Springfield, IL - A group of Illinois House Republicans addressed one of their main concerns with Gov. JB Pritzker's proposed FY2021 budget Thursday morning. $350 million should be distributed across the state under the evidence-based school funding model, but the governor's plan would only send $200 million to schools. The rest would be on hold, unless the governor's graduated income tax is approved by voters in November. That's just a small chunk of the $1.4 billion that would be held in reserve, pending the income tax change.
The 2017 evidence-based funding law set a standard budget requirement of $350 million from the General Assembly and schools received that amount in the 2018 and 2019 budgets. There was $375 million to fund the plan for the current fiscal year. House Republicans say Pritzker shouldn't play games with the funding schools rely on.
"When I was listening to the Governor's speech and he mentioned this, I couldn't help but think of the old line - it's a nice funding formula you got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it," Rep. Steven Reick (R-Woodstock) said.
"Because the reserve is so large, it inevitably cuts into some of the things that we all hold most dear: increased funding for K-12 education, universities and community colleges, public safety and other key investments," Pritzker said during his budget speech Wednesday.
Assistant House Republican Leader Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) says school districts are required to present their final budgets before any ballot measure is decided on by voters.
Left in an awkward position
"This bullying tactic to hold funding to our schools and our students hostage in order to get his way is not only irresponsible, but presents a false choice," said Bourne.
She says the proposal leaves school officials in an awkward position of hiring and funding classroom resources before they know how much funding they will receive from the state.
"In order to be responsible - in order to make sure that we take care of education at our local levels - we don't play games like this," added Rep. Randy Frese (R-Quincy).
Frese says school officials shouldn't have to worry about a shakeup of the funding model, just years after it passed out of the statehouse. Rep. Reick agrees.
"Nobody wants to do that"
"They have hard caps on the times and amount they can budget," Reick explained. "Otherwise if they overshoot their mark, they've gotta go to the taxpayers and ask for a levy increase. They don't want to do that. Nobody wants to do that."
Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is one of the top Democratic budgeteers. In an official statement Wednesday, Steans said Pritzker's proposal is a good starting point. But she hopes lawmakers will find a better solution for education funding that doesn't rely on reserve funds.