Securing $350 million in school funding crucial for Democrats in state budget talks

Suburban House Democrats are preparing to make education funding a sticking point as budget negotiations with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Senate heat up next week in Springfield.

Securing the $350 million promised to Illinois public schools as part of the state's evidence-based school funding model, which was left out of Pritzker's budget proposal in February, is seen as critical by suburban Democratic state Reps. Fred Crespo and Stephanie Kifowit.

The funding program was enacted in 2017 to close big gaps in dollars available to educate kids in poorer areas compared to those in wealthier districts.

Public schools in Illinois did not receive the $350 million from the evidence-based funding model in the year that ends June 30.

"I don't want to go down the path of continuing to short our schools again." Kifowit said.

"We need to look out for our school funding, and I believe, (and) many of my colleagues believe, that $350 million in additional school funding is essential. I believe that it will be in (the budget) and I have strong beliefs it should be in the final version that is presented to the governor for signature."

Kifowit, of Oswego, is vice chair of the House General Services Appropriation Committee and Crespo, of Hoffman Estates, is the chairman.

"In the governor's introduced budget, he is not putting in the $350 million for K-12, but that's not going very well with both Democrats and Republicans," Crespo said. "(Republicans and Democrats) coalesced over that and agreed that's not a good idea."

While members of the House plan to push for the education funding, they also recognize the state will face a $1.4 billion revenue shortage and cuts need to be made somewhere. Where exactly those cuts happen will be a source of debate among Democrats, Republicans and Pritzker in the weeks before the legislature's scheduled May 31 adjournment.

"We need to look at: 'Where do we cut?' and 'Can we cut enough to close that hole?'" Crespo said.

Pritzker's proposal also calls for a 10% cut to what towns get from the state's Local Government Distributive Fund, a pool of income tax money. Crespo and Kifowit also oppose that proposal.

"I am strongly against it," Crespo said. "Any cuts to the local distributive funds could very easily result in an increase in property taxes, and in my mind and my constituents', our biggest problem and our biggest issue is property taxes."

Kifowit said shorting local governments is not "best practice or good policy."

"Our local governments use their funding they get from the state for very important needs for residents at a local level and I do not believe that is a reduction I can support," Kifowit said.

House appropriation committees will begin meeting next week. The House has until May 31 to pass a budget with 60 votes. After May 31, 71 votes are needed to pass the budget.

"I am just hoping that the Republicans and Democrats can come together and agree on a budget before the end of May," Crespo said.

Fred Crespo
Stephanie Kifowit
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