Schools take heavy hit in new Illinois budget
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois schools would lose $210 million under the state budget approved by legislators last week, meaning Illinois will fall even further behind in providing the "foundation level" of basic funding for each student.
Free meals for poor students and early childhood education would also be cut back if Gov. Pat Quinn signs the budget into law, which he began doing Thursday with a bill that mostly makes adjustments to the current budget. Colleges, state parks and health care for the poor all face cuts, too.
"The budget awaiting the governor's action is painful, and the Illinoisans who will be most hurt are those most in need," concluded the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children.
The budget includes money to maintain two prisons that had been slated to close and to keep operating agriculture labs and state police communications facilities that were going to be consolidated. Community care for senior citizens is also on the short list of programs getting more money.
Here are more details about key parts of the budget, as described in summaries prepared for state legislators:
The key measure of spending on elementary and secondary education would be cut by $210 million, or 3.1 percent. When reductions in federal funds are included, the reduction tops $855 million.
State government is supposed to ensure a basic amount of money is available for all students, whether they live in rich districts or poor ones. That foundation level for the coming year is $6,119, and the budget cuts would mean Illinois provides only 89 percent of that amount, down from 95 percent last year.
The number of children getting help from early childhood education programs will fall sharply. Nearly 7,000 children lost services in the last round of cuts, the State Board of Education says, and now the service is slated to lose an additional 7.6 percent of its funds.
This year, the state will help provide about 194 million free or low-cost lunches to needy children. That service faces a 45 percent cut next year.
Still, state Superintendent Christopher Koch said, "It is not as bad as we had feared it could possibly be."
Just before the legislative session ended, Senate Democrats approved two tax measures to provide more money for schools. One is a tax on satellite television services, and the other eliminates a provision that allowed some companies to ignore revenue from offshore oil derricks when calculating their Illinois tax bill.
Senate President John Cullerton says he hopes the House will pass those tax measures this fall so some budget cuts can be reversed.
The Department of Corrections faces a cut of nearly $45 million, or 3.4 percent. That could mean more belt-tightening and layoffs at an agency already dealing with too many inmates squeezed into too little space.
But the budget cuts could have been much deeper. Quinn wanted to close the Tamms "supermax" prison and a women's prison in Dwight, and shut down several halfway houses for inmates nearing the end of their sentences. The budget approved by legislators restores $81 million to keep those facilities open.
That would prevent hundreds of layoffs, and spare the Tamms and Dwight areas a painful economic blow.
The budget also provides money for juvenile prisons in Murphysboro and Joliet that Quinn proposed closing.
The Illinois State Police would see a cut of $23.6 million, or 8.7 percent. Despite the cuts, lawmakers have included enough money to prevent further consolidation of the telecommunications centers scattered across the state. They've also included $2.9 million to train new classes of state police cadets.
Higher education would lose $152 million, or 5.9 percent.
Public universities face $80 million in cuts. The University of Illinois, the biggest university system, faces the biggest cuts. Southern Illinois University is a distant second.
The Monetary Award Program, which provides need-based grants to college students, would be hit with a 4 percent cut. Even at current funding levels, the program can help only about 147,000 students this year – half the number of people who qualify for aid, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
Grants to community colleges are also being trimmed by 4 percent.
Medicaid, which provides health care to 2.7 million people in Illinois, faces major cuts. Services such as prescription drugs for the elderly, dental care for adults and wheelchair repairs will be reduced, as will payment rates for hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, cigarette taxes are being raised by $1 a pack to provide more money for the program.
The goal is to close a $2.7 billion hole in the program's budget for the coming year.
But some legislators and advocacy groups say the cuts are so deep they'll mean tremendous suffering for many and death for some. "I don't know how you all are going to sleep tonight," Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, told her colleagues when the cuts were approved.
The state's child-welfare agency is targeted for cuts that will leave less money for foster homes, adoptions, group homes and more. Overall, the Department of Children and Family Services stands to lose 6.8 percent of its funds.
The department received far less than it would have under Quinn's proposal, which would have required about 200 layoffs, so it's likely the latest version of the budget will mean even more jobs cut at the agency.
But the Department on Aging will see an increase of more than 6 percent. One of the main services getting more money is a program that helps provides home care for poor, elderly people so they don't wind up hospitalized or moved to a nursing home.