Peter to Paul?
and educators are rolling up their sleeves to negotiate
a state school spending plan for the coming year. It wont
by Kristy Eckert
Park and River Forest High School District 200 in suburban Chicago
spends about $13,600 a year on each student nearly twice
the average per-pupil spending in Illinois. And under a proposal
in Gov. George Ryans fiscal year 2003 budget which
would take money from 22 categorical grants and redistribute it
that one-school district would get $1.3 million more each
of miles south in Clinton County, Germantown Elementary District
60 spends less than $5,000 on each student per year. Yet under Ryans
plan designed to boost the foundation level or base amount
the state pays toward the education of each Illinois student
that one-school district would lose about $47,000 a year, according
to preliminary figures from the State Board of Education. Superintendent
and Principal John Raymer says hed have to fire two teachers
or go without new textbooks for a few years.
think thats kind of crazy, he says. Weve
been pitting schools against each other for years. Really, this
is just more of that. But Ryan, facing a deficit, wants to
cut state spending across the board.
has proposed to lawmakers a $52.8 billion budget for the fiscal
year beginning July 1. Under that plan, he would spend $6.1 billion
on elementary and secondary schools, down from $6.2 billion in estimated
spending for the current fiscal year. And the governor has proposed
taking about $411 million in grant money that is now used to fund
such programs as early childhood and bilingual education and redistributing
it equally among students, upping the per-pupil spending foundation
level and allowing schools to use the money as they please.
the existing grant program, some education money is earmarked in
Springfield before it ever gets to schools. Ryans plan would
remove some of those earmarks, which is a good plan in theory, says
Ross Hodel, director of the Center for the study of Education Policy
at Illinois State University in Normal. But, he says, The
bottom line is, if youre not adding money to the entire budget,
its very difficult to pass any program.
only way to meaningfully improve the way the state funds schools
is to spend more money, say some school finance experts. You
cannot shuffle money, says Robert Leininger, former state
schools superintendent and chair of the states Education Funding
Advisory Board. You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul.
from the State Board of Education produced weeks after Ryan announced
his proposal showed Chicago and other Cook County schools would
lose, as well as downstate schools. The only region that would stand
to gain are the majority of districts in the predominantly affluent
collar counties surrounding Chicago.
the foundation level would jump from $4,560 to almost $5,000 per
student, Illinois schools would get $40 million to $50 million less
and money that will have to be used to make up a shortage
in the Teachers Retirement System pushes the loss up to $165
million, according to the Bureau of the Budget.
never want there to be any losers, but the reality is, everyones
a loser this year, says Hazel Loucks, Ryans deputy governor
for education. Its just that there are so few dollars,
and somebody had to come up with a solution.
notes that Ryans solution gives schools spending flexibility
and saves $28 million in bureaucratic costs. Schools can use the
general state aid money to continue funding the grant programs they
consider most necessary.
control is what theyre always hollering about, she says.
And this would give them more local control.
Illinois Education Association supports the plan for precisely that
reason. What we see is an opportunity for educators and not
bureaucrats to make a decision how local money is spent, media
relations director Charles McBarron says.
some educators argue that, instead of flexibility, loss of targeted
grant dollars would simply tie their hands. Many of the grant programs
are still mandated, they say, even without funding. The governors
office, though, contends that if the plan passes, bills repealing
the grant requirements also will be passed.
is the first step in a long process of negotiations and counter
proposals, says Colleen Atterbury, the Bureau of the Budgets
division chief for education. If local districts have less to spend,
they should have more power to decide how to spend it, she says.
that lose money overall, though, might be forced to drop the grant
programs in favor of funding basic costs. School districts
are not going to go and implement those programs on their own. Its
just not going to happen, says Rep. Julie Curry, a Democrat
from Mt. Zion who opposes the proposal.
fact, the loss of specific grant funding for some programs drew
such vocal criticism that Ryan responded in March by saying he now
wants to preserve grant funding in three areas: early childhood,
agricultural career and technical education.
early childhood education program, for instance, aims to give a
boost to more than 55,000 pre-schoolers who have shown signs they
would struggle in school.
realization that some critical programs may not be implemented without
specific dollars attached is one reason Ryan decided to save the
three grants, Loucks says.
lawmakers wrangle with next years budget, no one knows what
parts if any of Ryans education proposal will
remain intact. But the three grants Ryan decided to take off the
chopping block total about $240 million more than half of
the original amount he intended cutting from categorical grants.
that will require some recalculation. Every $100 added to the foundation
level costs the state about $135 million to $140 million, says Bill
Hinrichs, state board senior policy adviser. So removing the trio
of grants from the table would probably knock the proposed $5,000
foundation level down by $150, Hinrichs says, putting it at $4,850.
But if cuts are made elsewhere, the foundation level could stay
at $5,000, as Ryan initially proposed.
parties agree the end product will not be what Ryan initially proposed.
As a result, educators are rolling up their sleeves and negotiating.
We are picking and choosing line items right now. We know
we cant fund everything this year its impossible,
says Ben Schwarm, director of governmental relations for the Illinois
Association of School Boards. Will it be exactly what the
House has out there? No. Will it be exactly what the governor said?
No. But I think its going to be a hybrid of all of those.
House Education Appropriations Committee, which Rep. Curry chairs,
has a counter proposal that keeps most of the major grants, including
early childhood and bilingual education, in place and raises the
foundation level by $120.
increase the states share of the cost of educating its students
and shrink the spending gap among districts was a goal of Ryans
predecessor. Former Gov. Jim Edgar created a plan that raised the
foundation level for three consecutive years. That plan took the
level to $4,425 in the 2000-2001 school year before expiring. Ryan
boosted it further, bringing it to the current level of $4,560.
fall, the Education Funding Advisory Board plans to release a proposal,
which Leininger says would dramatically alter the way schools are
funded and would raise taxes. He concedes the proposal is unlikely
to be politically feasible.
challenge, as always, will be to strike a balance between the districts
that win and the districts that lose. That balance is absent from
Ryans proposal to boost the foundation level through the elimination
of grants, critics say.
plan is a serious, serious hit to our schools because
it makes schools enemies and doesnt put students interests
first, says Donna Baiocchi, director of Education, Research, Development,
a group that represents Cook, Lake and DuPage counties. Though Lake
is one of the xollar counties that would gain money under the plan,
she says, It shouldnt be about community versus community.
the reality of limited funding remains and is something that the
leaders of the less well-healed school districts can understand.
is going to have to give, Raymer says. We dont
like it, but we understand it.
Kristy Eckert is a graduate student in the Public
Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Issues, May 2002
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