By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – During just her third day on the job, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala told a Senate appropriations committee Tuesday she was encouraged by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s public education funding proposal for fiscal year 2020.
That’s because the proposal adds $375 million to the state’s evidence-based funding formula and $100 million to early childhood education among funding increases in other areas.
“The need for funding in Illinois, as you know, is very great,” Ayala said. “Years of proration and the budget impasse inflicted much damage on our schools and our communities. Fortunately, thanks to your leadership, Illinois passed landmark education reform … and held up the state’s commitment to increasing education funding by $350 million in fiscal year 2019.”
Pritzker’s proposed FY20 budget adds $25 million on top of the $350 million in added funding called for each year by the landmark 2017 education funding reform. The $375 million in new funding will first be distributed to districts that are furthest from adequacy under the formula.
Robert Wolfe, chief financial officer at ISBE, said 88 percent of new funding allocated under the formula thus far has gone to Tier 1 districts – or those that are at or below 65 percent of funding adequacy. Wolfe said there are 307 districts in Tier 1 status while the state has just 198 districts at a point of funding adequacy.
On average, the districts in Tier 1 saw their adequacy percentages grow by 2 percent due to the added funding, Wolfe said.
While Ayala said the increased funding will greatly benefit education, it would take an added $660 million annually for every district to reach adequacy goals by 2027.
“Obviously, there’s room for growth,” she said.
Ayala also praised the $100 million increase for early childhood education funding, which goes above and beyond the state’s minimum required funding level of $50 million for such programs.
“It will also allow the agency to ensure that existing grantees are funded and that they received additional funds to increase their program quality,” she said.
Career and technical education programs are allotted a $5 million increase in Pritzker’s budget as well, ISBE requested $12 million in added funding in this area.
Jessica Handy, government affairs director for the nonprofit advocacy group Stand for Children, said CTE education hasn’t seen an increase since 2004, and the $12 million request represents the 2004 funding adjusted for inflation.
The committee also heard testimony from Taylorville High School Principal Matt Hutchison and state FFA officers Eliza Petry and Shaylee Clinton. They spoke of the importance of specific agriculture education budgetary line items.
Hutchison said the state’s Three Circle grant, which is available to districts that employ full-time middle or secondary school agriculture teachers and meet other requirements, allows his district to maintain strong educators in agricultural fields.
Jennifer Ross, representing the National Board Certified Teachers program, also testified at the committee, asking for an added $500,000 on top of the $1 million proposed by Pritzker to address the state’s teacher shortage.
Ross said the organization piloted a program last year to draw teachers to rural areas of the state.
“We were able to pilot a very small area of the state and it worked brilliantly,” she said.
The added funding, bringing the total line item to $1.5 million, would help expand those efforts and “bring equity to those school districts that are in rural areas,” Ross said.
Pritzker’s proposed budget also allocates an added $2 million for an Advanced Placement low-income test fee waiver program, allowing more students to earn college credit through their high school coursework, Ayala said.
The meeting was subject matter only, so no votes were taken. State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the committee’s chair, said ISBE would be back for at least one more budget hearing prior to the final approval of the budget.