* Larry Joseph, the director of the fiscal policy center at Voices for Illinois Children, lays out the grim future…
A few months ago, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget released a three-year forecast showing that the rollback of income tax rates would force deep cuts in nearly every part of the budget. For example, fiscal 2016 state funding for education would be 20 percent lower than current levels and 30 percent below fiscal 2009 funding. Even with severe spending cuts, the state would have a $7.4 billion backlog of unpaid bills owed to school districts, community colleges, public universities, health care providers, businesses, community nonprofits and local governments.
The Civic Federation has presented a different scenario, which assumes growth in Medicaid spending but essentially flat funding for education, human services and other major policy areas. As a result of the drop in income tax rates, the backlog of unpaid bills would jump to $13.2 billion at the end of fiscal 2016, the Civic Federation projects. Some have suggested that fixing the pension funding problem would remove the need to maintain current income tax rates. But the Civic Federation’s projections show that even with a pension funding plan that saves more than $6 billion over three years, a backlog of $6.8 billion would still exist.
You can bet pretty much anything that any pension funding plan which saves that much money would be blocked in court for a couple of years, so there’d be no savings like that.
* We’ll get to the pension issue in a bit. But while somewhat over-wrought, the State Board of Education has some legit complaints about education funding…
Only one school district, Meridian CUSD 101 in Mounds, has taken the steps to officially pursue a waiver to move to a four-day school week. But state officials say that the idea and other seemingly drastic options are on the table in many districts that are struggling with recent cuts and trying to plan for possible future ones. Christopher Koch, state superintendent, said that suburban districts have been calling the Illinois State Board of Education and inquiring about shortening their school weeks. “I think the problem is they’re without options, and they’re looking at what can [they] do to keep the doors open. And how quickly can they do it. These are real discussions that districts and boards are having across the state. … It’s astonishing to be getting these requests, but that’s demonstrating what’s happening now,” said Koch. “It’s not only four-day school weeks, it’s high class size ratios, so you have a lot more students per teacher. You have all kinds of personnel being laid off across the state. [School] board after [school] board are approving that. It’s a number of things that are occurring that are no doubt going to erode the quality of instruction taking place.”
In its Fiscal Year 2014 proposed budget, the state board is requesting an increase of $874 million from the current fiscal year. According to the ISBE, pre-K through 12 education has been cut by $861 million since FY 2009. The board says general state aid to schools has been reduced by 7 percent, more than $320 million, since FY 2009. […]
Gery Chico, chair of the ISBE, said leaders in the state “have got to challenge the premise” that education must be cut under the next state budget. “That’s not the discussion. That shouldn’t be the discussion. That’s not what a great state’s about,” he said. “There’s not just one way to raise additional money, through pension [benefits] reduction. There’s other ways to raise money. And we need to have all those things on the table so that we don’t talk about four-day school weeks, we don’t talk about 40-plus-kid class sizes or more, we don’t talk about eliminating fundamental programs in schools.”
The governor has proposed another $275 million for the coming fiscal year.