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A Fairview Heights school district failed to claim federal grant money. How much?

A drone photo of Grant Middle School in Fairview Heights, Ill., on March 13, 2024.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
A drone photo of Grant Middle School in Fairview Heights, Ill., on March 13, 2024.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Grant School District 110 failed to apply for several federal grants in recent years, leaving nearly half a million dollars in funding on the table, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The Fairview Heights school district was certified as being in financial difficulty in March by the state board of education because it failed to submit certain financial information, such as its fiscal year 2023 and 2024 adopted budgets, in a timely manner.

The state board also cited the district’s long-term deficit spending, reliance on working cash bonds and failure to apply for several federal grants since fiscal year 2020.

That last factor was concerning to staff and parents who spoke at the district’s two board meetings since the state board’s certification.

“Doing right by students is a district who puts students first, fighting for every possible dollar and educational resource available on time,” said Rachel Pehle, vice president of the Grant-Illini Federation of Teachers and social studies teacher at Grant Middle School, at the March board meeting.

On average, Illinois school districts get more than half of their funding from local property taxes, about a quarter from the state and the smallest percentage from the federal government in the form of “formula grants.” Formula grants are not competitive and school districts that meet predetermined criteria are allocated funds.

The grants flow from the federal government through state agencies — in Illinois, that agency is the state board of education — to local school districts. Districts have to apply for them annually.

According to the state board of education, District 110 failed to apply for several of those grants, which totaled $493,147.

The largest chunk of the lost dollars was Title I funding, which school districts get to improve educational outcomes for students from low-income families.

Superintendent Matt Stines did not respond to requests for comment but has previously said that turnover in the district’s bookkeeper position from December 2021 to July 2023 led to incorrect bank reconciliations and a “snowball effect” of late submission of financial documents to the state.

There were other years and grant programs for which the district didn’t successfully submit an application, but it was able to carry over its allocation into the following fiscal year and still receive the federal funds.

For example, the district didn’t apply for its $244,138 allocation of Titles I, II and IV funding in fiscal year 2020, but it was able to carry over that funding and access it in fiscal year 2021 in addition to its 2021 allocation. The district carried over a total of at least $565,000 in federal grant dollars since 2020.

District 110 can still get $571,666 in federal grant funds for fiscal year 2024, according to the state board of education. Since applications are actively underway, the total amount available continues to fluctuate as applications are approved.

The district has submitted the fiscal year 2024 application for its $172,216 allocation through the IDEA Part B grant program, for example, and the state board said it approved the application on April 12.

The district also submitted its application for the third and final wave of federal pandemic-era funding for schools, which is referred to as ESSER III or ARP ESSER. The state board of education said it approved the district’s application for its nearly $1.54 million allocation on April 10.

The district has now spent about $950,000 of its ESSER III allocation, according to the state board’s ESSER spending dashboard.

At the March board meeting, Stines said the ESSER III dollars are going to purchasing new Chromebooks, providing staff training over the summer on the Orton Gillingham reading curriculum, HVAC upgrades, a new social worker the district hired and other expenditures.

Kelly Smits is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Kelly Smits is the education and environment reporter at the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.