Senator Syverson’s Week in Review: March 21 – 25

Springfield, IL. – With session set to resume on April 5, State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) continues to work in their respective districts to help with constituent needs and address local issues.  At the same time, he is continuing to advocate for fully funding the General State Aid to schools now, so we can then begin the process of creating a new formula that will ensure every students in Illinois has access to a quality education. 

This week, sobering financial news from Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger continues to reverberate, DCFS announced positive steps its taking to help foster children, and state support for Israel was reaffirmed as Illinois became the first state in the nation to ban companies from doing business in Illinois if they support a boycott of Israel.  

Making Education Funding a Priority Requires Action

Republican and Democrat lawmakers agree the state’s nearly 20 year-old system of funding K-12 education has become increasing inequitable, but that’s where the agreement ends. 

While the Senate Republican Caucus acknowledges the need for a new funding formula for education, in the interim they are advocating for full funding for General State Aid (GSA) to schools, which includes Foundation Level and Low-Income grants. Full funding immediately provides more money for elementary and high schools, period. 

However, Democrat lawmakers have threatened to withhold state funding for all schools until they can secure a complete rewrite of the formula to secure a $500 million bailout of the poorly-managed, fiscally-strapped Chicago Public School (CPS) system. Senate Republicans offered proposals this spring to help CPS, but as of this date, no hearings on those proposals are scheduled by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

At the Capitol, there is an abundance of promises to make education funding a priority. Commitments are a different story. Since Fiscal Year 2009, the Democrat majorities in the Senate and House intentionally prorated, or cut, the education funding formula at levels between 87 percent and 97 percent of full funding. This means for the past seven years, schools were left shortchanged and struggling. It’s also important to note that school funding was prorated at its worst levels during the time period (2011-2014) when Illinois collected nearly $30 billion in additional revenue as a result of the 2011 income tax increase. Schools serving the most impoverished students in the state were hurt the most by the Democrats’ prorated or reduced funding, because proration directly affects Foundation Level grants and Low-Income grants.

Senate Republicans are backing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to end the deliberate underfunding of Illinois schools, through a proposed $55 million increase for General State Aid to schools in the coming fiscal year. The total $4.8 billion appropriation would fully fund the $6,119 Foundation Level and supplemental grants for low-income students for the first time in seven years.

Education funding will be a key focus of negotiations on the upcoming state budget, even though an agreement on a current budget remains an unsettled issue more than nine months into Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which began July 1, 2015. The budget is an integral part of the state’s overall financial condition, which remains in shambles as Senators heard during a recent budget hearing.

Illinois’ Financial House

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger recently testified that in  the absence of a budget, the Comptroller is paying bills under more than a dozen court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriations. This is resulting in additional debt being incurred by the state. 

According to Munger, the state holds more than $7 billion in overdue bills. This is in addition to the current $6 billion budget hole.  She said the lack of a FY2016 budget means state government continues to dig a deeper financial hole. Illinois has about $100 million in its account to meet its obligations, which Munger likened to a family having only $100 in the bank to pay bills of $7,000.

The financial disaster of today took years to manifest, but it worsened under former Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn. Meanwhile, legislative hearings are underway on a state budget for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1, 2016.

Reforms Aim to Improve Care for At-Risk Youth

Senate Republican proposals to help Illinois’ most vulnerable children are the foundation of a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) initiative to provide greater stability and improve outcomes for Illinois foster children.

Senate Bill 2371 (Rezin) would include foster parents among those eligible to become a child’s guardian, while another measure, Senate Bill 3041 (Radogno), would allow foster parents and caregivers to make more decisions on behalf of the child, instead of DCFS.

DCFS Director George Sheldon has overseen significant improvements at the Department within the last year, reducing the number of children in shelter care by 50 percent, reducing the use of institutional residential treatment and instituting a new directive to ensure no child under the age of six spends the night in a shelter.

Additionally, by rectifying Departmental paperwork issues that existed under the Quinn Administration, DCFS is expected to receive an additional $16 million a year moving forward.

Illinois and Israel

In other news, any company currently boycotting Israel is now banned from doing business with the State of Illinois. The Illinois Investment Policy Board approved the ban at its March 18 meeting. Illinois becomes the first state to take such action.

According to a story in the Jerusalem Post, 20 other states are considering similar action. Illinois also currently prohibits investment in certain companies that do business with Iran and Sudan, which are known human rights violators. There are dozens of companies on the Board’s prohibition list. The Board was created last year by the General Assembly, with bipartisan support. Its purpose is to ensure the investment of public money does not occur in entities that are prohibited from investment by Illinois law.

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