State

Illinois education board wants $730M more pre-K-12 funding

SPRINGFIELD – With a new chairman at its helm, the Illinois State Board of Education Wednesday asked lawmakers to provide an additional $730 million for state schools in what could be one of the toughest budget years in Illinois history.

The board is asking for a 10.7 percent boost for schools in the state's 857 districts. The board made the recommendation shortly after former state Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat who backed GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner in his gubernatorial bid over former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, was sworn in as chair.

Meeks, who replaces Quinn appointee Gery Chico, says boosting funding for schools is his top priority.

Board officials say that even with the increase, the inflation-adjusted budget would amount to 5 percent less in state funding to schools than in 2009, before the recession and before state officials began divert key funds from schools to cover Illinois' massive unfunded pension liability.

State superintendent Christopher Koch said the recommendation was developed after holding budget hearings around the state for the past 11 months.

The request comes as lawmakers are grappling with a $5.7 billion budget hole next July stemming from the expiration of the state's temporary income tax increase. Rauner, who bills himself as an education reformer, pledged on the campaign trail to increase school funding. By law he must present a budget in mid-February reflecting the state's current revenue situation.

"We understand the incredible spending pressures facing our state," state board finance chair Jim Baumann said. At the same time, he noted that most districts, in recent years, "have already made significant staff and programming cuts."

The Chicago Tribune reports that the board's spending recommendation is already drawing some questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Democratic Rep. Will Davis of Homewood, who chairs a schools appropriation committee, said it is great to talk about putting more money into schools but the "bottom line is revenue."

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