SPRINGFIELD — State school officials say the legislature needs to give local school districts more money — but a legislative leader says money the state owes for teacher pensions makes that idea unrealistic.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — State school officials say the legislature needs to give local school districts more money — but a legislative leader says money the state owes for teacher pensions makes that idea unrealistic.

Illinois’ appointed State Board of Education today asked lawmakers to pay for learning, approving a nearly $5-billion budget that would fully fund Illinois education for the first time since 2011.

“We are being besieged by districts that are in deep, deep (trouble) with their finances,” said ISBE Chairman Gery Chico. “And they don’t know where to go.”

Gery Chico, interviewed by reporters in Springfield.

But there’s little chance Illinois schools will get any more money. In fact, lawmakers say, Chico should actually expect less.

“The state board should get in on the reality of the world,” said state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.

Bradley runs the powerful House Revenue Committee, and it is his job to set a spending cap for the new state budget.

Bradley said Illinois’ pension debt and other unpaid bills will make it impossible to spend more on schools.

“We have a pension payment that will go up $1 billion. We have $2.3 billion in employee health insurance claims. We have another $8 billion to $9 billion in unpaid bills,” Bradley said. “We are going to have to figure out how to cut a billion dollars from operations to make end meet.”

Bradley set the spending cap for the current budget at $33.2 billion. Illinois schools received $4.2 billion for education. Illinois’ pension payment was just over $6 billion.

“We are upside down, and things are getting worse,” said Bradley.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said he will show those numbers to any teachers who come to the statehouse this spring to ask for more money for their classrooms.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Davis said today. “As a teacher you want to have your pension fully funded. But you also want all of the resources for your school.”

Davis has not backed Bradley and the House spending cap, and said he is unlikely to support the cap this year, despite being in charge of crafting the K-12 education budget in Illinois.

The spending cap “does not allow lawmakers to prioritize spending,” Davis said.

“I think education funding should be a priority and command the appropriate resources,” he said.

Illinois lawmakers return to the statehouse at the end of month to begin the budget process.

Bradley said the numbers are stacked against the $5-billion budget request from the State Board of Education.

“If we have to cut $1 billion from operations, and education is 40 percent of operations, that’s nearly $400 million,” Bradley added.

Davis said he would rather see lawmakers help local schools capture as much local money as they can. He expects to see new legislation dealing with local tax caps or local school referendum questions.

Chico said, in the end, lawmakers are going to make a moral judgment with the fiscal decisions.

“It is their call at the end of the day,” Chico said. “And I hope that they will agree with us, that for the future of Illinois there must be a competent level of funding.”

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  1. Problems in Illinois getting worse
    Today, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the State of Illinois, again, and implied that it will downgrade the state in the future unless we fix our problems. What will it take for legislators in Springfield to realize that changes must be made and a plan to restore our fiscal health becomes a reality? Businesses are less likely to invest and create jobs under the current environment and taxpayers are more likely to leave the state when and if they can move.

    We should not wait to take action AFTER the State of Illinois gets a heart attack, the symptoms are very obvious.

    Read the Bloomberg article and call your legislators:

    Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) — Illinois had its debt rating cut one level to A- by Standard & Poor’s, which threatened to downgrade the state again following lawmakers’ failure to bolster the nation’s worst-funded pension system.
    The rating action comes before the state’s planned sale next week of $500 million of general-obligation securities. The move affects $26.6 billion of debt, according to Robin Prunty, an S&P analyst. It leaves Illinois’s bond grade six levels below AAA and ties it with California as S&P’s lowest-rated state.
    The combination of the pension burden and budgetary stresses may push Illinois closer to speculative grade, the company said.
    “While it is unusual for a state rating to fall into the ‘BBB’ category, lack of action on pension reform and upcoming budget challenges could result in further credit deterioration, particularly if it translates into weaker liquidity,” Prunty, who’s based in New York, wrote in a report released today.
    The state has the weakest pension system in the U.S., with
    39 percent funding for five major groups of public employees, according to the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based nonprofit research group.
    Lawmakers ended their session Jan. 8 without acting on measures to strengthen those funding levels.
    “We’ve got to put on our seat belts here and understand the credit-rating agencies aren’t going to give us better marks until the legislature deals with” pension proposals, Governor Pat Quinn said today in Chicago before the downgrade.

  2. great reporting Jim

    Thanks Jim for continuing to point out the dire straits of this situation.

    Unfortunately, the teachers union money finances the campaigns of most of the Democrat candidates in Illinois.   The union wants no changes.  They want to be made 100% full of all the promises and they want the state to pay for it.  I know this because I'm part of the teachers union, and I get a robo-call weekly telling me that the union is threatening to sue the state if any changes are made.  DO you really think the majority of these Democrat politicians are going to go against what the union wants? 

    Sadly, as you state here, the money is just not there.  Nor will raising taxes improve the situation, considering the recent tax hikes did not even put a dent in the problem.

    I think this article sums up the sitatuation nicely in Illinois:

    Sadly, the people who will be most hurt by all of this are kids.  They don't have money, and they can't buy votes. School services will get cut as the state and districts struggle to pay the debt burden.  Schools have already made huge cuts to services, just look at the reduction in special education support last year in D65. Sold as improvements in inclusion services, it also saved the distrct about a half million dollars. No surprise that Hardy Murphy suddenly "found" a surplus of money.  He found it by cutting support aide to kids.   

    I don't see any easy way out of this mess without a fight-  The "right" thing to do would be for politicans to admit that the promises made were hogwash impossible, the teachers union to take a reduction in pension promises, and for future pension burdens to be placed upon individual school distircts so that they are more accountable for tax dollar promises.  And of course to keep funding services for children as the priority- after all, aren't we all about the kids?!  Bravo to Biss and Nekritz for going against party line and trying to do the right thing. 

    Keep an eye out and do what's best for your family Jim.  Most people are asleep when it comes to these problems, and it's going to take them a pretty big shock to wake up.  SEe you on the soccer field 🙂




  3. What to do about this?

    Well Democrats, what are you going to do about this? 

    We all know that Union dues are money laundrying for the Democratic Party. 

    And we all know the poor condition our state is fiscally, next California. 

    And we all know who is presiding over this. 

    So what are you going to do Democrats? 

    Look north to Wisconsin and Scott Walker's actions.  A two-fer, beat the Unions and hey… his state has a surpluss!

    Imagine that. 

    1. The problem is that the state

      The problem is that the state has the obligationto pay the money that it has not been paying into the pension funds. The pension system for teachers is a way that the state supports public education thoughout the state.

      Our property taxes pay for the teachers salaries, but not for the employer's portion of social security (teachers don't get any) -The state does the equivalent pension funding)  in order to support public education – Spreading it's support not only to poor districts ( towns like Hoopston, etc.) but to our districts as well.

      Pension reform is a way of saying: "How can we get sombody else to pay our obligation?"

      The big ideas:

      1. get rid of pensions – move the teachers to Social Security – Won't happen because then the state will ACTUALLY have to pay the money to the feds
      2. Get the property tax payers to fund the pension portion –probably will partially happen but will disproportionally hurt poor districts  
      3. Get the pensioners to pay the backlog of obligation – Yeah! thats the ticket! it's like a social security tax only at a double rate already, we can raise it any time our backroom investment firm deals with campaign contributers go bad.
      4. Eliminate public education – U.N. testing shows that our educational system is behind countries that have child sweat shops so it all is a waste of money anyway – instead of listening to ipods and texting on iphones, our kids could be making them! – it is a win-win right?


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