SPRINGFIELD — The chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education acknowledged Thursday his agency's request for a $1 billion boost in taxpayer funds might be a long shot during turbulent budget times.
But, Gery Chico said, "Hope springs eternal. If we don't make the case for this statewide, who will?"
Chico's comments came as the board voted unanimously to send a spending blueprint to Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois lawmakers that would attempt to put an end to three years of reductions in general state aid.
The proposal asks the General Assembly to sink enough money into schools so that each student is backed by at least $6,119 annually. Currently, the state is paying about 89 percent of that amount.
The overall $7.77 billion request, however, was approved as the state's financial picture heading into the next fiscal year is unclear.
Lawmakers in December approved an overhaul of the state's employee retirement systems designed to free up money for education and other programs. But any savings from the pension changes remain in limbo while the changes are challenged in court.
Further vexing to state policymakers is the expiration of the state's temporary tax increase, which will leave the state with an estimated $2.2 billion less beginning next January if it is not extended.
"We've got a couple of double-whammies looking us in the face," Chico said.
The bulk of the $1 billion increase — $879 million — is tied to the board's push to fully fund the base level of funding for the state's 2 million public school students.
Other proposed increases outlined in the plan include:
- $27.1 million for districts to administer a new test test called Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, which is similar to the ACT.
- $25 million for early childhood education programs designed to boost the number of students served in preschool programs by more than 5,500.
- $2 million to provide assistance to low-income students taking Advanced Placement exams.
In a statement, board member Jim Baumann said the need for more spending comes as the state is serving more low-income students at the same time school districts are seeing lower property values.
"The confluence of factors makes for many lean local school budgets," Baumann said.
Chico told the board members they have to stay "on message" when they try to sell the increase to lawmakers and the general public during the spring legislative session.
"It's so, so critical not to just blurt out $1 billion," Chico said. "It's not easy to be asking for it, but there is never a good time."