SPRINGFIELD — The chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education today called on lawmakers to increase funding school funding by $874 million at a time when the state treasury is so short on cash that Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed cuts.
“We are having the best of times and the worst of times,” said education board chairman Gery Chico, who formerly headed the Chicago Public Schools board and finished second to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2011 contest. “Never before have we seen the types of improvements occurring in our local and state levels that are driving student growth, while at the same time districts across Illinois are being challenged to keep the lights on and the doors open.”
Chico borrowed the “Tale of Two Cities” analogy from Charles Dickens as he made the pitch to a Senate appropriations committee with schools Superintendent Christopher Koch and other state board members.
The state’s budget for pre-kindergarten through high school need to play catch-up, Chico said.
The boost in funds would allow schools to spend at least as much money as the currently recommended level of $6,119 per pupil, what is known as the foundation level. The schools are only getting enough money to cover 89 percent of the foundation funding level in the current fiscal year.
Other notable increases in the state board’s recommended budget include an additional $40 million increase in early childhood education, an $11 million increase for bilingual programs, and a nearly $4 million increase to work with the lowest-performing schools. The board also recommended $20 million to improve school security, valued at $5,000 per school. The boost would provide schools install better safety measures in the wake of the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six women dead.
The Quinn administration, citing pressures to spend on state pensions, have called for cuts in education spending that could approach $400 million, but House Democrats are now working to at least hold the line at the current year’s level, said Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, who chairs the House panel overseeing funding for elementary and high schools.
But it is “hard to say” what the level of school funding will be for the upcoming year when lawmakers finish this spring, Davis said.
While Davis said he appreciated Chico’s call for a bigger budget, the lawmaker also delivered a grim assessment of the chances that the schools superintendent would succeed.
“Tthere’s a reality that exists here in Springfield with regards to how the legislature does budgeting at this time. Something like that is not humanly possible,” Davis said.
Any cuts in education funding in the new budget would follow cuts of $162 million and $209 million over the the past two budgets, Davis said.