money and the state budget

There is a syndicated article in the NG today talking about how the state intends to chop ONE BILLION DOLLARS out from Education. Doing the math, right now the unbalanced budget has $13.2B set aside for Education, but we have to subtract out a massive $5B for pensions which brings it down to $8.2B for everything else in schools. Divided by 3862 public schools in the state of Illinois, that averages to roughly $2M per school or about $3993 per student. Unit 4 receives a little over $15M from the state (FY2014 state budget form) for the Educational Fund(*), which comes out to $1623 per student (9383 total students). Ironically, according to ISBE Superintendent Christopher Koch, the “statutory amount set for general state aid” per child is $6119. Which is obviously meaningless and a sad joke. There is a ton of talk about “pension reform” and I have not figured out how the proposed “balanced budget” of chopping $1B will affect pensions. If we assume the worst-case scenario where pensions are left alone, that brings the money for Education down to $7.2B, or $1.86M average per school ($3505 per student); for Unit 4, an oversimplified guess would put the cut at $2.1M (total down to $13.3M), or $1421.6 per student.

Unit 4 has a $103M budget(*), and Gene Logas and the rest of the Finance team has placed us in a really well-padded financial position. Except we are cutting into that buffer space with additional raises for both teachers and administrators over the next three years due to the contract negotiations last year.

* UPDATE NOTE: The total Unit 4 budget is $138,853,108 – I am focusing on the Educational portion of the budget from which teachers are paid (among other things).

It is quite unclear how Gov. Quinn’s promise to protect Early Childhood Learning will play into this picture. I am not smart enough to figure that out. *grin* If you are, or if you know of someone who is, please pitch in.

All this to say that I am quite confident Unit 4 will be fine for the next few years, but we have to be diligent and very careful with how we plan our future. My sincere hope is that all stakeholders can come to the table to exercise “community involved planning” to dream up ways we can maximize our dollars.

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If only good words were enough

I don’t usually pay attention to what is happening outside Champaign. However, I have subscribed to “Voices for Illinois Children”, and today’s topic was about Gov. Quinn’s State of the State speech. Below I quote a small snippet relevant to Education:

http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/illinois-quinn-state-of-state-text-242613351.html

In the last five years, we’ve been getting the job done on education reform. Parents are now empowered with a report card on their children’s schools. Teacher evaluations have strong benchmarks. And performance is prioritized over tenure. In fact, our reforms have become a model for the nation.

Governor’s Birth to Five Initiative

But our unfinished job on education starts where it matters most: in early childhood.

Study after study has shown that high-quality early childhood education provides the best return of any public investment we can makemore than $7 for every dollar invested. That’s why our state invests in programs serving our at-risk children, from birth all the way to kindergarten.

Since I’ve taken office, I’ve always fought to preserve early childhood education from radical budget cuts. And we found a way to invest $45 million to build early education centers in high-need areas such as Dolton, Kankakee, and Cicero.

 

Voices4Kids advocate and Huffington Post writer Emily Miller points out that since 2009, the early childhood block grant has seen a reduction of about $80 million. Not exactly encouraging news. While the proposed 2014 budget retains the 2013 levels for the early childhood block grant, the fiscal future of our state is extremely bleak.

 

I have asked some follow-up questions of Voices4Kids and Ms. Miller – I hope to circle back here and update you with what I learn.

 

Hearing on State school funding

Before you start laughing too loud, I know… what state school funding?

From the NG’s syndication of the Associated Press:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2013-10-09/state-school-funding-hearing-planned-champaign.html

“A hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12 at the Champaign Public Library, 200 W. Green St., C.”

 

According to the latest Unit 4 budget proposal, the state gives Unit 4 $15 million, which accounts for 17% of our district’s budget. Ironically, the ISBE is allowed to dictate a majority of what our schools do. This is the definition of “unfunded mandates.”

 

On the campaign trail, current BOE Presdient Laurie Bonnett spoke about becoming more financially independent. Initially, I did (and still do) think is an awesome idea, and in fact, I have spoken to a previous Board about this very concept. I wonder, though, hypothetically speaking, if we were to become truly, 100% financially independent, does that mean we can start to disregard some of the more stringent rules from the state that tend to be obstacles rather than tools? If we were so inclined, could we then rewrite our policies to actually make sense and be accessible to the common person? Currently, a bulk of our district policies are handed down from lawyers in the ISBE, and as such, are all in legalese and flowery with extraneous language. We the community do not really own it because it is not accessible to us. Can we change that?

 

The news article implies that those who attend will be able to voice their concerns and their thoughts will be “factored” up the ladder and presented to lawyers and elected officials (and something called the Senate Education Funding Committee) who will decide the future of education funding for the next year. Personally, I have never seen any evidence that the voice of those in the trenches have any impact whatosever on those that make decisions in this context. I would love to be proven wrong.

 

The last sentence of the article reads:

“Those who are unable to attend one of the five public hearings are encouraged to email feedback to the state board of education at isbefy15@isbe.net.”

 

I intend to take advantage of that email address and learn a few more things.