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State budget forecast uncertain, Illinois education leaders weigh $412 million increase for schools

Teacher Sarah Schielke attends to a question from Nathan V. at CICS West Belden. The Chicago charter school employs the personalized learning method for its K-8 students. The school is part of the Chicago International Charter School network, and is managed by Distinctive Schools,. Photo by Stacey Rupolo/Chalkbeat NOTE: Last names not given by school

The Illinois Board of Education argued Wednesday for a $412 million increase in funding for 2022 to for schools. $6.5 million would go to a first-year teacher mentoring program.

Stacey Rupolo / Chalkbeat

Although schools will largely be spared from $711 million in 2021 state spending cuts Gov. JB Pritzker announced on Tuesday, the Illinois Board of Education argued Wednesday that it will need more money for 2022 to address the pandemic’s impact and years of inadequate funding.

The board is considering asking the state to increase its $8.8 billion education budget by $412 million for the next school year to adequately fund schools statewide. The board will decide in January whether or not to make the request. 

The board’s proposal for 2021-22 includes a $362.1 million increase to keep the state on track to fund school districts equitably by 2027 based on the evidence-based funding formula. Out of 852 school districts across the state, 635 school districts are not funded adequately, according to funding targets that assess how much it will cost to educate students in a particular district and what local resources are available. In Illinois, 74% of districts are underfunded and inadequate funding impacts 80% of students, Robert Wolfe, financial officer, said Wednesday. 

The board proposed an additional $50 million for early childhood education, with $18.5 million going to Chicago Public Schools. 

It also seeks $6.5 million in 2022 to provide mentoring to 5,000 new teachers. Budget officials said Wednesday that they hoped to use federal CARES Act dollars for this expenditure but were seeking guidance on whether they could. 

The board also wants an additional $1.2 million to go toward mentoring principals and $1.8 million to recruit principals. 

Each year, the state school board hosts a series of public budget hearings about education needs around the state and then makes a budget recommendation to the governor. Last year, the board asked for an additional $500 million, but after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a plunge in revenues and a graduated income tax measure was voted down, its budget ended up largely flat.

According to a presentation Wednesday given by Jim Muschinske of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the state’s economic outlook is better than some might have predicted, but state revenues are expected to be sluggish in the coming year. 

Schools largely appear to have avoided reductions in Pritzker’s $711 million in budget cuts, with two exceptions: cuts to maintenance grants that districts use for keeping up school facilities and possible personnel furloughs at the state agency level.

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