Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Proposed education budget increase unlikely at this point

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois State Board of Education is asking for more than a $1 billion increase in its budget, but lawmakers indicated today that a large infusion of funding is unlikely.

In Fiscal Year 2015, ISBE is asking for $1.08 billion more than what was budgeted this fiscal year for K-12 education. The bulk of the increase, $879 million, would go to general state aid for schools. The amount would be needed to meet the foundation level, $6,119 per student. The foundation level is set in statute, but for the last three years, the state budget has failed to fully fund it. According to ISBE, education currently makes up about 27 of the state’s general spending. The board is asking lawmakers to dedicate 33 percent of Illinois’ budget to K-12 education.

So far, the budget outlook for the next fiscal year is not good. The temporary income tax is set to decrease, creating a hit of an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue. The employee pension payment, personnel costs and the state’s Medicaid liability are all expected to increase. Rep. William Davis, a Lewistown Democrat and chairman of the House committee hearing the budget proposals today, cautioned those presenting their budget plans, including ISBE, to be realistic. “Please, just keep in mind that this is going to be a difficult year for us. I think we all, if nothing else, can agree on that much,” he said. “Please, when you are making your presentations, please try to make them in the context of what we’re facing this particular year.”

But ISBE Chairman Gery Chico warned that if the Illinois does not invest in education now, it will hurt the state’s economy later. “if we don’t invest in our students today and produce an intelligent college- and career-ready class of graduates each year, Illinois' economic future is bleak. We know that if we don’t invest in our students' education, Massachusetts will, India will, or China will [invest in theirs]. Guess what follows investments in education — jobs.”

The board is also asking for increases in other areas, including $450 million in capital funding for technology upgrades for schools, $25 million for early childhood education and $12.3 million for bilingual education.

Hinckley Republican Rep. Robert Pritchard said ISBE officials should possibly take the fact that the foundation level has not been met the last three years as an indication that “looking at the funding level and how we’re seemingly never able to fund at the necessary level to do the objectives that we have, isn’t it time maybe to look at a new model for education?”

State Superintendent Christopher Koch said ISBE is willing to consider rolling back some mandates on schools, but he also said that some of those requirements are necessary. “While we know this is a big increase, allow me to put this a little bit into perspective,” he told the committee. “When adjusting the FY 09 K-12 budget for inflation, our request amounts to a 1.5 percent decrease from the adjusted FY 09 levels.”

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