation and funding of a charter school, Prairie Crossing, to serve children in the Woodland and Fremont school districts, which serve suburbs north of Chicago.
     The decision was “historic, as it was the first time in the history of Illinois that a charter school was created by a state agency over the objection of a local board of education,” according to the complaint.
     The charter school is funded by withholding a per capita tuition charge from the local school district where the student resides. Last year, 84 percent of Prairie Crossing’s students hailed from Woodland, and 16 percent resided in Fremont’s district boundaries.
     But last year, the state informed the school districts that it will change its per capita tuition formula used to divert funds from public schools to the charter school.
     “Specifically, ISBE informed Woodland and Fremont that it would no longer consider students attending Prairie Crossing as part of determining the ADA [average daily attendance] divisor for each of Woodland and Fremont. The effect of ISBE’s change in practice is such that the ADA divisor for both Woodland and Fremont would be decreased, thus having the net effect of increasing the total per capita tuition charged for Woodland and Fremont,” the complaint states.
     This change will allegedly result in a “larger diversion of funds from Woodland and Fremont to Prairie Crossing.”
     The state also told the school districts that it will apply the change retroactively to recalculate funds owed to Prairie Crossing for 2013 and 2014, the school districts claim.
     The school districts seek a court order that all students who reside in Fremont or Woodland should be counted for purposes of calculating a per capita tuition figure, and a declaration that ISBE lacks the authority to retroactively adjust the districts’ claims for previous years.
     They are represented by John Fester with Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, who did not return a request for comment.
     The ISBE did not immediately return a request for comment.

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