Senate and House of Representative lawmakers came together during the week to pass a $714 million stopgap funding measure for struggling human services agencies and organizations.
In other action, legislation purported to represent school funding reform was forced through the Senate, despite analysis from the Illinois State Board of Education showing that the plan is little more than a thinly-veiled bailout for Chicago schools.
Human services funding clears both chambers
Both chambers of the General Assembly approved appropriations of $714 million to help struggling human services programs and providers keep their doors open.
Senate Bill 2038 spends $456.8 million from a special fund that collected a percentage of revenue from the 2010 income tax hike. The remaining balance comes from several other miscellaneous state funds, but the entire package is based on existing revenue.
During debate, my colleagues asked why no money was included for essential operations, like utilities, maintenance and food. Such operations funding is not only critical to mental health facilities, but to correctional facilities in all regions of the state.
Senate Bill 2038 now heads to the Governor for his consideration.
School funding bill redirects money to Chicago
The school funding reform bill, Senate Bill 231, faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers are currently reviewing other options.
Data released by the Illinois State Board of Education shows that Senate Bill 231 would represent a windfall of approximately $750 million for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), while shuffling around the limited remaining dollars between the rest of the state’s school districts.
Sponsor State Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill said his proposal provides “one formula for the entire state” with “no special deals” for any one district. In reality, the bill gives Chicago a larger share of several state grants than if they were treated the same as all other school districts. Combined, those grants would total $368 million in special deals for CPS.
In addition, the legislation alters the school funding formula to benefit Chicago, worth $175 million, and would give the financially-strapped district a pension bailout costing $205 million. In total, CPS would receive $750 million in special deals at the expense of the rest of the state.
Manar also touted a “hold harmless” provision that would keep all schools at their Fiscal Year 2015 funding level— but for just one year. Then the provision would taper off by 25 percent per year, leaving schools to face the full brunt of the cuts in four years. The “hold harmless” provision, and another that would provide adequacy grants to help schools, would only be possible with an extra $442 million in funding. With the state’s budget deficit at several billion dollars, it seems very unlikely that the sponsor can find another half-billion dollars in funding, which could leave schools facing the full brunt of the cuts immediately.
Both the current funding formula and the proposed funding formula are very complicated. One wonders if that is intentional. I argued on the Senate floor for more transparency and simplicity. I suggested we provide an understandable formula that provides “X” payment per student plus “Y” payment per “poverty” student plus “Z” payment per special-needs student, and that the state provide the same pension payments for all. I also suggested a small bipartisan committee to work together to agree on the X, Y, and Z. Once that happened, we would have a bipartisan school funding bill that would pass easily. Unfortunately, my Democrat colleagues didn’t seem to favor that type of transparency.
Future of school funding uncertain in House
Senate Bill 231 is now in the House, where it is not expected to see any action any time soon. A few hours before it passed the Senate, many downstate Democrat lawmakers held a press conference pushing the idea of fully funding the existing school funding formula for the first time in seven years. Senate Republicans and the Governor have been advocating for that approach, saying it helps all schools right now, while giving lawmakers time to craft a real solution to the future of school funding.
A House committee is also currently exploring the school funding issue. During the week, they heard from members of the education community, including the Vision 20/20 organization, a coalition of educators, administrators and other stakeholders. The Vision 20/20 group is backing a different type of funding reform that would base the entire system on evidence rather than politics. They have already filed legislation in the Senate, but that bill has so far been blocked.
Lawmakers push for movement on procurement reform
Republican legislators were joined by the directors of the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Capital Development Board and Central Management Services in calling for the General Assembly to advance procurement reform legislation that would save Illinois taxpayers $500 million annually.
The current procurement process is extremely cumbersome and takes 9-12 months to complete. Senate Bill 2400 has been introduced to create a more efficient purchasing system in Illinois. Proponents of the measure say it would streamline bureaucracy, give greater flexibility to state agencies, and move Illinois to follow best practices of other states to achieve greater savings.
The reforms include the creation of a pool of pre-qualified vendors for supplies and services, and would allow state and local governments to enter into purchasing consortiums in hopes of leveraging buying power. In addition, the reforms would carve out procurement code exemptions for an array of instances including service contracts, trade shows and units of higher education, while at the same time speeding up the purchasing process.
Senate Bill 2400 also has transparency measures that continue to require high levels of qualifications for those involved in procurement, while at the same time requiring an audit of procurement by the Auditor General every two years.