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Looming education cuts could be 'devastating'

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SPRINGFIELD — The state's top school official says Illinois school districts will run into serious challenges if lawmakers impose deep budget cuts in the coming fiscal year.

A preliminary revenue blueprint released by lawmakers last month showed schools potentially facing a nearly $1 billion drop in funding beginning July 1, rather than the nearly $1 billion increase sought by the Illinois State Board of Education.

"That would be certainly devastating," state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch said Monday. "We have currently 22 percent of our school districts that have a hundred days' cash or less on hand. We could have districts simply not make it through the school year."

Last month, Koch requested that the state bolster education funding by more than $1 billion to increase budget gaps that already existed within the state's schools.

"The (Illinois State Board of Education) knows that's a heavy lift, certainly," Koch said. "They don't make that recommendation lightly."

The proposal was designed to make sure that schools receive enough general state aid to adequately cover students' education, he explained.

"There is a statutory amount set for general state aid," Koch said. "It's $6,119 per child. Of our ask, $880 million would be needed to come to that level."

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Koch said the schools need an infusion of cash to make ends meet, but added that some proposed changes to the state's school funding formula also could help.

These changes, recommended by a panel of state lawmakers, would aim to help school districts that struggling to make ends meet and also provide additional funding based on individual student need.

However it's done, ISBE spokesman Matt Vanover says that lawmakers need to make education funding a top priority in order to ensure the health of the state.

"Our board feels very strongly that the future of Illinois really depends on how well we teach our students right now," he said. "If we continue to cut our education - if we continue to cut back on K-12 learning - then we're not going to have a workforce that's going to be attractive to companies that want to come here."

Koch added, "If we don't educate our kids, we're in big trouble economically, and I think morally."


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