Education agencies call for state to spend more on schools


SPRINGFIELD -- A state advisory board is recommending Illinois lawmakers more than double education funding next year, mainly to boost the per pupil spending target.

The Illinois State Board of Education, meanwhile, called for a smaller increase in state spending on elementary and secondary education, including $20 million that would be available for school security measures.

Both recommendations are advisory only, and neither seems likely to be achieved.

The recommendations came just a week after Gov. Pat Quinn issued a warning that education spending faces not an increase, but $400 million in additional cuts next year because of higher costs for pensions and other state services.

The Education Funding Advisory Board shot for the moon, saying adequate state education support would require $4.7 billion next fiscal year, or more than double the current appropriation.

“While EFAB recognizes the dire financial position of the state of Illinois, the lack of adequate funding for basic education is a failure of the state’s moral and fiduciary duties,” the advisory board said in its report to the General Assembly. “Failure to raise the foundation level and to increase the amount of poverty grant awards is unacceptable.”

The five-member advisory board makes recommendations on the amount of money that should be spent to educate each student, called the foundation level. The current level is $6,119, although the state provides only $5,734. EFAB is recommending the foundation level increase to $8,672.

“The committee just felt we needed to be looking at what is truly the need ... not just what the state has been paying, which is lacking,” said EFAB member Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association. “Something less than the proposed $8,672 is just not being honest about what it really takes to educate students.”

Klickna said at least lawmakers will know the number they need to reach for adequate education spending.

The ISBE, on the other hand, recommended the foundation level remain at $6,119, but called for lawmakers to actually meet that obligation by adding $745 million to education spending.

“Under the current fiscal crisis, it’s not realistic to expect the General Assembly to approve the new EFAB recommendation,” State School Superintendent Christopher Koch said in a statement. But he said lawmakers should at least meet the foundation level already on the books.

All together, the ISBE recommended education spending go up by $874 million next year, despite the state’s financial problems.

“Either we step up and try to do something about it, or we go on the record and say ‘We can’t — you’re on your own,’” said ISBE chairman Gery Chico.

Quinn budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch said education will continue to be squeezed by higher pension costs.

“Given that our revenues are forecast to grow only modestly while our pension obligations are growing steeply, the funds don’t appear to be available to fund education at the levels EFAB suggests,” Pallasch.

He also noted that the legislature cut Quinn’s recommendation for education spending this year.

Klickna, whose union has joined other public employee unions to fight reductions in pension benefits, said the state hasn’t fully funded the public school foundation amount since 2004.

“I caution against saying that the pensions are taking money away from education,” she said. “I’ve been in education 40 years, and I don’t think we’ve ever received the right amount of funding.”

Staff writer Molly Beck contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.