Illinois Board of Education Holds Hearing on Budget
By Sean Powers
The Illinois State Board of Education is holding a series of public forums before making recommendations on education funding for the next fiscal year.
The board’s Finance and Audit Committee met Monday at the Champaign Public Library, where area teachers and school administrators showed up to say unless more is done to fund schools, programs will have to be cut.
Cris Vowels is the principal of Urbana’s Washington Early Childhood School, which helps preschoolers with special needs. Washington School is supported almost entirely by the state, and in recent years, Vowels said, funding for the school has taken a hit.
“This past year, we had an 8-percent cut, which cost us about $95,000, and because of those cuts we’ve had to cut services to children, to staff, and to families,” she said. “We’re very concerned that if we don’t get funding restored to a level where we can operate efficiently, we may have to cut classrooms and that would devastate a lot of the families in our community.”
Donna Kaufman is the director of alternative education for the regional office of education in Champaign and Ford Counties. She expressed similar concerns about funding shortages, and the impact on the R.E.A.D.Y program, which is an alternative school in Champaign.
“Every year we receive less funding, and so it is so important to provide quality education for those students who come to us,” she said.
Kaufman said there are 121 students from 17 school districts who are currently enrolled in the R.E.A.D.Y program.
“We’re getting close to being full, and so it would be important to hire a couple more teachers so that we can have more sports available,” Kaufman added.
The Board of Education’s Jim Baumann said with primary and secondary education losing more than $200 million in state funding in the last year, the challenges facing teachers are noticeable.
“You know, we’re hearing that they’re doing a lot of selfless work, and very focused on helping children and we need to do more for them,” Baumann said. “(The cuts) are impacting children from all over the state - whether it’s from safe schools; whether it’s early childhood education; or how districts can survive with transportation cuts. It impacts most children in Illinois.”
By January, the Illinois State Board of Education will submit recommendations on education funding to Gov. Pat Quinn and the General Assembly. But first the board will hold three more public hearings in Grayslake, Chicago, and Granite City.