- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - An Illinois State Board of Education report released Wednesday shows more Illinois schools are in poor financial shape and borrowing money or dipping into reserves than previous years, a problem that could worsen as the state faces overall budget cuts next year.

The annual review, which places school districts into four categories ranging from high financial strength to high risk, shows an overall downgrade in the financial position of the state’s districts. About 120 of Illinois’ 862 districts are in the two categories that indicate higher risk - an increase of nine from last year. And the problems are only expected to get worse as about 60 percent of school districts forecast they’ll have a deficit in the 2014 fiscal year, an increase of more than 10 percent the previous year.

State education officials say the state has underfunded education for the past three years, causing the overall downgrade in financial strength.

“Tough choices have become par for the course for school district administrators and local boards as many have cut staff positions as well as arts and after-school programs, delayed construction projects and important repairs and are deficit-spending in order to pay the bills,” said board Chairman Gery J. Chico.

Officials from the State Board of Education have met with state lawmakers to ask for an increase in funds they say are necessary to properly educate students. But education will likely face more cuts as the state faces a tight budget year. A temporary income tax is set to expire next year, decreasing state revenues by $1.5 billion.

“Cutting expenses even further is going to be near impossible for most districts to do without negatively affecting the quality of education they provide,” said Superintendent of Education Chris Koch.

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