Quinn’s budget: Amid cuts, more money for schools

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Schools will get a break under Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to pay down the state’s $11.8 billion deficit with a mix of program cuts, tax hikes and new fees.

But the spending boost for education relies heavily on federal stimulus funds, and overall per-pupil funding from the state will rise by just $130 per child.

“To be direct and honest – our state is facing the greatest crisis of modern times,” Quinn said today in his speech to the General Assembly. Sprinkled throughout his remarks, he called upon legislators to protect education spending and put children first, for the state’s long-term economic interests.

“Jobs follow brainpower, and Illinois needs all the brainpower it can muster in the 21st Century,” Quinn noted.

Schools will get a break under Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to pay down the state’s $11.8 billion deficit with a mix of program cuts, tax hikes and new fees.

But the spending boost for education relies heavily on federal stimulus funds, and overall per-pupil funding from the state will rise by just $130 per child.

“To be direct and honest – our state is facing the greatest crisis of modern times,” Quinn said today in his speech to the General Assembly. Sprinkled throughout his remarks, he called upon legislators to protect education spending and put children first, for the state’s long-term economic interests.

“Jobs follow brainpower, and Illinois needs all the brainpower it can muster in the 21st Century,” Quinn noted.

To erase the deficit, Quinn is proposing a hike in the state income tax from 3 percent to 4.5 percent, with a substantial boost in tax credits for low-to-moderate income families. A number of corporate tax “loopholes” would also close under his plan, and corporate income tax rates would climb to 7.2 percent. Quinn also proposes reforms to the state’s cash-strapped pension funds and nearly $1.3 billion in program cuts.

Anticipating a tough political battle, Quinn challenged naysayers to offer clear-cut alternatives and turned to schools to make his point about the need for new taxes. At one point, he described opponents as purveyors of “mean-spirited and doomsday” tactics and suggested that their no-new-taxes approach would, among other problems, lead to 34,000 teacher layoffs and class size increases of 25 percent.

In all, new state funding for K-12 schools would increase by about $174 million; spending for higher education would rise by about $40 million.

The per-pupil foundation level for general state aid will rise from $5,959 to $6,089—far shy of the $7,388 level suggested by the Education Funding Advisory Board. The increase would add about $114 million to school budgets, but make barely a dent in the funding inequities between property-wealthy and poorer school districts in the state.

School funding reform advocates such as state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) and Ralph Martire with the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability have called for property tax relief and a 2 percent increase in the state income tax to fully fund the EFAB rate.

Just to reach $6,089 per student, Quinn will be tapping nearly $795 million in federal stimulus spending. Another $947 million in stimulus funding will beef up programs that range from bilingual education and summer school to Title I and special education.

To qualify for the federal money, Illinois must make several assurances to the US Department of Education: the state must improve its standards and assessments, intervene in low-performing schools, build a data system to track student performance from preschool to college and jobs; and find ways to better distribute top teachers among disadvantaged schools.

Quinn has also proposed putting some of the new tax revenues, and revenues from a hike in license plate sticker fees, into a $26 billion fund for construction projects. Nearly $4.2 billion would be set aside for schools.

Parents may also take heart in the governor’s proposal for a 10-day sales tax holiday in August for back-to-school purchases.