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Letters to the Editor

An open letter to Pritzker: Don’t put school funding reform in jeopardy

Editor’s Note: Equity Illinois Superintendents is a diverse group of school district superintendents and chief education officers committed to the vision that all Illinois students benefit from an equitable education system. Equity First advocates for public policy that promotes equity in publication for students throughout Illinois. River Bend Superintendent Darryl Hogue was among the more than 60 district superintendents to sign a letter submitted by Equity First urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois lawmakers not to halt the progress that’s been made to reform school funding.

In 2017, Illinois passed historic school funding reform and made a commitment to fully fund our schools, promising in statute to put a minimum of $350 million into the new formula every year for 10 years. Our goal – getting every district to 90% funding by 2027.

This landmark legislation marked the end to a period of disinvestment and funding chaos in districts across the state, where the state pro-rated school funding, cut school payments mid-year, and otherwise forced districts to make untenable decisions year after year. The new funding formula, and the dollars behind it, ushered in a period when our poorest districts not only received much-needed dollars, but also did so in a way that let them plan thoughtfully and put those dollars to effective use for kids.

As a result, districts have been able to reduce class size, restore arts programming, add critical social workers and support staff, and invest in afterschool and summer programming.

Some districts only now are digging out from the financial hole created by years of underfunding and instability.

We firmly believe that Gov. J.B. Pritzker is a strong advocate for our state’s children; that he wants to see that growth and stability continue, and that he understands how critical it is to the long-term success of our students and our state. 

Sadly, the governor’s proposal to put significant education dollars into a “reserve” to be used only if a Fair Tax proposal passes in November threatens this progress in several ways. 

First, it is important to understand that schools cannot build a budget around dollars that are not secure. More than 80% of most budgets involve personnel. Districts will not and should not hire staff and sign contracts if they are not sure they have the funding to support them for a full year. The same challenge applies for the special education, school meal, and transportation dollars that the governor also proposes to put in “reserve.” 

Second, it is unthinkable to us that our state would choose to back away from its promise to invest at least $350 million in our schools every year for the next 7 years, and hinging nearly half of promised funding on a possible constitutional amendment effectively does just that.

Every superintendent in the state recognizes that Illinois has real financial challenges, with pensions eating up a growing share of our budget and crowding out new and necessary spending. We also know that even with $350 million new dollars a year, we are not on pace to reach our stated goal of reaching 90% funding adequacy. To do that, we need closer to $650 million a year for the next 15 years.

However we address our broader financial challenges, we must remain steady in supporting the next generation. We must honor our commitment to putting at least $350 million into our school formula, so that schools can plan accordingly.

Governor, we believe you mean well and we appreciate that you face difficult decisions. General Assembly, we implore you to make this right. We made a promise to our children and our own future. We are counting on you to deliver.

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