Efforts to adequately fund universities,
community colleges and student financial aid stalled during the week as Speaker
Michael Madigan adjourned the House of Representatives for 30 days, forcing the
higher education community to wait until April for further action.
The Senate remained in session, continuing its committee process where it
reviewed dozens of pieces of legislation, heard a report by the Department of
Children and Family Services (DCFS) about its progress under the Rauner
Administration, heard budget requests by state education agencies, and talked
about budget alternatives offered by Governor Bruce Rauner during his Budget
Address in February.
Speaker Madigan takes a
Senate Republicans voiced their concerns about the House’s month-long
break and called for the Speaker to call the House back to Springfield,
emphasizing the importance for both chambers to be present, engaged and active
in solving Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis.
Despite the opposition of House Republicans and the criticism of Senate
Republicans, the House adjourned on March 3 and is not scheduled to reconvene
until April 4.
DCFS making improvements under
DCFS Director George Sheldon painted an encouraging picture during the
Appropriations I Committee on March 8.
Appointed more than a year ago by Governor Rauner, Director Sheldon said DCFS
has been working on its biggest challenges, including a “revolving door” of
directors, a breakdown in completion and accuracy of paperwork that resulted in
the loss of millions in federal funding, reports of abuse at state residential
centers, and the department’s inability to properly account for a number of
Director Sheldon reported that DCFS has worked over the past six months
to properly file and process paperwork, resulting in the Department receiving
an additional $21.5 million in federal funds for Fiscal Year 2016.
DCFS also submitted plans to improve residential centers across the
state, including unannounced site visits and enhanced monitoring, reporting,
and oversight of facilities, staff, and procedures to ensure more effective
communication, safety, and transparency.
DCFS has also partnered with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to create a
cross-agency unit of Sheriff’s officers and child welfare specialists to work
jointly on recovering missing children in Cook County.
lawmakers, call for budget resolution
Education agencies like the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois
Student Assistance Commission, and a number of state universities came before
the Appropriations II Committee March 10 to present their Fiscal Year 2017
The State Board appealed to lawmakers to fully fund Illinois’ education
Foundation Levels, which the state has intentionally underfunded for years,
resulting in proration.
Governor Rauner has made K-12 funding a top priority, pushing to fully fund
the Foundation Levels for the first time in seven years. Senate Republicans
continue to express concern that Democrat lawmakers will continue to hold
education funding hostage in order to bail out CPS, as previously indicated by
Senate President John Cullerton.
Eastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and Western
Illinois University cautioned lawmakers that the higher education system cannot
withstand the ongoing budget impasse. Citing loss of students, employee
layoffs, decrease in governmental trust, and additional financial burdens,
representatives of the universities warned that schools are suffering from
being forced to operate without state aid and support.
Republican lawmakers have worked to find a compromise to fund higher
education and have stressed that there are a number of available alternatives
on the table that would provide money to help fund Illinois’ higher education
system. However, efforts to move that legislation have been rebuffed by the
legislative majority who would rather push for empty promises that the state
Executive Committee debates
Unbalanced Budget Response Act
On March 9, the Executive Committee held a hearing on the Unbalanced
Budget Response Act (UBRA). Leader Christine Radogno made it clear in committee
that UBRA was the less preferable of the two routes to a state budget laid out
by Governor Rauner in his budget address last month, emphasizing the need for
compromise and bipartisan cooperation.
During his February 17 Budget Address, Governor Rauner laid out two paths to a
balanced budget. “Path A” is the preferred option and requires legislators to
come together in a bipartisan way to pass reforms and a balanced budget. If President Cullerton and Speaker Madigan continue to refuse to come
to the table to negotiate reforms and a budget, then “Path B” would give Governor Rauner the authority and tools to free up state funds to patch budget holes for
Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017.