ISBE Supt. Defends Budget, Storyteller Request

Feb 27, 2018

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (in the red necktie) questions Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Tony Smith (left) about his "unrealistic" budget request.
Credit Dusty Rhodes

The Illinois State Board of Education is supposed to spend more government dollars on the neediest schools, according to a new funding plan. Today, lawmakers pushed back against the agency’s proposed price tag.


The new plan is called "evidence-based funding," because it measures what each district needs against local resources. Using that math, state superintendent Tony Smith presented a budget request for $15 billion — about double what schools got last year.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) chastised Smith for wasting lawmakers' time with such an unrealistic request.


"So do you think it's fair that children don't have what they need?" Smith asked.

"No, don't start the fairness with children thing,” McCarter responded. “Because you know what? You could double this, you could triple this, and it would still be good for kids."


State Sen. Chapin Rose(R-Mahomet), said the request is outlandish, especially the proposal to hire three public relations professionals, or “storytellers,” using federal funds.


"Storytellers? I don't care if it's the federal taxpayers, the state taxpayers, the local taxpayers. What a complete joke,” Rose said.


Smith defended the proposal as part of a federal mandate for accountability. He said the request is an accurate portrayal of what schools need, but acknowledged that it's unrealistic given the state's dire financial straits.

Gov. Bruce Rauner proposes a much smaller appropriation that would include shifting teacher pension costs onto local districts.


In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school massacre, lawmakers also asked Smith whether he thought arming teachers was a good idea. Smith said his opinion was that the best way to achieve safety was to provide supports for students who are struggling with bullying or a lack of belonging, and that the way to ensure such support was to fully fund the new plan.