The Illinois State Board of Education is asking for $19.3 billion next year to adequately fund public schools, an amount of money equal to more than half the entire existing state budget.
If lawmakers granted the board full funding, it would represent an 86 percent increase in state money for Illinois’ public schools. In a release, the board said $11 billion would close the entire state funding gap and the rest would go to universal preschool, teacher retention programs, career-oriented learning, and other projects.
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"The deep structural inequity in Illinois’ schools today did not happen by accident," State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement. "Institutional decisions, both historical and ongoing, produce disparate and statistically predictable educational outcomes for Illinois students."
Homewood Democratic Rep. Will Davis said the state can’t afford that price tag, but he's optimistic that lawmakers can allocate more funding than last year.
"That will significantly help so many school districts working toward getting to that 90 percent," he said, referring to the funding levels established under the recent school funding overhaul.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a budget into law last June that provided $12.1 billion for the State Board of Education, capital appropriations not included.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said the board's annual requests have become symbolic in nature, considering the state’s fiscal condition. The State Board of Education regularly asks for far more than it will realistically get from the state. Board members have said the requests help highlight the need for additional education funding, although some lawmakers have grown tired of tactic.
"I don’t think that it does much to kick-start the legitimate conversation in Springfield about how we fund our public school system statewide," he said. "It has to be reconciled or balanced against the financial pressures that our state continues to bear."
Included in that request is more than $2 billion for a universal preschool program, something Davis said is worth considering to prepare children for the K-12 system.
"We know that truly is a cornerstone to get kids started in the right direction," said Davis, who was a principal negotiator, along with Barickman, in the 2017 school funding reform law conversation.
The State Board of Education estimates 315,409 children ages 3 to 5 statewide are not served by an early childhood education program funded by the agency in the current fiscal year.
Illinois’ public schools are primarily funded by local property taxes. Illinois residents pay among the highest property taxes in the nation.