Springfield, IL –Illinois Senate Republicans are urging their Democrat counterparts in the House and Senate to get on board with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to fully fund the Foundation Level for education for the first time in seven years. Senate GOP lawmakers say that fully funding General State Aid (GSA) for K-12 schools is the best way to serve Illinois’ students in the short-term, until a new state funding formula for education is established.
Republican Senators also stressed that suburban and downstate schools should not be held hostage by Democrat lawmakers attempting to force a $500 million bailout of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
In other news this week, yet another multi-billion-dollar spending plan offered up by Senate Democrats faced strong opposition from Senate Republican lawmakers. Their proposal, Senate Bill 2059, appropriates approximately $4 billion to a number of state programs, agencies and higher education that are not currently funded by court order, consent decrees, or continuing appropriations; however, the legislation once again fails to identify a revenue stream for the spending, instead appropriating money the state simply does not have.
Senate Republicans say fully funding Foundation Level is the best way to serve students
While acknowledging the need for a new state funding formula for education, Senate Republicans, led by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), said the best way to serve Illinois’ students in the short-term is by fully funding the current education formula established to equalize school districts’ property wealth.
Gov. Rauner is seeking to fully fund the state’s Foundation Level for education for the first time in seven years, increasing GSA by $55 million to meet the $6,119 per student Foundation Level. Senate GOP lawmakers noted that under the current formula, schools often receive more or less money from year to year due to changes in local resources, student population and demographics. However, all schools would benefit from increasing the amount of money that goes into the school funding formula than they would if the total funding remained flat, say Senate Republicans.
Fully funding GSA for education is far preferable to the legislative Democrats’ purposely underfunding foundation level funding for K-12, which they have intentionally done for the last seven years. This practice is known as “proration,” and Senate Republicans stressed that Democrats’ proration is just another word for cuts. They noted proration is problematic for all Illinois schools, but it specifically hurts the most impoverished students in the state.
“Every year there are changes to the amount of state funding sent to individual schools. Some get more than the year before, some get less. This occurs under the current formula, but it also happens under every single formula that anyone has proposed,” said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “Fully funding the foundation level means more money for our K-12 system, period. There are no losers in this plan. Every school district gets more money with our plan than they would if the total funding remains flat.”
Though lawmakers from both parties agree that Illinois’ education funding formula—which is nearly 20 years old—needs to be updated, Senate Republicans cautioned that it will be a long process, requiring cooperation from both parties in both chambers and valuable input from stakeholders. They emphasized that K-12 schools cannot wait to receive their state funding for the next school year while lawmakers craft a new funding formula.
Senate Republicans underscored that political gamesmanship should not get in the way of funding primary and secondary education. They noted that some Democrat lawmakers, including the Senate President, have suggested that funding for suburban or downstate school districts should be withheld until a more “fair” system is established. Republican lawmakers say this is a political maneuver, intended to force increased state assistance to the fiscally floundering CPS. Republicans say it is unacceptable to hold downstate and suburban schools’ funding hostage in order to force a $500 million state bailout of CPS.
Senator Barickman joins his colleagues at a Capitol press conference to push for fully funding the foundation formula for schools.
Senate Democrats approve spending billions
Senate Democrats this week once again voted for nearly $4 billion in spending authorization—but without the associated revenue needed to fund the spending. A high-ranking official in the Governor’s administration stressed Senate Bill 2059 “represents yet another proposal to spend billions of dollars without any way to pay for it.”
A memo distributed by state budget Director Tim Nuding noted, “The spending identified in this bill is not affordable because the legislature has already spent all available funds” and pointed out legislative Democrats have not identified any “corresponding proposals to reform government programs, to reduce other spending or to free up resources to fund this bill within existing resources.”
Nuding said that “Senate Bill 2059 is another in a long line of political documents that make promises that knowingly cannot be kept.” He noted that, “Voting for this bill adds to the state’s debt, causes those who are already waiting for state payments to wait even longer and potentially jeopardizes payments to the pension systems and General State Aid payments for school districts. “
In his memo, Nuding labeled the bill a “cruel hoax,” and said that recently the Comptroller’s Office reported a backlog of bills totaling $7.6 billion, with more than 50,000 unpaid vouchers on hand. Vendors who have already provided services to the state continue to wait months to get paid.
Improving the lives of foster children
The Senate Human Services Committee advanced legislation this week intended to infuse some normalcy into the lives of children in Illinois’ foster system.
Senate Bill 3041 was introduced by Leader Radogno to make it easier for foster kids to participate in commonplace extracurricular activities, like sleepovers, sports-related functions and other social outings.
Under current state law, foster parents must get approval from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for children under their care to participate in activities like sleepovers and visits to the zoo. The foster parents must call their caseworker and have a background check completed for the friends’ parents when they want to have a sleepover. Proponents of the legislation explained it can be a long process to secure permission for their wards to participate in these types of experiences, and in many instances those requests are denied.
Senate Bill 3041, which is based on a federal law, allows foster parents to grant permission to children under their care to enjoy extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities. It establishes that a caregiver must use the “Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard” when granting permission.
Radogno’s legislation is part of a larger effort to overhaul DCFS under the agency’s new Director George Sheldon. In the last year, the agency has reduced the number of youth in shelter care by more than 50 percent. DCFS also currently has the fewest number of youth in residential facilities in recent history, an accomplishment Radogno says is a testament to their work to ensure that youth are in the least restrictive, most appropriate placements possible.
DCFS plans to implement a number of new pilot programs throughout the state that will further reduce the use of residential facilities, and harness the power of mobile technology to make it easier for investigators and caseworkers to do their jobs in the field.
Senate Bill 3041 was approved by the Human Services Committee on March 16 and next heads to the full Senate for consideration.