Thursday, June 24, 2010

K-12 to take $300 million in cuts

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois State Board of Education approved almost $300 million in cuts to K-12 education today.

The board had anticipated a $480 million shortfall from last year’s budget, based on the budget approved by the General Assembly. But Gov. Pat Quinn did allocate $194 million to bilingual and early childhood education, which the board had listed among its proposed cuts.

The budget will maintain the foundation spending level at $6,199 per student.

“Those are the primary funds that districts really rely on, so that’s important,” said Mary Fergus, a spokesperson for the state board. She said the board wanted to avoid cutting programs that receive matching federal funds because that would result in losing those dollars, as well.

“What we had to do was go to some of our more flexible but still critical and important programs,” she said.

The budget zeros out funding for more than a dozen programs, including: arts and foreign language, agricultural education, advanced placement classes, alternative schools for at-risk kids and school breakfast.

While some might consider the numbers grim, Fergus said the one positive is that schools can now start planning their budgets and making decisions such as whether to rehire some of the thousands of teachers and staff who were given pinks slips earlier this spring.

She said that the board cannot yet predict how many educational employees will remain jobless in the fall, but she thinks earlier estimates of more than 13,000 layoffs will prove to be accurate.

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