Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza's office announced Thursday she has directed $429 million to be paid to school districts across the state, a bit of a boost for educators stuck in the middle of a funding impasse in Springfield.
The past-due payments, which cover categorical expenses for such things as transportation and special education, went out this morning, her office said.
The announcement comes on the day that Springfield missed its first general state aid payment to school districts. That money was to have gone out Thursday, but Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats are at odds over a school funding reform bill.
Quad-City area school officials welcomed the announcement, but made clear it is merely a down payment.
"It's a smaller piece of a bigger puzzle," United Township Superintendent Jay Morrow said.
In Illinois, school districts usually get four categorical payments per year. However, during the two-year budget impasse, that source of funding stopped going out on time.
The comptroller's office said that Thursday's payment represents the third-quarter categorical payment due at the end of March.
A June 30 payment remains past due.
Morrow said Thursday he hadn't seen the funding yet, but $156,000 is a typical quarterly categorical payment.
That's just a fraction of the state aid the district usually gets. It generally gets about $600,000 in categorical payments and $3.2 million in general state aid per year.
In the Rock Island-Milan School District, a quarterly categorical payment would amount to about $800,000, and its annual general state aid funding amounts to $24 million.
The district has said that it would have to look at borrowing this fall if the impasse continues. The new payment helps, but it doesn't change that timeline much.
Meanwhile, in East Moline, Superintendent Kristin Humphries said the $350,000 he expects will help, but that if it looks like the first general state aid payment the district is due in early September won't arrive, the district will "prepare for borrowing scenarios." Already, East Moline has dipped into its reserves for $1.5 million to cover expenses.
Even as Quad-City area school officials welcomed the new money Thursday, they made clear they're hoping for a more permanent solution when the General Assembly meets over the next week to take up the governor's amendatory veto of SB1, the school funding reform bill. "We really hope and pray they get a compromise," said Rock Island-Milan Superintendent Michael Oberhaus.
Mendoza's office said it has been preparing for the possibility that Thursday's general state aid payments wouldn't go out to districts on time. It said money that it had reserved for that purpose, along with other cash management strategies, allowed it to pay the past-due categorical funds Thursday.