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In Board of Education of Woodland Community Consolidated School District No. 50, et al. v. Illinois State Board of Education, 2018 IL App (1st) 162900, the First District Appellate Court issued an opinion clarifying the formula for calculating the amount of funds to be withheld from the school districts and diverted to a charter school.

The case arose from differing interpretations of the School Code’s provisions about funding charter schools that are authorized over the objections of local school districts. In such circumstances, the School Code provides that the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) may divert funds to the charter school from the funds that would otherwise be due to the local school districts.  The School Code determines the charter school’s funding using a formula for per capita tuition cost, which is calculated in part based on the local school district’s “average daily attendance” for the year.

ISBE authorized the creation of Prairie Crossing Charter School (“Prairie Crossing”) over the objections of the boards of education of two school districts.  For sixteen years, ISBE included pupils attending Prairie Crossing within the pupil enrollment of either school district, depending upon the pupils’ residences, in calculating average daily attendance for charter school funding purposes.  But in December 2014, ISBE notified the School Districts that, as of the next school year, pupils attending Prairie Crossing would no longer be included within the pupil enrollment of either school district when calculating average daily attendance.

The First District Appellate Court affirmed the circuit court’s ruling in favor of the school districts.  To interpret the meaning of “average daily attendance,” the Court read the School Code provision in conjunction with the plain language of a provision in the Charter Schools Law.  Relying on the plain language of the Charter Schools Law, the court concluded that pupils attending a charter school located within the local school district in which they reside cannot be excluded from a determination of the actual number of pupils in attendance in that district for purposes of calculating the district’s average daily attendance.

This case directly impacts school funding calculations for school districts affected by the School Code’s charter funding provisions.  Such districts may consider revisiting their funding calculations in light of this opinion.  The appellate court’s reasoning also demonstrates the importance of reading the School Code comprehensively in consultation with their legal counsel.