Quinn warns of drastic cuts to Illinois schools without tax hike

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Governor Patrick Quinn used his budget address today to back lawmakers into a corner on school spending. His ultimatum: Enact a 1 percent income tax hike for education or slash state funding for schools by 17 percent.

Gov. Patrick Quinn used his budget address today to back lawmakers into a corner on school spending. His ultimatum: Enact a 1 percent income tax hike for education or slash state funding for schools by 17 percent.

Supt. Chris Koch has warned lawmakers that Quinn’s proposed $1.3 billion cut to schools would cut teaching jobs by at least 13,000. The governor today suggested more layoffs are at stake.

“If we can enact this emergency rescue plan promptly, we can keep 17,000 committed teachers from getting layoff notices in the next few weeks,” said Quinn. “I think it is wrong and short-sighted to cut education funding. I do not believe that the people of Illinois want our young children crammed into overcrowded classrooms.”

Republican leaders suggest the governor is making political room for unpopular tax hikes and has no intention of cutting schools so dramatically.

Still, Chicago Public School officials are combing through Quinn’s line-item budget and trying to figure out how his proposed cuts would impact the district. CPS would be short up to $300 million, says Christina Herzog, the district’s chief financial officer.

Some of Quinn’s proposed cuts to categorical funding can be filled with federal stimulus dollars that CPS will receive this year, she says. But Quinn’s proposed $500 per student cut in general state aid will force classroom cuts that district officials can’t do much about.

“That money pays for English teachers and art teachers,” Herzog says. Stimulus money must be used to pay for supplemental positions and can’t be used for ongoing costs.

Another area where Quinn proposed significant cuts is special education. Herzog points out that the district is federally mandated to provide services to students and might have to take money from other places to fill the hole.

Herzog says CPS officials are deeply involved in lobbying state officials, both for more revenue and for a break in how much they need to pay into the teacher’s pension fund. Even without the cuts from the state, CPS officials are grappling with a $700 million deficit. The state already owes CPS $200 million for this year.

Quinn proposed a 1.5 percent increase in the state income tax last year, with rebates for lower-income families. But that proposal fizzled out in the General Assembly.

This year’s call for a 1 percent increase harkens back to a plan pushed by CPS in 2008 dubbed “1 percent for Jobs and Schools.” The plan would have added nearly $4 billion to the state’s coffers for schools and construction projects.

In a televised interview after the budget address, Madigan offered what amounted to tacit support for Quinn’s proposal if Republicans get on board. That’s a tall order, according to many political insiders, during a recession.

If Quinn’s education cuts stand, they will be roughly equivalent to the amount of federal stimulus dollars that have propped up general state aid to schools in the current fiscal year.

Among the education cuts called for by Quinn’s team:

  • $66.2 million in private services grants for special education students and another $38.6 million in special education reimbursements to school districts
  • $54.3 million for early childhood programs
  • $36.5 million for the Reading Improvement Block Grant
  • $20.4 million for bilingual education
  • $9.6 million from the Truant Alternative and Optional Education Program, plus another $1.1 million for the Alternative Schools Network
  • $4.5 million for student assessments, including plans to ax the writing component on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test
  • $3.3 million for Summer Bridge programs, plus another $2.5 million for other summer programs.
  • $1.5 million for teacher and principal mentoring programs
  • $911,500 for National Board certification programs
  • $650,000 for the Grow Your Own teachers program
  • $1 million to After School Matters
  • $131,500 for Advanced Placement programs

 

ISBE spokesman Matt Vanover said the state is behind this year by nearly $850 million in payments to schools across the state.

Coming into this school year, CEO Ron Huberman was able to find $161 million in savings and balance the budget by cutting 536 central office and citywide staff and making other cuts.

The last of those cuts, some $61 million, were still taking place in mid-March. A just-released breakdown of these mid-year cuts shows CPS is trimming some offices and renegotiating contracts with vendors. Officials even got all utilities to lock in rates, saving the district $8 million.

Officials also cut $5 million on day schools for special education students. The district also shortened the day for Freshman Connection, a summer program offered to all freshmen to help transition to high school.

But Herzog warns that if the state’s budget cuts go through unchanged, programs like Freshman Connection might be lost altogether.