Why it may be a good thing that Illinois schools won’t get an extra billion dollars


By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It’s been years since Illinois’ 860-plus school districts got what they were promised by state lawmakers. And 2014 looks to be no different.

NO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS: Illinois schools are going to have to do without an extra $1 billion.

Still, Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch is asking for an addition $1 billion in his new budget request.

“We have to anticipate that providing student in Illinois with an education isn’t going to cost less from year to year,” Koch told Illinois Watchdog.

Illinois is spending $6 billion on public schools this year, Koch’s request would push that number to a little more than $7 billion for next year.

But Koch and the state’s schools won’t get that extra $1 billion.

“I would love to,” State Rep. Will Davis, who authors Illinois’ education budget, said. “We’re just not financially in a position to do all of those things.”

Koch said if that’s the case, some schools will close.

“At the end of this school year, we will have 23 percent of our school districts with less than 100 days of cash on hand,” Koch said. “We have 63 percent of our districts are in financial distress, requiring some sort of intervention.”

But that may be what it takes to prove to parents in Illinois that the state itself is in financial distress.

Davis said if schools were to cancel high school football or basketball because the district has run out of money, parents finally will pay attention.

“It certainly shouldn’t have to be up to the athletic program,” Davis said. “But, I guess in some ways you say ‘If that’s what it takes,’ than that’s what it takes.”

Joshua Dwyer, director of education reform at the Illinois Policy Institute, said parents and taxpayers are starting to realize something is not right.

“It is difficult to tell where people’s breaking points are — what is going to be the catalyst that will cause them to demand change?” Dwyer said. “I would argue that they are closer to it now than they’ve ever been.”

Dwyer said a look at the state’s simple budget math shows what is not right.

While Illinois spends $6 billion a year to educate kids, the state spends $7 billion a year to pay for teachers and other public workers to retire.

“(That) shows that the state has its priorities backwards. It is willing to slash everything in order to fulfill its pension obligations,” He said.

Dwyer said it will take moving government workers away from traditional pensions to 401(k)-style retirements plans to make those numbers fall into line.

Davis said it might take a tax increase. And that, too, is certain to grab parents and taxpayers’ attention.

Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.

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