Maurer: State budget plan is 'bait and switch'

Dave Haney

As school superintendents across Illinois sort through what the state budget means for education funding next year, most are concerned about losing money they already have budgeted and spent in the current fiscal year.

The Illinois Senate’s approval of the House version of a funding measure that for all intents is flat — and with the House not acting on a Senate supplemental bill Tuesday — left about $171 million cut from the nearly $7 billion budget for K-12 education paid out of the General Revenue Fund.

Ben Schwarm, assistant executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said the bigger question still remains.

“The problem is what the state says it’s going to appropriate and what actually is sent to school districts,” said Schwarm, who was at the Capitol until midnight Tuesday.

“As you know for the past year and a half to two years, the state has been about $1 billion behind in what they owe to school districts.”  

Schwarm said the fiscal plan now in place for next year is similar to this year’s, which means the state likely will run out of money, meaning payments to schools will be prorated or delayed again next year.

“It appears they have done a bait and switch,” said Metamora Township High School Superintendent Ken Maurer.

“They have proposed a balanced budget by delaying a billion dollars worth of bills due until next year. They evidently do not count last year’s unpaid bills as an expenditure when they compare revenue and expenditure projections.”

Last year, payments expected to go to schools in July were not made until December.

Currently, school districts still are waiting for their second and third quarterly transportation reimbursements, and Gov. Pat Quinn has talked about the possibility of eliminating the fourth quarter payment.

Rep. Jehan Gordon, D-Peoria, said the House’s more conservative spending plan avoids more painful cuts, but is balanced and that the general hope is that greater revenues will come in that will allow the state to catch up on its backlog of overdue bills.

Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, agreed.

“It’s a reduction, no doubt about it, it’s a lesser reduction than others because education is such a high priority, but when you have to cut more than a billion dollars out of the budget, everything has to be on the table,” Koehler said.

“I’m hoping we will be able to come back in the (fall) veto session or next year and have supplemental additions to the areas we were short on.”

Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said in addition to the $152 million reduced from general state aid, $17 million was eliminated from early childhood education.

“Some additional programs are being eliminated, like the state AP program, writing assessment for high schools, explore and plan testing for high schools. Teacher and principal mentoring has been eliminated,” Vanover said Wednesday in an email.

Additionally, money for contractual services was reduced, affecting audits for federal funds handed out as well as teacher misconduct investigations, as was money for the state’s student information systems, to name others.