Republican and Democrat lawmakers agree the state’s nearly 20 year-old system of funding K-12 education has become increasing inequitable, but that’s where the agreement ends.
While the Senate Republican Caucus acknowledges the need for a new funding formula for education, in the interim they are advocating for full funding for General State Aid (GSA) to schools, which includes Foundation Level and Low-Income grants. Full funding immediately provides more money for elementary and high schools, period.
However, Democrat lawmakers have threatened to withhold state funding for all schools until they can secure a complete rewrite of the formula to secure a $500 million bailout of the poorly-managed, fiscally-strapped Chicago Public School (CPS) system. Senate Republicans offered proposals this spring to help CPS, but as of this date, no hearings on those proposals are scheduled by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
At the Capitol, there is an abundance of promises to make education funding a priority. Commitments are a different story. Since Fiscal Year 2009, the Democrat majorities in the Senate and House intentionally prorated, or cut, the education funding formula at levels between 87 percent and 97 percent of full funding. This means for the past seven years, schools were left shortchanged and struggling. It’s also important to note that school funding was prorated at its worst levels during the time period (2011-2014) when Illinois collected nearly $30 billion in additional revenue as a result of the 2011 income tax increase. Schools serving the most impoverished students in the state were hurt the most by the Democrats’ prorated or reduced funding, because proration directly affects Foundation Level grants and Low-Income grants.
Senate Republicans are backing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to end the deliberate underfunding of Illinois schools, through a proposed $55 million increase for General State Aid to schools in the coming fiscal year. The total $4.8 billion appropriation would fully fund the $6,119 Foundation Level and supplemental grants for low-income students for the first time in seven years.
Education funding will be a key focus of negotiations on the upcoming state budget, even though an agreement on a current budget remains an unsettled issue more than nine months into Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which began July 1, 2015. The budget is an integral part of the state’s overall financial condition, which remains in shambles as Senators heard during a recent budget hearing.