Illinois’ money woes pits students’ needs vs. teachers’ retirements

Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois can either pay for students to learn or for teachers to retire. It cannot afford both.Illinois’ appointed State Board of Education on Thursday asked lawmakers to pay for learning. The state board approved a nearly $5-billion budget request that would fully fund education for the first time in Illinois since 2011.

“We are being besieged by districts that are in deep, deep (trouble) with their finances,” said ISBE Chairman Gery Chico. “And they don’t know where to go.”

There’s little chance Illinois schools will get any more money. In fact, Chico should actually expect less.

“The state board should get in on the reality of the world,” said state Rep John Bradley, D-Marion, who runs the powerful House Revenue Committee. It’s his job to set a spending cap for the new state budget.

Bradley said Illinois’ pension debt and other unpaid bills will make it impossible to spend more on schools.

“We have a pension payment that will go up $1 billion. We have $2.3 billion in employee health insurance claims. We have another $8 billion to $9 billion in unpaid bills,” Bradley said. “We are going to have to figure out how to cut a billion dollars from operations to make end meet.”

Bradley set the spending cap for the current budget at $33.2 billion. Illinois schools received $4.2 billion for education. Illinois’ pension payment was just over $6 billion.

“We are upside down, and things are getting worse,” said Bradley.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said he will show those numbers to any teachers who comes to the statehouse this spring to ask for more money for their classrooms.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Davis said Thursday. “As a teacher you want to have your pension fully funded. But you also want all of the resources for your school.”

Davis, who has not backed Bradley and the House spending cap, said he is unlikely to support the cap this year, despite being in charge of crafting the K-12 education budget in Illinois.The spending cap “does not allow lawmakers to prioritize spending,” Davis said.

“I think education funding should be a priority and command the appropriate resources,” he said.

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