GOP Lawmakers Accuse Gov. Of Using School Funding To Push Tax Plan

Feb 21, 2020

Even though Gov. J.B. Pritzker says school funding is one of his top priorities, Republican lawmakers are criticizing his budget proposal, which could significantly cut promised funding if voters don’t approve the graduated income tax in November.

When Illinois adopted evidence-based funding in 2017 under former Gov. Bruce Rauner, the law required legislators to appropriate at least $350 million each fiscal year. The money would then be distributed based on each district’s needs. Pritzker’s proposal would reduce that amount to $200 million for the coming fiscal year unless the tax plan is approved.

State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) said Pritzker could have included that $350 million for the evidence-based funding in a balanced budget without adding any new taxes.

State Representative Avery Bourne (R-Raymond)
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

“This is purely a way to push Pritzker’s political agenda,” Bourne said. “The responsible thing to do would’ve been to introduce a budget that gives schools certainty, and gives taxpayers certainty.”

Bourne said school districts are now left in the position of having to make hiring decisions without knowing what their actual budgets will be. She said after Pritzker’s budget speech, a superintendent in her district informed her that his board is now having second thoughts about hiring a social worker.

State Rep. Steven Reick (R-Woodstock) suggested the governor should not rely on the graduated income tax for school districts to receive expected funding.

“Yesterday when I was listening to the governor’s speech, I couldn’t help but think of the old line — ‘Nice funding formula you got there. I hope nothing happens to it,’ ” Reick said.

Reick said districts in his area, like Harvard District 50, would have to cut back on capital projects, which would prevent building expansion.

The 2017 school funding reform law provides an alternative formula in case the appropriation falls below $350 million, so that the neediest districts will still receive the biggest dose of funding.