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Rockford Public Schools touts lowest tax rate in region for the first time in decades

Over the past decade, school districts in northern Illinois have lowered their local tax rates. How?

Back in 2015, Rockford Public Schools’ tax rate was 7.93 -- meaning the district received $7.93 per $100 in Equalized Assessed Value of a property. This year, the tax rate is down to 5.19.

RPS’ tax rate is now the lowest in Boone & Winnebago counties, which administrators say hasn’t happened in decades.

Superintendent Ehren Jarrett says they’ve been able to lower tax rates for two reasons:

“Because of Evidence-Based Funding," he said, "and, more importantly, because of the consistent tax policy of our board."

Jarrett says they’ve collected the same amount of tax dollars every year for the past 11 years, which was a deliberate strategy by the board starting after the financial crisis tanked home values.

The superintendent says it was difficult to hold that line, especially for the first few years.

“We were literally getting to the point by 2017, where we're like, ‘Boy, I don't know how much longer we can hold on and do this’," he said, "and then Evidence-Based Funding kicked in, which really gave us the space to continue this."

Evidence-Based Funding is the formula the state uses to fund public schools, which started in 2017. It prioritizes state dollars for districts who don’t pull in enough local property taxes to adequately fund their schools. The influx of state funding made them less reliant on local taxes and allowed them to keep taxes steady -- even when accounting for cost increases.

Tax rates at all Boone & Winnebago schools have fallen substantially over the past few years. But, since 2021, rates have fallen the most in Rockford.

“Your average taxpayer may or may not have a lower tax bill than they did," Jarrett said. "But at a minimum, they have a significantly lower rate, which means their house is worth a lot more."

Jarrett expects the rates to fall again next year but admits rates can’t keep going down forever. Eventually, the district may have to ask for more tax dollars, especially with the pressure of inflation.

Other factors like housing scarcity play into property values increasing but Jarrett says he thinks the district’s efforts have contributed to the growth of Rockford’s housing market -- which the Wall Street Journal just ranked as the top market in the nation.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.