The Silvis School District has not received a single state payment this school year to pay for programs that teach children in special education, bus students to school or educate young children in preschool.

These are called "categorical" payments in Illinois, and they are lagging in the fiscal year because of the Illinois budget impasse.

However, Illinois is still paying general state aid to K-12 districts, and that makes officials feel a little bit fortunate.

In Moline-Coal Valley, the district received a state aid payment of $639,000 in December, according to Dave McDermott, chief financial officer.

In the 2015-16 year, Moline had an outstanding balance of $212,000.

These fluctuations happen, McDermott said, but Illinois pays federal money to the districts right away. For example, Moline received almost $1.8 million on Jan. 26, and that is for federal programs such as school lunch, special education and Title 1.

"We do have a budget," McDermott said, "but the rest of the state does not." That includes human services and corrections.

In Silvis, Superintendent Terri VandeWiele said the payments are so delayed that the district gets them a year late. This year, for example, the district received $60,100 for the categorical payments (transportation and preschool), but those funds were supposed to arrive in 2015-16.

To make matters worse, these categorical payments fund transportation needs — the school buses.

"Rural districts rely heavily on transportation funds to provide busing for our students," VandeWiele said. 

In addition, the categorical funds help to pay for the district's early-childhood program. A total of $71,500 has been issued in vouchers for the preschool program so far, but none of the funds has reached Silvis schools.

"Unfortunately, this situation is familiar to school districts," she said. "If history repeats itself, we can only hope to receive two of the four payments this year, but even that is uncertain.

"We continue to monitor the impasse and hope for a compromise in the very near future."

McDermott, who used to work for the Illinois State Board of Education, knows about the state being slow on the voucher payments.

"That makes it difficult to operate if a district is in a cash-flow crisis," he said. "It's very trying."

For 11 of the past 15 years, Illinois has not provided full funding to the state's school districts. In a wealthy district, such as some Chicago suburbs, the impact is tiny. It can have a significant impact on less wealthy districts.

The Education Funding Advisory Board, which is part of the Illinois State Board of Education, submitted recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor to increase the foundation level to $9,204 beginning on July 1, for fiscal year 2018.

The foundation level is based on student needs in each school district and is calculated under a weighted student funding formula.

That recommended increase would require $4.6 billion in additional education funds for fiscal year 2018, almost double the current appropriation.

The last time that Illinois actually adopted the advisory board's recommendation was 2002. In addition, the current foundation level of $6,119 has remained the same since 2010.

"Increasing funding for basic education in Illinois will be a challenge, but it is a challenge we ask every policymaker and citizen to embrace," Sylvia Puente said. Puente, the advisory board chairwoman, said the children of Illinois deserve the support.

McDermott said the Moline district is coping with the budget realities.

"In a perfect world, the state would just make the payments on time," he said.

(Valerie Wells of the Decatur, Illinois, Herald & Review, contributed to this story.)

Outbrain