BLOOMINGTON — In his first state budget address Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker named education as one of three key areas to receive funding increases in Illinois, alongside health and human services and public safety.

His budget recommends adding $375 million into the school funding formula, which is $25 million more than the state is required to fund.

“Using the evidence-based funding formula, this will allow school districts that are the furthest from adequate funding the opportunity to gain the most,” said Barry Reilly, superintendent of Bloomington District 87. “While District 87 is not one of these districts, I would expect to see a small increase in our state funding based on this new money.

"We are still far from adequate funding, but we are moving slowly in the right direction.”

McLean County Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said he was pleased to see the state focusing on better funding for public education, but it's still unclear how the proposed budget would impact the district.

In the Stanford-based Olympia school district, Superintendent Andrew Wise said the increase in education funding through the evidence-based funding model could benefit the district, but other sources of funding will factor in as well.

“There have been years where an increase comes in one area while a decrease comes in another area,” he said. “For example, although we received $30,000 more from the state via the evidenced-based funding model, we lost significantly more by the state deciding not to fund our pre-K program.

"The gain of a $30,000 does not offset the loss of over $200,000.”

The proposed budget also recommends funding the Early Childhood Block Grant at $594 million, an increase of $100 million from fiscal 2019 to “begin the march toward universal preschool,” Pritzker said.

Wise said he appreciated the proposed increase for early childhood education, especially since losing pre-K funding.

“I hope that the (Illinois State Board of Education) uses the funding increase to restore quality pre-K programs whose funding was eliminated last year by ISBE, especially in rural, impoverished areas where there are no other options,” he said.

The governor’s budget plan includes $2 million to allow low-income students to waive advanced-placement testing fees.

Pritzker also proposed a 5 percent increase in state funding for public universities and community colleges, a $50 million boost to the Monetary Award Program that helps low- and moderate-income students attend college and $35 million for the second-year cost of the AIM HIGH merit scholarship program for high-achieving students.

That proposed 5 percent funding hike for college and universities is less than the 16.6 percent increase sought by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, but Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said, “Any increase is better than no increase or a decrease.”

After the budget stalemate that “a lot of institutions are still reeling from,” he said, “the most important thing is everyone is talking about having a budget.”

“The MAP funding issue is critical,” Dietz said, noting half the students who qualify for MAP grants don't receive them because of inadequate funding.

“Our concern is that a lot of the people who qualify and don't receive MAP don't attend college and, frankly, that's talent being squandered,” said Dietz.

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Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

Lenore Sobota contributed to this report.


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