My Senate Republican colleagues and I are working with Governor Bruce Rauner to fully fund the Foundation Level for K-12 schools for the first time in seven years, and ensure that suburban and downstate schools are not held hostage by a $500 million bailout of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
In other news during the week, we also opposed yet another multi-billion-dollar spending plan offered by Senate President John Cullerton.
Fully funding Foundation Level best way to serve students
It’s no secret that Illinois needs a new state funding formula for education, but the best way to serve our K-12 students in the short-term is by fully funding the current education formula established to equalize school districts’ property wealth.
Governor Rauner is seeking to fully fund the state’s Foundation Level for education for the first time in seven years, increasing General State Aid (GSA) by $55 million to meet the $6,119 per student Foundation Level. Under the current formula, schools often receive more or less money from year to year due to changes in local resources, student population and demographics. However, most schools would benefit from increasing the amount of money that goes into the school funding formula than they would if the total funding remained flat.
Fully funding GSA for education is preferable to the majority leaders’ practice of underfunding foundation levels for K-12, which they have done for the last seven years. This practice is known as “proration” and is just another word for “cuts.” Proration is problematic for all Illinois schools, but it especially hurts the most impoverished students in the state.
Lawmakers across Illinois agree that our education funding formula—which is nearly 20 years old—needs to be updated, but it will be a long process requiring cooperation from both parties in both chambers and valuable input from stakeholders. K-12 schools and their students cannot wait to receive their state funding for the next school year while lawmakers craft a new funding formula. Political gamesmanship must not get in the way of funding primary and secondary education.
The Senate President has suggested that funding for suburban or downstate school districts should be withheld until a more “fair” system is established. This is a political maneuver intended to force increased state assistance to the fiscally floundering CPS. It is unacceptable to hold downstate and suburban schools’ funding hostage in order to force a $500 million state bailout of CPS.
More billion-dollar spending, without revenue
My Senate Republican colleagues and I opposed yet another spending bill passed by the majority members of the Senate March 17. Senate Bill 2059 appropriates approximately $4 billion for a number of state programs, agencies and higher education that are not currently funded by court order, consent decrees, or continuing appropriations; however, it once again fails to identify a revenue stream for the spending, instead appropriating money the state simply does not have.
A memo distributed by state budget Director Tim Nuding noted, “The spending identified in this bill is not affordable because the legislature has already spent all available funds” and pointed out that its sponsors have not identified any “corresponding proposals to reform government programs, to reduce other spending or to free up resources to fund this bill within existing resources.”
Nuding said that “Senate Bill 2059 is another in a long line of political documents that make promises that knowingly cannot be kept.” He noted that, “Voting for this bill adds to the state’s debt, causes those who are already waiting for state payments to wait even longer and potentially jeopardizes payments to the pension systems and General State Aid payments for school districts.”
In his memo, Nuding labeled the bill a “cruel hoax,” and said that recently the Comptroller’s Office reported a $7.6 billion backlog of bills, with more than 50,000 unpaid vouchers on hand. Vendors who have already provided services to the state continue to wait months to get paid.
Improving the lives of foster children
The Senate Human Services Committee advanced legislation during the week to infuse some normalcy into the lives of children in Illinois’ foster system. Senate Bill 3041 is intended to make it easier for foster kids to participate in commonplace extracurricular activities, like sleepovers, sports-related functions and other social outings.
Under current state law, foster parents must get approval from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for children under their care to participate in activities like sleepovers and visits to the zoo. The foster parents must call their caseworker and have a background check completed for the friends’ parents when they want to have a sleepover. Proponents of the legislation explained it can be a long process to secure permission for their wards to participate in these types of experiences, and in many instances those requests are denied.
Based on federal law, Senate Bill 3041 allows foster parents to grant permission to children under their care to enjoy extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities. It establishes that a caregiver must use the “Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard” when granting permission. Approved by the Human Services Committee on March 16, Senate Bill 3041 now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The legislation is part of a larger effort to overhaul DCFS under the agency’s new Director George Sheldon. In the last year, the agency has reduced the number of youth in shelter care by more than 50 percent. DCFS also currently has the fewest number of youth in residential facilities in recent history, an accomplishment that is a testament to their work to ensure that youth are in the least restrictive, most appropriate placements possible.
DCFS plans to implement a number of new pilot programs throughout the state that will further reduce the use of residential facilities, and harness the power of mobile technology to make it easier for investigators and caseworkers to do their jobs in the field.