Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Senate passes education budgets

By Meredith Colias 

Illinois Senate Democrats voted today to give education an extra boost by using unexpected income tax revenue to avoid further cuts next year.

Senate Bill 2555 and SB 2556, funding bills for K-12 and higher education, passed on a party line vote. About $155 million is being added to the K-12 education budget to keep the general state aid pro-rated at 89 percent, which is its current level. The House approved the other pieces of the budget yesterday. Democrats from both chambers reached a budget deal this year after cutting Republicans out of talks a few weeks ago.

Park Ridge Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski, the sponsor of the legislation, called it a “true, accurate, transparent budget.” Bilingual education and early childhood education funds will remain the same. Transportation will also remain flat, although it has been severely underfunded because of cuts in recent years. At present, the state is only reimbursing schools for 64 percent of their student transportation costs. Under the proposal, the state would fail to meet the recommended per-student funding level for the third year in a row.

Republican lawmakers complained about about the K-12 budget during floor debate, saying their districts are struggling to make do. Currently, two thirds of districts are running deficits. “We’ve done everything we can, and all we do is get cut,” Lebanon Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter said. “We’ve made every cut we can make.” Democrats were criticized for introducing the bill in advance of the budget implementation bill, which is the final blueprint on how the money is going to be spent. “We haven’t seen the full picture, and yet we are voting here today,” Mahomet Republican Sen. Chapin Rose said.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, blasted Republican members on the floor who said they are concerned that their districts are missing funding after Republicans have called for budget cuts for years. “You have fought against” increasing education budgets for the last decade, she said. “All of a sudden, you realize you have poor kids in your districts. Now it is touching home.”

The higher education budget approved today lacked the 5 percent cut called for in Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget. Quinn presented cuts to both K-12 and higher education because he said the growing pension costs were putting pressure on other areas. But a windfall of one-time only tax revenues spared both education budgets. “I'm not going to advocate for a budget that cuts for another year,” Kotowksi said.

Rose said that even though higher education is funded at essentially the same level as this fiscal year, universities would continue to struggle because the state is behind on its payments from the current fiscal year. “When you don’t pay people, it really doesn’t matter,” he said.


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