A year ago, Gov. Pat Quinn enacted sweeping reforms heralded by the media and school accountability groups, who quickly declared Illinois the new education leader.
And as we patted ourselves on the back, Illinois schools were being shortchanged in the state budget. They’ll see it later this month when they check their bank accounts and learn the final state aid check – worth more than $200 million statewide – isn’t coming.
Unfortunately, the situation won’t get any better.
This year, the budget demanded by the Illinois House cuts another $210 million from education, bringing the total shortchanging of our schools’ and students’ needs to more than a half billion dollars. It means next year the state aid payments might stop in May while students are still in school. This is unacceptable.
Senate Bill 7, the reform package I helped negotiate last year, was approved 112-1 in the House, 54-0 in the Senate. You’d think this overwhelming majority would similarly demand the resources needed for success. Instead, I watched many of these so-called reformers turn their backs on our children and our public schools.
In one vote, the General Assembly puts teachers and administrators on notice that they need to perform to higher standards, only to turn around and repeatedly slash funding for their training and development.
Make no mistake, resources are available. The Senate twice put the spotlight on hundreds of millions of dollars in special state accounts that somehow annually escape scrutiny. How can we cut school aid when there’s extra money in accounts for tattoo and body-piercing shops, tanning facilities and pawnbroker regulation? Hundreds of these accounts exist and need to be part of the debate. It is time to make education funding the priority we all claim it should be.
The path we’re headed down dooms our hard-fought reforms and, more importantly, our children. They deserve better. They deserve more.
Kimberly A. Lightford
State senator (4th), assistant majority leader