In his budget address today, Gov. J.B. Pritzker listed education as one of his top three priorities, requesting increased funding for programs across the educational spectrum, from babies to grade school to colleges and universities.
Now all he has to do is persuade lawmakers to go along with his plan to pay for it.
Pritzker wants $593.7 million for the state’s early childhood block grant — an increase of $100 million, one of the largest in state history. The early childhood block grant funds programs that provide preschool and other support services and interventions for the state’s youngest and most at-risk residents in an effort to prepare them to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
Pritzker’s budget proposal also includes a $25 million bump above last year’s equity appropriation for K-12 schools. In education circles, that appropriation is referred to as “evidence based funding,” and it’s the centerpiece of the school funding overhaul enacted in 2017. Under that law, every district was allowed to keep its previous funding level, but the state is bound to appropriate at least $350 million on top, to be distributed via a four-tier system (the neediest districts get 99 percent of that appropriation, but even the richest districts get a fractional percent). Pritzker’s requested $375 million would heal some of the hurt from the $50 million now set aside for property tax relief grants.
State Sen. Andy Manar, the Bunker Hill Democrat who pushed that plan for several years, said it's up to lawmakers to make Pritzker's budget work.
"Now the process for the legislature is how do we pay for it, and how do we make sure whatever product we send to the governor at the end of our process is balanced in nature," he said.
Under the previous administration, higher education had suffered drastic budget cuts. Pritzker is proposing a 5 percent increase for the state’s public colleges and universities, plus $150 million for deferred maintenance — funds college campuses have been crying to get.
He also want to give the Monetary Award Program (MAP grants) an extra $50 million, enough to help about 24,000 more low-income students attend college. AIM HIGH, the state’s merit-based scholarship program launched last year to try to keep top students in Illinois, would get $35 million under Pritzker’s plan. His budget also includes $3.8 million for a new program to help minority and lower-income students succeed in college.
State Sen. Chapin Rose — the Mahomet Republican whose district includes the University of Illinois’ flagship campus — liked most of what he heard.
"I was enormously happy with his presentation related to higher ed. I think that's going to be one of the areas where we can find some common ground,” Rose said. “There's going to be other areas where we're going to have some concern. It ultimately comes down to this, though: Can you actually pay for the promises you're making?"
Pritzker's vision for new revenue includes items as big as new taxes, and as small as a phase-out the private school tax credit program inserted at the last minute into the 2017 school funding reform plan — a move estimated to yield about $6 million in revenues.