State Leaders Adopt Short-Sighted Quick Fix to State’s School Funding and Revenue Crisis - Metropolitan Planning Council

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State Leaders Adopt Short-Sighted Quick Fix to State’s School Funding and Revenue Crisis

FY06 Budget Fails to Address Comprehensive Reform

When Illinois lawmakers should have been hitting the books to forge a long-term solution to the state’s school funding and property tax dilemma, they instead rushed headlong into summer break, hastily approving a fiscal year 2006 (FY06) budget based largely on short-sighted quick-fixes, according to A+ Illinois, a campaign for comprehensive, statewide education funding and tax reform.

“The state’s FY06 budget not only fails to adequately fund Illinois schools today, but it also will put us right back in the same situation next year,” according to Bindu Batchu, manager, A+ Illinois. “This budget does not present a long-term solution to the state’s school funding and property tax crisis, and A+ Illinois urges state legislators to work in the coming months to build consensus around a solution.”

The FY06 budget is based on the diversion over the next two years of more than $2 billion in payments to teacher and state worker pensions. In the long run, taxpayers will have to make up for these payments at a large expense. Just as concerning, the budget “robs from Peter to pay Paul,” raiding about $160 million from important programs, including several that provide vital services to children and families.

The budget earmarks more than $300 million to elementary and secondary schools, approximately $200 million of which is dedicated to general state aid. The funding is expected to increase the minimum per-pupil spending amount for public schools – also known as the foundation level – by $200, from $4,964 to $5,164. While this is a notable increase, the state will still fall $1,240 short per pupil of providing a quality education, according to the Education Funding Advisory Board, appointed by Gov. Blagojevich to determine the recommended foundation level.

The budget also fails to remedy the state’s over-reliance on property taxes to fund education. This arrangement is placing an ever-growing burden on small business owners, seniors on fixed incomes, and thousands of hardworking families across Illinois who are struggling to afford escalating property taxes.

Despite all of the budget’s shortcomings, the governor said, "I think the winners in this budget and in this session are parents and children, senior citizens, working people and taxpayers, business, doctors and their patients.”

Yet, even now, Illinois schoolchildren, families and businesses are losing out. Under the

Blagojevich administration, between FY03 and FY04, elementary class sizes grew by five percent. Meanwhile, last year the state employed 3,400 fewer teachers. And, for the second year running, the state has no plans to invest in updating and improving school facilities.

The need for school-funding and property tax reform has never been greater, and this session state leaders made great strides to advance comprehensive legislation. Senate President Emil Jones and state Senators Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), James Meeks ( I-Calumet City ), and Rick Winkel (R-Champaign) are to be commended for rallying a bipartisan Senate legislative committee to approve a school funding and tax reform proposal – a first, in nearly a decade. All schools would have benefited under the proposals, which would have raised the foundation level to at least $6,100 and fully funded the state share of special education mandates. However, comprehensive school funding reform proposals ran up against a blockade, erected by the governor’s refusal to raise taxes coupled with a lack of political will.

A+ Illinois urges state leaders to work during the summer session to develop a plan for comprehensive reform. Nothing is more important to the future well-being of the state’s two million schoolchildren or its economic vitality than fixing Illinois broken school-funding system now.

A+ Illinois is a campaign of more than 100 organizations and thousands of individuals across the state committed to real reform in the quality and funding of public education for all Illinois children. Partner organizations include AFSCME Council 31, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Chicago Urban League, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, Metropolitan Planning Council, Tax Policy Forum and Voices for Illinois Children. Visit www.aplusillinois.org for more information.

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