Finding the best way to help all Illinois schools is a challenge. But, after studying the issue, it has become clear to me that fully funding the state’s “Foundation Level” education grant is the first and most important step that must be taken. For the last several years, the state has failed to do so. Instead they have prorated school funding to only pay 89 or 90 percent of what they should, despite receiving over $26 billion in new revenue since the 2011 income tax increase.
The state has failed to keep its obligation to fund our schools, causing them to cut programs, close schools, lay off valuable positions, and go into debt even though many have made deep cuts in their budget to mitigate the state’s delinquency. For that reason, I have co-sponsored legislation that will re-establish the Foundation Level as the No. 1 funding priority in Illinois’ education system. The measure, Senate Bill 3664, requires the Foundation Level grant within the state’s General State Aid formula to be funded at 100 percent before directing education dollars to any other grant lines or programs. This will eliminate the proration that schools across the state have faced in recent years.
On May 13, administrators, parents, educators and board members from Streator Elementary School District 44 traveled to Springfield to plead for help from the state. They asked that the state stop prorating them and no longer delay owed payments. The district has reduced its budget by over $5.3 million over the last six years and has borrowed between $1 and $1.6 million each year. This has led to the closure of one school, elimination of close to 40 positions and elimination of programs. They have done everything they can in the last five years. Their superintendent has said they have reached an operational tipping point and that for the protection of students and staff, they cannot make any further cuts.
When I joined several of my Senate Republican colleagues to introduce this legislation, I specifically mentioned Streator Elementary School District and how it was a disgrace that the state’s mismanagement of funds have forced that district to borrow money in order to keep its doors open. That should never happen in the state.
This school district has done everything it can on its end to live within its budget but provide for the needs of its students. Unfortunately, this is just one example of many throughout the state. It’s time that the state live up to its side of the bargain and fund school districts properly so students and districts aren’t suffering like they are now. Continued proration and delayed payments are unacceptable at this point. Illinois’ No. 1 priority should be meeting the obligation to fully fund education in the state. There has been other legislation introduced seeking to radically reshuffle state funding for education. Unfortunately, the proposal is complex and controversial and creates significant losers across the state. In my own district, I have schools that would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars under that rewrite. Our proposal is simple and assures that all schoolchildren receive the base level of support they deserve.
It is my hope that the Legislature will make the passage of Senate Bill 3664, and ultimately the full funding of education, its No. 1 priority. There is still time left in this session to do so.
I will be urging my colleagues to support this measure and continue to advocate for full funding of school districts across the state as this session draws to a close. I am hopeful the state will make our children and schools the No. 1 priority, as they should be.