State education board to seek $655M increase in upcoming budget year

Request comes amid proposed state budget deficit

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By PETER HANCOCK

Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education endorsed a budget request recently that includes a $653 million increase in funding for PreK-12 public schools.

It’s a request that lawmakers may find hard to accommodate in a year when the state faces a projected $891 million budget deficit.

PreK-12 education spending currently makes up about one-fifth of the state’s entire General Revenue Fund budget. The proposed increase, if approved, would bring the state’s total GRF spending on public education to just over $11 billion.

“We were pleased to hear that the board, even in a tight budget year, continues to prioritize necessary investments for districts and students across the state,” Gerson Ramirez, a lobbyist for the advocacy group Advance Illinois, said during the meeting.

The proposed budget includes a $350 million increase in Evidence-Based Funding, the minimum increase required under a 2018 law that calls for gradually increasing the state’s share of the cost of public education while focusing new money on the state’s most poorly funded districts. That includes $300 million for direct funding for the qualifying districts and $50 million that is distributed in the form of property tax relief grants.

That law calls for continuing to increase funding each year until all districts are funded at 90 percent or more of their target “adequacy” level.

When the law first went into effect, nearly one in five school districts were being funded at or below 60 percent of their adequacy level. Today, no districts are being funded below the 60 percent level, but the state still has a long way to go before reaching the goal of having all districts at or above 90 percent of adequacy.

According to a report that accompanied the budget proposal, it would take another $2.5 billion in EBF to reach that goal.

In addition to the increase in Evidence Based Funding, which districts use to enhance their general operating budgets, ISBE’s request includes about $300 million in new or increased funding for several specific categories of school expenses.

The largest of those is a proposed $112 million increase, or nearly 26 percent, for a program that reimburses school districts for the cost of providing transportation to students with disabilities. That would be enough to cover about 84 percent of the total cost for that category of transportation funding, which is roughly the same percentage the state was paying before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package also calls for a $75 million increase in early childhood education funding to continue Gov. JB Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a multi-year program that seeks to eliminate early childhood and preschool “deserts” for 3- and 4-year-old children by 2027.

That money would enable state-funded preschools to reach an additional 5,000 children next year. State officials estimate that total enrollment in those preschools will grow to nearly 114,000 in 2025, an increase of more than 17,000 since 2023.

ISBE’s budget plan also calls for addressing the pressures some districts are facing due to the large number of international migrants arriving in Illinois.

Over the last two years, state officials estimate the number of “newcomers” in Illinois has grown nearly 85 percent, to about 36,200. Since August 2022, more than 34,000 migrants have been bussed or flown to Illinois by order of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after crossing that state’s southern border.

Newcomers are defined as students ages 3 through 21 who were born outside the United States and who have been attending one or more schools in the U.S. for less than three full academic years.

The proposal calls for $35 million in new funding for a line item called “supporting newcomers.” That money would be available for such expenses as hiring bilingual teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff; buying materials written in the students’ native languages; providing additional before- and after-school programming; and providing other supports for children and families.

Funding for ISBE is just one part of the state’s overall annual budget, but it is one of the largest categories of state General Revenue Fund spending. It was unclear whether Gov. JB Pritzker was endorsing the request.

The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget issued a report in November projecting the state could face a budget deficit next year of $891 million, assuming revenue trends remain stable and the state continues making all of its required payments into its rainy day fund and pension funds.

Pritzker is scheduled to deliver his budget proposal to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Meanwhile, Advance Illinois issued a statement that noted school districts will face their own budget pressures next year when federal pandemic-related relief programs come to an end.

“ISBE’s proposal serves as a solid road map for investments Illinois must undertake to meet the comprehensive needs of every child and student in the state generally, and in the ongoing aftermath of COVID disruptions,” the organization said.

(Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.)