State Paying Pension Debt With Funds Meant For Students

 
Jackie Peters, right, works with her third grade students at Ridgely Elementary School in Springfield, Ill. Over two years, Illinois will get about $1 billion in federal grants such as special education and Title I, which provides grants for low-inco

Jackie Peters, right, works with her third grade students at Ridgely Elementary School in Springfield, Ill. Over two years, Illinois will get about $1 billion in federal grants such as special education and Title I, which provides grants for low-income schools, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

The Illinois budget crisis is costing low-income public schools some of the federal money intended to help them compete with wealthier schools.

That’s the finding of a report published this weekend by the Rockford Register Star. 

Reporter Corina Curry found that state lawmakers are diverting money from a program known as “Title One” and putting it toward teacher pension debt. WNIJ’s Susan Stephens spoke with Curry about her research.

A federal grant program called Title 1 sends money to schools with high rates of poverty.

That money is meant to help close the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students.

But a Rockford Register Star investigation found a growing percentage of those funds is being skimmed away to help pay down the state’s teacher pension obligations.

Reporter Corina Curry says it’s money school districts would rather spend on math and reading specialists, equipment, almost anything but the state’s existing debt.

Over the past decade, the Teachers Retirement System has allowed the percentage of Title 1 money swept into repayment of pension debt to grow from 7% to more than 35%.

Now they want to throw it in reverse: a little late. Curry says last year, the retirement system’s board had its authority to set the rate taken away. Now that authority is with the General Assembly.

If they wanted to set the rate at 7.44%, like the TRS board wanted, lawmakers could do that.

The use of Title 1 funds for pensions is legal, but has to follow federal regulations.

Curry says it’s unclear at this time whether the state’s use complies, or if the state will have to repay the millions funneled into the pension system through this method.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio