Thursday, July 08, 2010

Some education programs spared

By Jamey Dunn

While K-12 education is still taking a hit under the budget plan Gov. Pat Quinn outlined last week, funding levels have improved since the Illinois State Board of Education laid out its budget last month.

The board based its budget on a predicted reduction of almost $300 million. Quinn’s plan would cut education by $241 million:
  • $84 million from student transportation.
  • $68.5 million from reading improvement grants and $70.5 million from other grant programs.
  • $2.1 million from the ISBE operations budget.
Quinn also vetoed the $16 million appropriation in the General Assembly’s budget for hold harmless funding.

The ISBE budget zeroed out several high-profile programs. Funding has been restored for many of those programs, but not all would be back to fiscal year 2010 levels.

Under Quinn’s plan, advanced placement classes, agricultural education, alternative education for at-risk students and arts and foreign languages would all be funded at 80 percent. All the funding would be restored for the After School Matters program and Teach for America.

Funding would not be restored for the school breakfast program , nor for the longitudinal data system, which is intended to track student’s performances over their K-12 education careers. That system is an important part of the state’s Race to the Top application, but Mary Fergus, a spokesperson for ISBE, said that the cut should not hurt the state’s bid because Illinois has received millions in federal grants for the system.

The money for such programs is doled out through grants known as mandated categoricals, which are separate from foundation level funding , the amount allocated per student. However, David Comerford, a spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said people should not mistake categorical grants as unimportant or expendable.

Comerford added that most of the more than $1 billion the state already owes schools is for mandated categoricals.

“It’s still a key funding source that helps pay salaries. … Categoricals can’t be looked at as extra curriculars. … That’s day-to-day education stuff. It’s not frivolous side programs,” he said.

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