Illinois Statehouse News

Next education budget could face difficulties

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SPRINGFIELD - The state's financial difficulties continue to handcuff state and local school administrators.

State Comptroller Dan Hynes has indicated the state could face up to a $15 billion budget deficit next year, a combination of state expenses exceeding revenues and billions of dollars in unpaid bills owed to vendors.

With those serious economic and cash flow problems in mind, the Illinois State Board of Education is holding public hearings on crafting the upcoming statewide education budget, with the next meeting slated for Wednesday.

State government has struggled to pay school districts in a timely manner for two years, prompting difficult choices for school administrators each year. The state has an estimated $6 billion in unpaid bills to all state vendors, creating significant cash flow problems.

For each of the last two state budgets, the federal government has provided financial support to Illinois to the tune of nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funding. That money helped local school administrators stave off extreme layoffs and budget cuts.

But future significant stimulus funding looks uncertain, creating a financial "cliff" that the state and school administrators must address.

State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, said state government is going to have to cut back on all non-essential expenses, such as travel.

He also wants the State Board of Education to look at mandated categorical grant programs that haven't been funded by the state. He speaks from experience, because he serves as superintendent of the Hutsonville School District.

"There are some mandates that cost us money that we're not going to be able to implement," Eddy said. "I think another look at that isn't out of the question, and I think the State Board should lead on that.

Some of those categorical grants are reserved for special education services, meals and transportation.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed and Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a proposal that puts a hold on new mandated programs unless the necessary funding is provided. The law does not affect current mandated programs.

But state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, said the approach toward funding education could depend on the results of November's general election.

"I think (the situation with education funding) is very uncertain, and I think a lot of lawmakers are going to be looking at the outcomes of the election next Tuesday," he said.

The State Board of Education is holding a series of public meetings to discuss the state's next education budget. One meeting already has been held in Chicago.

Here is the schedule for the remaining meetings:

- Wednesday, Oct. 27; 3 to 5 p.m. - Springfield - ISBE Office, fourth-floor Board Room, 100 N. First St.

- Wednesday, Nov. 3; 5 to 7 p.m. - Mundelein - Carl Sandburg School Multipurpose Room, Mundelein School District, 855 W. Hawley St.

- Monday, Nov. 8; 3 to 5 p.m. - Belleville - St. Clair County Regional Office of Education, 1000 S. Illinois St.

- Monday, Nov. 15; 4 to 6 p.m. - DeKalb - DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road

- Tuesday, Nov. 30; 4 to 6 p.m. - Champaign - Champaign Public Library, Robeson Pavilion, Room C, 200 W. Green St.