In his annual budget address this February, Gov. Pat Quinn singled out education as an area that the state government is not cutting, despite his overall push toward fiscal austerity.
“I believe in the power of education to create opportunity in our society,” the governor said. “This is why I have maintained our basic investment in education, despite extremely hard times.”
But the budget the Illinois General Assembly sent the governor includes $857 million or 8.2 percent in state education budget cuts from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. The cuts will especially impact less wealthy school districts that cannot turn to local property tax revenue in lieu of reduced state money.
Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said the governor is reviewing the budget and "does not agree with reductions to education." As to how the governor might still reverse these budget cuts with the spring legislative session completed, Thompson pointed out that the Illinois Senate, passed tax hikes on satellite TV providers and companies that get offshore oil profits. The Illinois House, however, did not pass the tax increases.
The anticipated revenue from the two tax hikes could keep education spending at 2012 levels, if the full General Assembly were to sign off on them. The General Assembly could, perhaps, pass the tax hikes in the fall veto session.
Illinois schools already largely relies on local government revenue – which is mostly local property taxes, according to the Washington, D.C.-based New America Foundation. This local government revenue is the source of at least 60 percent of Illinois school district budgets – only South Dakota and Nevada have a higher percentage, according to the group.
The new budget increases the burden on local school districts by taking away $161 million, or 3.6 percent, of state aid to local school districts.
The loss of state aid means that the Illinois General Assembly has, in fact, proposed to somewhat lower the basic investment they make in Illinois children.
The State Board of Education has identified a minimum amount of money, $6,119 – which it calls the foundation level – that should be spent on every school child, money that comes from a combination of the state budget and available local funds. Under the budget that passed, the state will give 89 percent of what state aid money school districts are normally entitled to.
The loss in state money hurts poorer districts. The Wilmette district in the North Chicago suburbs can probably turn to local tax revenue to adequately fund its students, while the West Carroll district in rural northwest Illinois is more reliant on state funds.
There are cuts besides general state aid – Illinois will lose $639 million, or 17 percent, in the amount of money provided by the federal government. Larry Joseph, fiscal policy director of Voices for Illinois Children, a Chicago research and advocacy group, explains that the major loss in federal money is due to the expiration of remaining stimulus funds.