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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 12:10 am

Rauner proposes more for schools, but no new formula

Scott Harry, Illinois state budget director, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee about Gov. Rauner’s FY 2018 proposed budget.
PHOTO BY Lee Milner

 

Under Gov. Bruce Rauner’s new budget, pre-k through 12 education would receive a funding increase over last year, but using the current school funding formula.

Rauner’s budget proposal includes a $250 million increase for elementary education, with $50 million going to early childhood and a $30 million increase toward general state aid. Rauner also proposed fully funding regular transportation grants and bilingual education.

The overall budget proposal consists of $32.7 billion in revenues and $37.3 billion in spending, leaving a gap of about $4.6 billion. This does not include the $11.9 billion in bill backlogs that Illinois faces. His proposal also includes $3 billion in savings in areas such as pensions, workers’ compensation and selling the Thompson Center.

“There is no new money that is proposed to pay down the bill backlog but...the governor would be open to financing options to pay down a portion of the backlog,” said Rauner’s budget director, Scott Harry.

Democrats responded saying Rauner did not present a balanced budget.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, a member of the school funding formula commission, said it was disappointing to not have the commission’s recommendations included in Rauner’s budget proposal.

“The governor had an opportunity to outline a budget proposal that would make a down payment on his commission. That tells me the commission’s work is pretty low on the priority list,” he said in an interview.

The school funding formula commission came up with recommendations on Feb. 1 to focus on increasing funding for poverty-level school districts, and to use enrollment, in place of average daily attendance, in the school funding formula. Manar added he does not agree with the governor’s budget proposal to follow the current formula.

“The first person on the front of the line to say in a budget proposal to end the current system and pivot to a new or equitable system is Gov. Rauner and he could have done that. Instead, like all of his predecessors, he has decided to pour more money into the current system,” he said.

Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, said while she was pleased to hear Rauner speak of appropriating funds towards education, she worries about the distribution of funds to all school districts.

“That means that schools that already have a five-lane swimming pool…they’re getting more money, but that money needs to be going to districts that are struggling,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, questioned during a committee hearing how funding would be affected with a new formula.

“If a funding formula change is achieved, in order to accomplish what the governor wants to accomplish, is he going to want to spend more than a $250 million increase?” he asked.

Dr. Beth Purvis, Rauner’s secretary of education, said the administration would not want to make the level of funding lower than the $250 million increase proposed. “The governor’s goal is always to maximize funding for pre-k through 12 education, but that is not to say that he will increase that number without understanding the larger context of the budget as a whole,” she said.

Manar added at the committee hearing that despite schools being fully funded at the current foundation level, the gap between rich and poor districts remains. “We don’t have a firm grasp on who goes up and who goes down under the governor’s proposal,” he said.

Purvis said since there is no new school funding formula in statute, the administration decided to address the issues of the current formula and that the proposal tried to tackle some of the commission’s recommendations such as having a “hold harmless” clause, which would ensure richer school districts would not receive less funding than the previous year.

Contact Debby Hernandez at editintern@illinoistimes.com.

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