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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois school districts will likely face a six percent cut in state and federal funding next year.

By Diane Lee

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois school districts will likely face a six percent cut in state and federal funding next year.

The governor’s office says the schools now get about $7 billion in direct state funds and another $3 billion from other state and federal programs.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said there will be $200 million fewer state dollars, and nearly $400 million fewer federal dollars this year. Davis, who will craft the education budget in the House, said he’s been told he can spend no more than $6.8 billion.

Top Illinois House leaders on Wednesday began hashing out details for kindergarten through high school funding for the state’s fiscal year 2012 budget. Lawmakers said they hope to knock out a budget earlier than usual so schools can plan ahead rather than deal with the uncertainty of waiting.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said lawmakers are going to have to make it clear to schools that there will simply be less money next year.

“Now we’re going to have to pick and choose. Some of these items will be funded. Maybe they will get less funding. Some of these items won’t be funded at all,” Madigan said. “That is the process that we will engage in.”

“I think that certainly, we would like to see a budget passed sooner than rather later,” said Illinois State Board of Education’s spokeswoman Mary Fergus. “Because that gives districts more time to set their budget for the coming school year.”

The state’s overall spending level is also in doubt. Gov. Pat Quinn said he wants to spend $35.4 billion next year. But Davis, and the rest of the House, have set a hard cap at $33.2 billion.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said Illinois will only take in $33.2 billion, so that is all the state will spend.

“The speaker and I have been working on from the outset, the concept of realizing and figuring out how much money we have to spend,” Cross said, “with (the) understanding that we will not spend more than that, something we’ve tried to advocate for a number years.”

Lawmakers have between now and the end of May to craft a final state budget, which will need approval from both chambers and the governor.

In previous years, the state has skipped or made partial payments to public pensions and even borrowed money to make payments. The 868 school districts statewide are having to deal with almost $450 million in less funding in the past two years, according to the ISBE’s website.

State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, said school districts have expressed frustration during the past several years about state finances. As superintendent of Hutsonville Schools, Eddy said school districts either get late payments from the state or nothing at all.

“They are concerned,” Eddy said. “But this approach is to say: ‘Here is what we really believe there is. Even if it is less, and we have to tell you that it is going to be less, these dollars are there.'”

Although school districts have received less money and delayed payments from the state, ISBE is still advocating for more education funding. The agency recommends $7.6 billion in state funding for fiscal year 2012 budget, more than 5 percent more than the governor’s proposed $7.2 billion.

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