SPRINGFIELD – Building on the bipartisan stop-gap budget approved June 30, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced July 12 the creation of a bipartisan commission on Illinois School Funding Reform, with State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) as a member.
Commission appointees will work in the coming months to negotiate an agreement to overhaul Illinois’ broken school funding system. A bipartisan compromise on this critical issue will be a top focus for legislators and the Governor, and another key reform for Illinois.
Comprehensive change is challenging, as the last year and a half have proven. However, this week the Governor’s budget director outlined a number of the ways reforms to state government have protected Illinois taxpayers, increased government efficiencies and helped Illinois function more successfully.
Illinois’ Fiscal Good Health and Reforms
The compromise on the budget, after an impasse of more than a year, also acknowledged the need to address structural reforms to improve Illinois’ business and jobs climate and implement government reforms. For more than a year, the Governor argued, with Senate Republican support, that reforms are needed to get Illinois’ financial crisis under control and to restore economic prosperity.
Illinois’ public debt continues to climb out-of-control, the state’s unemployment rate remains above the national average – as job losses out-number job gains – and Illinois is one of the top states for out-migration of residents.
Looking back on the recently-concluded spring legislative session, Republicans teamed-up with Gov. Rauner to protect taxpayers from the years of overspending and overpromising of prior governors and General Assemblies, controlled by Democrat supermajorities. The prior Administrations “kicked the can down the road” with unbalanced budgets, borrowing and tax increases. As a result, today, Illinois government is left with a record backlog of unpaid bills and more than $100 billion in unfunded public pension debt.
During the no-cooperation-no-budget 2016 Fiscal Year (July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016), Republican legislators and the Governor ensured taxpayers were a top priority. They placed a renewed emphasis on Illinois taxpayers and as a result:
· Defeated the Democrat supermajority FY 2017 spending plan ($7 billion out of balance) that would have raised personal income tax rates to more than 5.5%;
· Stopped the Democrat supermajority’s attempt to bailout Chicago with an additional $400 million in state taxpayer funds;
· Linked passage of the stop-gap budget to comprehensive pension reform, forcing the Democrat supermajority to negotiate over this and other structural reforms proposed by the Governor.
Despite its many challenges, during the 2016 legislative session Republican lawmakers and the Rauner Administration’s efforts:
· Provided record funding for elementary and secondary schools statewide with a plan that fully funds the foundation level, ends the unfair practice of proration for the first time in seven years ensuring no school receives less funding that it did last year, and provides a new poverty grant to help those students most in need;
· Saved more than $800 million in state spending by making the management of state agencies and programs more efficient;
· Reformed the EDGE tax credit program to eliminate “special” deals and only provide credits for actual job creation;
· Banned the revolving door of state officials becoming lobbyists to make money off the programs they designed;
· Implemented fraud reduction efforts that prevented $188 million in improper unemployment insurance claims;
· Took action at the Department of Health and Family Services to net state taxpayers more than $250 million by improving the administration of services;
· Launched a comprehensive review of Illinois police procedures, and other states’ best practices, for handling use of deadly force between officers and community residents;
· Began the process to sell the James R. Thompson Center;
· Reduced the number of youth in shelter care and residential treatment centers in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services;
· Launched a Health and Human Services transformation to improve services to the most vulnerable citizens while also making the services more efficient and affordable.
The direction Illinois is headed likely won’t change until a complete and balanced budget is passed that is tied to major structural reforms that grow the economy and reduce government spending. Suggested reforms to make government more efficient and accountable, which were blocked by the Democrat majority this session, include:
· Term limits for state legislators;
· Curbing lobbyist gifts to legislators and ending the legislator-lobbyist revolving door;
· Local control of government costs that send property taxes skyrocketing;
· Ending fraud and abuse in our workers' compensation system and curbing lawsuit abuse to make Illinois friendlier to job creation and economic growth;
· Government purchasing reforms to lower the costs and save taxpayers money.
A recent report by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) revealed the state lost more than 350,000 prime working-age adults (age 25 to 54) over the past ten years, with most of the loss – 290,000 – due to migration to other states. The IPI report states, “Out-migration is a serious problem for Illinois, and policymakers should focus on curtailing it by fostering a better climate for job creation and economic growth. The more Illinoisans leave, the fewer there are left to shoulder the burden of Illinois’ tremendous debts.”
At the heart of the long budget impasse, was an argument made by Democrat leaders that the budget and reforms should not be linked. However, Republican lawmakers and the Governor stressed that these structural reforms fundamentally impact the state’s bottom line.
Legislative Republicans stood behind reform efforts, emphasizing that economic growth is reliant on job creation and noting that increased prosperity would lead to more revenue that government can use to provide critical state services. They also pointed out that getting Illinois’ fiscal house in order will also help get public debt under control so government does not become an unmanageable burden for future generations.
School Funding Reform Commission
Gov. Rauner’s announcement of the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission was quickly followed by the appointment of five legislators to the panel by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. Senator Barickman (R-Bloomington) is joined by Senators Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville), Dan McConchie (R-Lake Zurich), Karen McConnaughay (R-West Dundee) and Sue Rezin (R-Peru) will serve on the commission to be chaired by Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis.
“In recent years, there have been efforts to reform our broken and outdated school funding formula, but none had the strong bipartisan support necessary to make it happen,” said Senator Barickman. “I believe the leadership of the Governor and his administration – in concert with bipartisan, bicameral legislative participation and input from stakeholders -- is what will allow this effort to finally be successful.”
The remaining legislative leaders also named appointees to the 25-member commission (five members will come from each of the four legislative caucuses and five members from the Governor’s administration).
The commission’s assignment is to recommend a comprehensive solution to reform Illinois’ school funding formula. It’s anticipated the first public meeting of the commission will be held in early August, though that date has not been announced. Recommendations are due to the Governor and General Assembly by February 2017, allowing lawmakers the ability to take action during the 2017 legislative session.
Senator Barickman will continue his push for an evidence-based funding model that uses real-world data to help improve student achievement for all schools.
SAT Returns for High School Students
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced it will end the controversial PARCC assessment test for high school students during the upcoming 2016-17 school year.
ISBE said it will replace PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) with the College Board’s SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), at no cost to students. ISBE said the decision to replace PARCC and return to the SAT came after a statewide listening tour of students, parents, teachers, administrators and other interested parties.
The State Board said, “Stakeholders overwhelmingly emphasized the need for equitable access to a college entrance exam for all students. They also stressed that the amount of testing time and the number of assessments administered to students need to be reduced.”
Elementary school students in grades 3 through 8 will continue to take the PARCC assessment.