Illinois Schools Won’t Get a Billion More

Published February 24, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch is asking for an extra $1 billion in his new budget request.

“Providing [a] student in Illinois with an education isn’t going to cost less from year to year,” Koch said.

Illinois is spending $6 billion on public schools in 2013-14. 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,” said state Rep. Will Davis (D-East Hazel Crest), who authors Illinois’ education budget. “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 in financial distress.”

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

Davis said if schools have 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,’ then that’s what it takes.”

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

“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. “They are closer to it now than they’ve ever been.”

Overspending on Pensions
Dwyer said a look at the state’s budget shows what is not right.

While Illinois spends $6 billion a year to educate kids, the state spends $7 billion a year on teachers and other public workers who have retired.

“The state has its priorities backwards. It is willing to slash everything in order to fulfill its pension obligations,” he said.

Dwyer said reform will require moving government workers away from traditional pensions to 401(k)-style retirement plans. Davis said it might take a tax increase. And that, too, would grab parents’ and taxpayers’ attention.

This article is reprinted with permission. Image by Dan Moyle.