by Korey Clark
Two years ago, the report card Illinois issues each year on the fiscal health of its schools revealed that a disturbing number of districts were in poor to dismal financial shape, placing in the bottom two ratings categories, "financial early warning" and "financial watch." But the state's latest report card, based on the budget year ending June 30, 2013, was even more alarming, showing that as a result of an ongoing state budget crisis that has forced the reduction of aid to schools and rising education costs, the number of school districts in the bottom two ratings categories has more than doubled, to 121. Those districts encompass nearly a third of Illinois' entire school population and include the enormous Chicago Public Schools system, which dropped to the second lowest category in the latest analysis. That analysis also indicated that 62 percent of the state's districts are now deficit-spending, including affluent schools in Winnetka and Wilmette, and districts are also borrowing more money to avert deficits, saddling taxpayers with more debt in the process. "This is a highly dangerous practice," said Gery Chico, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. State School Supt. Chris Koch, who was scheduled to appear before a legislative committee last week to discuss possible education cuts, said the schools' financial troubles were impacting everything from class size to the availability of art and music courses. The one bright spot in the report card was the fact that 560 of the state's school districts achieved the highest rating, "financial recognition." But even that number is down significantly from two years ago, when 670 districts earned that rating. (CHICAGO TRIBUNE)
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