In just six months, the stimulus funding that helped buoy state
governments and keep school districts solvent will disappear. While
there has been plenty of debate
over how many teaching jobs the money has preserved or created here in
Illinois, the consensus among ...
In just six months, the stimulus funding that helped buoy state governments and keep school districts solvent will disappear. While there has been plenty of debate over how many teaching jobs the money has preserved or created here in Illinois, the consensus among educators and state officials is clear: When the $2.4 billion in federal aid dries up, school finances "will fall off the cliff," as State Board of Ed Chair Jesse Ruiz puts it.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is only reaffirming those fears. In a report (PDF) released last week, the federal agency found that 63 percent of states surveyed -- including Illinois -- used 50 percent of their stimulus resources to retain jobs. (In our case, those jobs were largely in the education sector.) "When one saves a job," Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya tells the AP, "it doesn't mean one saves it indefinitely."
Now the looming question for districts across Illinois -- and the country -- is how will they cope with the loss of federal money at the same time that state and local revenues are plummeting. The answer could be mass layoffs. More from the AP:
School districts faced with raising taxes to make up for stimulus money "are going to have to put together some contingency plans," said B. Jason Brooks, director of research and communications for the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, a think tank.
"There may be massive teacher layoffs," he added
We're beginning to see that scenario playing out here. As officials brace for that post-stimulus cliff, layoffs are looking increasingly inevitable. But those cuts are likely to run much deeper here in Illinois compared with other states. That's because of six months in delayed reimbursements for special education, transportation, and other programs. Next year, the pressure will be on the General Assembly pulls it together and passes a responsible budget that generates new revenue and pays these past-due bills. Illinois Statehouse News has more from Leroy High School in Springfield:
The sign outside LeRoy High School has a seemingly simple message. It says Illinois’ IOU: $253,000. [...]
The sign is a sign that schools are fed up with waiting for what they’re owed [...]
LeRoy and the 12 other schools in the Heart of Illinois Conference, which spans a stretch of central Illinois, have joined together to make a single effort to either obtain the money they are owed or get some recognition from Springfield that something needs to change [...]
“Is it going to take a catastrophe," [Superintendent Gary Tipsord said], "is it going to take you know people experiencing real pain before something changes?”
Unfortunately, the situation is also quite dire for Illinois' universities, as the Sun-Times noted in an editorial today. After steadily whittling away at higher education budgets for nearly a decade, the state stopped making regular payments all together on July 1. The editorial board urged lawmakers to make education a priority as they begin "grappling with the numbers" next month, before tuition levels once again rise:
Public higher education has long been valued as a way for the next generation to become better and more productive citizens, helping the whole nation to move ahead. But these kinds of increases are putting college out of reach for many students and their families.