A preschool teacher engages students in a lesson.
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Board of Education approved a fiscal year 2016 budget recommendation that seeks an additional $729.9 million from the current year to fully fund General State Aid.
Board members acknowledged the reduction in revenue and increased spending pressures facing the state, but noted the pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education budget still would be 5 percent less than fiscal year 2009, when adjusted for inflation.
“Board members understand the challenges facing Governor Rauner and members of the General Assembly when it comes to developing a responsible budget for next year, but education is the smartest investment we can make in the economic future of our state and the quality of its workforce,” State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch said. “General state aid makes up the majority of our budget and GSA funds have fallen short of what is owed to school districts for the past four years, contributing to poorer financial health for more school districts and threatening the academic and extracurricular opportunities for the state’s 2 million students.”
Central to the GSA calculation is the “foundation level,” which represents the minimum level of funding required to meet the basic education needs of a single student in the Illinois K-12 public school system. That level has been set in state statute at $6,119 per pupil since 2010. However, in recent years, appropriations have fallen short of the GSA claim amounts and districts do not receive full reimbursement. The GSA appropriation for the current fiscal year, 2015, is about $550 million below the amount necessary to fully pay the GSA claim. This fiscal year is the fourth consecutive year the state is only paying a percentage of the amount owed to each district, with the current significant proration rate of 89 percent.
The recommendation asks for an increase of $566.4 million for GSA, providing $5.089 billion to fully fund claims at the $6,119 per pupil foundation level. This request is still far less than the Education Funding Advisory Board recommendation of $8,899 per pupil.
“We understand the incredible spending pressures facing our state, as revenues fall and spending pressures increase in other areas of state government. However, this year’s projected district budgets show nearly 64 percent of them are deficit spending compared to almost 41 percent in fiscal year 2009, meaning more districts are relying on their reserves or borrowing to stay afloat,” State Board Finance Committee Chairman Jim Baumann said. “Most of these districts have already made significant staff and programming cuts as local revenue sources shrink. Providing the financial support obligated by state law is the very least we can do to help ease the burden and prevent further reductions from hindering the important work taking place in classrooms to prepare our students for college and careers.”
ISBE’s general fund appropriation is currently $597 million less than in fiscal year 2009. The board’s recommendation for the fiscal year 2016 general fund calls for a $729.9 million, or 10.7 percent, increase over fiscal year 2015 to $7.535 billion. When adjusted for inflation, this amount is 5.2 percent less than the fiscal year 2009 general fund appropriation level.
In addition to the general funds request, the board’s recommendation includes $126.4 million in capital funding to provide districts in need with the necessary technology for instruction and the new online Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment. This figure includes the approximately $100 million needed to provide broadband delivery to underserved schools and $8.9 million to provide the electronic devices (Chromebooks, iPads, etc.) districts need for 21st-century instruction and to comply with PARCC online testing requirements.
Other proposed fiscal year 2016 increases or expenses include:
- $50 million increase for early childhood education, which has lost $80 million in funding since FY 2009. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Illinois an $80 million preschool expansion grant, and an annual increase in state funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant of $50 million over the next five years was part of the grant proposal. The increased state investment would fund an increase in the number of intensive, full-day slots for 4-year-olds through a new program option in the Preschool for All state-funded preschool program “More at Four,” a new full-day, comprehensive program for children with very high needs; increase funding to Preschool for All, which would include services for 3-year-olds not eligible for the federal slots; and restore the historic 8 percent cut to currently funded Preschool for All programs and provide a cost-of-living adjustment increase.
- $48.7 million increase to the Regular/Vocational Transportation line to begin restoring this line to previous levels. The Regular/Vocational line item has not been fully funded since FY 2010. An increase of $48.7 million will result in an estimated proration level of 80 percent.
- $12 million, or an 18.8 percent increase, in the Bilingual Education program to help districts meet the needs of the growing bilingual population, which accounts for about 10.4 percent of all students. Since fiscal year 2011, this population has increased by 16.6 percent.
- $5 million increase for state assessments based upon the cost of administering two additional PARCC exams in high school, bringing the total to three annual exams in high school, a federally required science assessment, PARCC in grades 3-8, PARCC diagnostic testing for grades 2-8 and a college entrance exam for grade 11 that will not include a writing assessment due to the fact that writing is assessed by PARCC.
- $2.4 million for further development and maintenance of the Illinois Longitudinal Data System. Due to the expiration of federal grants and monies that have been used to develop the system, ISBE will require state funding to support the system’s ongoing development and maintenance.
- $5 million for an Extended Learning Time program. Currently, the only funding available to support extended learning time is the federal 21st Century Learning Center (CCLC) grants, which serve about 53,700 students in the state. In fiscal year 2015, the agency received 141 applications for 21st CCLC grants, but only had funding available to support 51 proposed projects. The additional funds would allow ISBE to serve approximately 50 more sites.
- $38.1 million to fund Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. In FY 2014, 47.1 percent of all Illinois grade 9-12 public school students participated in CTE programs, an increase of 7.4 percent from the previous year. This funding leverages $40.5 million in federal funds.
- $5 million for the state’s lowest-performing schools, which include 270 schools from 88 school districts in addition to 35 schools from 21 priority school districts.
- $4.035 million to cover the cost of the Illinois Virtual School (IVS), Learning Technology Centers (LTC) and the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE), an online platform being developed to provide educators with integrated data and tools to personalize learning and drive student success. ISLE will begin rolling out to Race to the Top districts during this current fiscal year and will ultimately be offered to all districts. The appropriation would provide training and support for teachers and principals in implementing the system.
As part of the budget-making process, the board conducted a series of five public budget hearings around the state last fall where parents, citizens, local and state elected officials and others involved in education were invited to voice their priorities. More than 150 individuals provided oral or written testimony to restore or increase GSA, early childhood funding, agriculture education and other items and programs.
The board based its decisions regarding programs and funding on several key principles, including support for the largest number of students and greatest flexibility for districts, minimizing the introduction of new programs and mandates in order to conserve resources and align to ISBE’s strategic plan goals:
- Every student will demonstrate academic achievement and be prepared for success after high school.
- Every student will be supported by highly prepared and effective teachers and school leaders.
- Every school will offer a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.
The State Board will provide its budget recommendation to the governor and General Assembly for consideration as part of the overall fiscal year 2016 state budget. The board’s budget proposal will be posted at www.isbe.net/budget.