Governor Bruce Rauner used his annual Budget Address to extend an olive branch to legislative leaders, offering two paths to achieve a balanced state budget.
Though he underscored his preference would be to work across party lines on a budget compromise, Governor Rauner said he is ready to unilaterally make the deeper cuts needed to balance the budget if Democrat legislative leaders are unwilling to work with him on a more moderate budget.
However, the Governor was emphatic he would not cut education, announcing his intent to fully fund general state aid for K-12 education in Illinois for the first time in seven years. Governor Rauner stressed his commitment to early childhood education, proposing record levels of funding for that program as well. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to fully fund the General State Aid foundation level.
In the days immediately following the budget address, the Governor continued to focus on education, signing an Executive Order February 18 creating a “Children’s Cabinet” on Children and Youth to promote education and youth efforts in Illinois. That same day the Illinois State Board of Education initiated an investigation into the “financial stability” of the Chicago Public Schools. Governor Rauner also joined lawmakers February 19 at a suburban high school to announce legislation providing mandate relief to local schools.
Governor offers two paths to a balanced budget
With a strong emphasis on the need for bipartisan compromise, Governor Rauner used his second annual Budget Address to offer two paths for fixing the state’s unprecedented and crippling budget gridlock.
Stressing his preference to work with lawmakers from both parties and both chambers on a moderate budget option, the Governor repeatedly underscored the need for transformational savings and structural reforms as a way to grow Illinois’ economy and benefit Illinois citizens.
However, Governor Rauner also said that if Democrat leadership remains committed to partisanship and political self-preservation, he is willing to reduce spending on his own. Though he underscored his desired path would be to work on a compromise budget with lawmakers, the Governor said that if given the authority he is willing to unilaterally make the cuts needed to fulfill the constitutional mandate of a balanced budget.
These cuts would extend to all areas of Illinois’ budget—except funding for early childhood education and General State Aid to Illinois schools, which the Governor said is his top priority. He stressed during his remarks that fully funding general state aid for education is non-negotiable. Meanwhile, Democrat leadership maintains that Chicago Public Schools should get more money before downstate and suburban schools receive funding.
On February 17, the Governor advocated for historic increases in funding for K-12 Education and Early Childhood Education. If the Governor’s proposal for education moves forward, it would be the first time in seven years that General State Aid has been fully funded. Senate Republicans have repeatedly called for full funding of the state’s foundation level for schools.
A number of additional reforms comprised what Governor Rauner said is a part of his comprehensive approach to balancing the state budget. The Governor advocated for savings through changes to the state’s procurement system, streamlining government, and criminal justice reforms. The Governor’s proposed changes to how the state buys goods and services is expected to save half a billion dollars in the next fiscal year alone.
Governor Rauner also reinforced his support for a pension reform plan first proposed by Senate President John Cullerton. It’s estimated that Illinois taxpayers could see savings in the billions as early as 2017, if this proposal moves forward.
As the state enters its eighth month without a state budget, Governor Rauner underscored during his speech that the unbalanced budgets of the past have cost taxpayers billions. Billions in revenue have gone to pay the interest on unpaid bills and borrowing, and many more billions have been lost due to missed opportunities for economic growth and due to businesses and citizens fleeing Illinois.
Lawmakers, Governor advocate for school mandate relief
Noting every dollar the state can save Illinois schools, is one more dollar that can be spent on educating students in the classroom, lawmakers joined the Governor and local school officials in Lombard February 19 to outline proposed legislation that would provide mandate relief for Illinois schools.
House Bill 6164 takes a three pronged approach to reducing costly state mandates on schools—which could save schools $200 million statewide.
Districts would be able to adopt a policy to allow certain students to be released from mandatory P.E. classes, if the students are taking part in equivalent activities, such as sports. Schools would be required to hold a public hearing before adopting the policy. Schools would be able to save money on expensive driver’s education training by contracting with private companies that offer driver training curriculum for high school students.
The legislation also makes it easier for school districts to utilize private contractors for services such as cleaning and food preparation, by eliminating current requirements that make it more costly to use outside vendors.
State to review Chicago Public Schools finances
An investigation of Chicago Public Schools’ “financial stability” was initiated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on February 18, giving CPS until March 4 to provide a number of financial records. ISBE officials expressed hope that the “investigation will identify opportunities for actions to be taken that will improve the financial condition of Chicago Public Schools…and, most importantly, result in fiscal stability.”
Chicago schools have asked for a nearly $500 million state bail-out to cover their current budget shortfall. Senate Republicans have stressed suburban and downstate schools shouldn’t be on the hook for the beleaguered Chicago school system, noting that Chicago schools already benefit from nearly $600 million in sweetheart deals that no other school district receives.
However, in a recent interview, Senate President Cullerton told WBEZ he doesn’t “think any school should be funded until Chicago schools are funded fairly.” Republicans fear legislative Democrats plan to hold hostage funding for downstate and suburban schools in an attempt to bail-out Chicago Public Schools with nearly $500 million in additional funding.
CPS was asked to provide three years’ worth of audits and financial projections, payroll data and “major contracts” that have received annual increases.
‘Children’s Cabinet’ to focus on youth education, well-being
Illinois will soon join 17 other states that have established a cabinet to create a strategic vision to help children across the state. An Executive Order was signed February 18 creating the Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Youth, or the “Children’s Cabinet,” that will be charged with streamlining education and youth-related efforts in Illinois.
By bringing together experts in areas of state government with a focus on children, the Children’s Cabinet will seek to better consolidate services and programs helping Illinois’ youth and families. The Children’s Cabinet will work with health and human service providers, early childhood programs, elementary schools, high schools and post-secondary institutions, and seek to facilitate strategic partnerships not only within the public sector, but also with private organizations, to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
The Children’s Cabinet is one way the Rauner Administration is working to streamline state government in order to improve the quality of education for Illinois’ children, in addition to fully funding state schools and reducing burdensome and costly mandates on Illinois school districts.