Illinois Lawmakers | S38 E04: K-12 Schools & Higher Education Funding | Season 38 | Episode 4

(triumphant music) – Weekly coverage of the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly continues here on "Illinois Lawmakers."

I’m Jak Tichenor, along with Rich Miller of Capital Fax, good to have you back, Rich.

How you doing?

– I’m all right, Jak, How are you?

– Good.

Well, you know when we got to pitching ideas for what we were gonna talk about today, there wasn’t a whole lot on the agenda because a lot of what’s going on at the State House right now is kind of going on behind closed doors as they work on budget and things like that.

Maybe we can focus a little bit more today on some things that we don’t think are gonna happen.

We got some insights into that from Democratic House Speaker, Chris Welch, who took part in an Illinois Manufacturer’s Association discussion earlier this week with some of the other leaders.

Welch made it clear that despite some of what caucus members have been talking about, he doesn’t see Democrats pushing to revive that idea of the graduated income tax amendment, which failed miserably a couple of years ago when J.B. Pritzker championed the idea.

– Yeah, there was, I mean, he just stated the obvious.

There aren’t the votes to put that on a ballot right now.

They tried it, it failed, it’s going to be, this is a generational thing.

It was a massive failure, a generational failure.

You can’t just go right back at the voters right away with something like that.

– Welch made it pretty clear, he said, "We got out butts kicked to that last time.

We’re not gonna go that direction again.

– And they did.

They did (laughs).

– No question.

– He did talk, though, about putting a constitutional amendment for abortion rights.

– [Jak] Mm-hmm, let’s talk about that.

– Well, you know, the Governor had said a couple, three weeks ago, I can’t remember now, I think it was during spring break that states ought to be doing more of this, putting ballot questions before votes about abortion because it’s not only in his mind the right thing to do, but also for partisan reasons, it’s a way to get Democrats to the poll or the people who will vote Democrat, put it that way, to the polls and so, there’s been a lot of talk for the last couple of years about putting something like that on the ballot here.

– What would it take to have the legislature do that?

They’ve got super majorities in both chambers.

– Yeah, it would take a super majority in both chambers.

They have to do it by a certain date, I think like the end of April next year, beginning of May next year, I’m not sure.

I’d have to look at the calendar.

– [Jak] Speak to Welch, oh, go ahead.

– No, I mean, but since we’re talking about stuff that won’t happen, he also stated the obvious and said, you know, that Bears thing, you know the Governor said yesterday, as well, that he opposed any bailout for the Bears to help them move out to Arlington Heights from Soldier Field and the speaker said yesterday, "Look, I’m not talking about that, I’m not taking meetings about that.

That’s all gonna be up to my members."

I mean, well, that’s gonna be, that’s a tough road to haul right there.

– That sounds like stick a fork in it to me- – Yeah.

– I mean, it has been since the beginning.

It’s going to take a lot more than even this latest proposal by Representative Mary Moylan out of Des Plaines.

That would tax tickets and use the, and give that money to the city of Chicago to help repay some of the debt that they incurred when they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to rehab Soldier Field.

They actually owe more money now than they did back then.

– So, don’t expect anything on that front.

We got about 30 seconds left.

Do you expect any news on the budget front here in the next few days?

– No (laughs).

There’s not enough money to go around.

This is an interesting session because the state has been kind of flushed, the revenues have been coming in.

We’re projecting a revenue drop, however.

Yet, people are asking for more money, so it’s gonna be a fun little end here.

– All right, Rich.

Rich Miller, thanks so much for your time on "Illinois Lawmakers."

Always a good time.

Joining us now on "Illinois Lawmakers," as we discuss K through 12 education is Assistant House Majority Leader Aaron Ortiz of Chicago.

Representative, great to have you on the program at last.

– Pleasure to be here.

Thank you so much for the invitation.

– Well, there’s so much going on.

Let’s kind of start with the Governor’s budget proposal.

He wants to increase state funding for K through 12 education by just over 6% next year.

That’s actually over half a billion dollars for a total K through 12 budget of over $10 billion.

How is the Governor’s education spending plan received by the House Democrats?

– Absolutely, so, over the past few months we’d had an opportunity to really hear from advocates who are in the Governor’s introduced budget and may reflect his introduced budget and these are very important programs to all the members of the House Democrat caucus and one of the ones, some of the line items that have really stood out for members are the evidence-based funding formula.

They really want to see that increase.

There’s been a lot of advocates, many were here yesterday.

Teacher pipeline program, which would just increase investments for teachers and recruitment and incentivize for them to continue to stay in the teacher as we see a lot of teachers leaving the classroom, but also an investment in early childhood.

As someone like myself, who represents a very large youth population, the fourth largest youth population in the State of Illinois from ages 0 to 18, I believe this is a very important investment, but we have a lot of young people being born across the state and just that early childhood learning from the ages of 0 to 3 is one of the most crucial, so we want to really make sure that brain development is as best it can be, but that investment in our early childhood education system is needed.

– There’ll be another $350 million invested overall to K through 12 to try to bring up the floor for a lot of the poorest state school districts in the State of Illinois, but there are some folks who would like to see that $350 million be a lot higher to the tune of around $550 million as the decade goes on.

– That is correct numbers.

And that’s the group that I just mentioned to you yesterday and has been coming to Springfield quite often and we’re hearing from young people as to, you know, there are some students from Cicero which expressed that there’s a lot of, after the pandemic, there has been a lot of mental health crises in the family, students have lost family members.

Family members have lost jobs, so there’s a big mental health crisis going on with our young people and the fact that they’re willing to talk about to a stranger, a lawmaker, and be able to speak about that, it says a lot.

So, they’ve expressed that there’s some counselors that weren’t able to be there in person because of COVID and there was a number of, you know, students who definitely needed some more support, but we need that investment to be able to have more counselors, social workers and teachers, as well.

And, of course, the new Mayor Elect, Brandon Johnson, from Chicago, from in Springfield last week talking to legislative leaders and the Governor.

One of the things he would like to see is reopening the package on the school funding reform program to try to bring more money into Chicago city schools because according to his figures, the city schools are off by about a billion dollars from where he thinks they should be.

– No, absolutely, I mean, we’ve seen in the past, CPS’s funding formula is per student, per pupil funding and what this causes is sort of kind of a hunger games amongst schools and trying to make sure to keep students or, you know, sometimes, when I was in CPS, I worked at Back of the Yards College Prep High School for five years and that is definitely the case sometimes when schools want to take students from other schools and, again, it just becomes hunger games and we’ve provided just a baseline of funding to make sure all of the schools are able to have social workers, counselors, a nurse.

It’s something that was used every single day.

Social worker, that often had to have some students wait in the counseling department for them to be seen, so it’s definitely needed and I hope that the Governor is able to consider that and I believe that especially the Chicago Delegation down here in Springfield is very supportive of our young people and our students and, most importantly- – Well, certainly your background on the ground, knowing about this first person is certainly a big help as you try to make policy in Springfield.

Representative Ortiz, thank you so much for your time, we appreciate it.

– Thank you so much.

You have a great day.

– Joining us now on "Illinois Lawmakers" is Representing Blaine Wilhour, Beecher City, the Republic spokesman on the House Elementary and Secondary Education’s Appropriations Committee.

Good to have you on the program finally, sir.

– Hey, it’s great to be here.

I appreciate what you guys do.

– Well, thank you very much.

Let’s talk about the Governor’s proposal that came out back in February during the State of the State and Budget Address.

He is looking at increasing K through 12 education overall by about $571 million.

A lot of that’s going to go into early childhood education.

We heard from the Democrats a little earlier in the program, what they thought of the proposal.

As you talk to your Republican colleagues all across, on your side of the aisle, in the Illinois House, how are House Republicans viewing the proposal?

– Yeah, well, I think the first thing to mention here is, you know, when I took over as spokesperson on the K through 12 Education Appropriations Committee, our focus here was to make sure that we’re challenging people that are coming in front of our committee and spending tax dollars on education.

Too often we hear from these folks that are coming up here that everything is a great success in education.

The education funding formula is a great success because we’re spending more money on education than we’ve ever spent.

But hardly ever do these folks come and talk about student outcomes and that’s what we’re focused on as House Republicans here is making sure that the money that we’re putting into the education system is actually producing results and when we look at it, it’s actually not.

We’re spending $16,000 per student on education in the State of Illinois and since the funding formula has came about, our student outcomes have actually gone down.

The proficiency metrics have gone down, 7 out of every 10 students in the State of Illinois are reading at grade level, so we need to look deeper into some of this stuff than just the funding aspects.

– Well, one things come to mind.

A lot of students’ academic pathway was certainly impacted by the pandemic when they couldn’t go to class.

They were trying, teachers were trying to put together these learning programs delivered over the internet and it really short circuited a lot of kids and their teachers.

– It certainly did.

That is certainly an aspect of it, but this is a longstanding here.

This predates COVID and, you know, we could talk about a lot of things, you know, on COVID.

I don’t the State Board of Education searched through this well during that time with a lot of their policies, but what we’ve seen systematically here, not just in the State of Illinois, but in the education system overall is, you know, basically the government is trying to replace the traditional family structure with government and we see this in a lot of this, you know, you mentioned the Early Start program.

I’ve got some issues with that, you know.

We’re increasingly seeing this mission creeping in in education, you know, where the government is getting involved so early on and this actually, what it’s doing is it’s creating an imbalance and it’s pushing some of these private, you know, organizations that’s been doing this and doing this well for a long time out of the system, so I’m really concerned about that and I certainly don’t trust the State Board of Education to put the welfare of students ahead of their political priorities.

So, I think that there’s some issues with that.

I think we need to be doing a lot more to, you know, increase competition, both in the K through 12 and the early education.

I just hate to see the government push these entities out.

– Got about a minute left.

I wanna ask you about that school funding reform package that Senator Manar and Senator Barickman passed a few years back.

A lot of that was geared toward down state schools, but there’s criticism from the Mayor of Chicago, the new Mayor Elect of Chicago that he wants to dive back into that and send more money back to Chicago schools.

How does that resound with you?

– Well, like every other policy that we push out of here, the education funding formula was skewed towards the Chicago public schools dramatically.

We bailed out their pension fund through that system.

Now all the state taxpayers are on the hook for that.

The funding formula has increased funding for schools in our part of the state.

There’s no doubt about it, but our thing is we can’t just solely focus on, you know, defining success in education by how much we’re funding our schools.

We’re funding our schools more than any state around us and we’re almost double than Indiana is and their national assessment scores are very similar to ours.

– Representative, thanks so much for your time.

We certainly appreciate it.

– Thank you.

– Up next on "Illinois Lawmakers," State Senator Mike Halpin of Rock Island, the Democratic co-chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Great having you on the program, Senator.

– I’m glad to be here, appreciate the invite.

– Well, let’s start talking, start off by talking about your district.

Higher education is big business in your area, the 36-senate district.

Western Illinois University is there, Augustana College, Knox College, Monmouth College, I think three community college districts.

So this is a major economic driver for your economy.

– It absolutely is and it’s also kind of a connecting thread for the communities that I represent.

Every single community in the district has some relation to one of these institutions of higher education.

It’s not just immediate jobs, faculty, it’s about support for our local high schools, as well, getting folks through the pipeline for those that wanna go receive a degree.

– And it’s economic development in the terms of workforce preparation and so on.

– Absolutely.

One of the things that I talked about on a listening tour I had over our district work period was exactly how we could be efficient in getting those students through the pipeline to fill the nursing positions, the teacher positions, everything that we’re in short supply of these days.

– The governor’s getting high marks for his proposal for the higher education budget from folks in the higher education leadership circles.

He’s talking about a budget overall of about $2.6 billion, an increase of $219 million over the current fiscal year.

Let’s talk about some of the highlights of that.

One of the big ones, of course, is $100 million in new money for the monetary award program.

Why is that such a critical program for lower income and working families?

– That’s a great question and for folks that aren’t aware, the Map Grant Monetary Award Program kind of covers that last dollar for a lot of families and makes the difference of whether they’re actually going to attend college or not at all.

It’s not a question of which college they’re going to attend and so over the past several years, we’ve seen some increases.

We’ve been happy to do that, but I was really encouraged by the governor’s proposal.

You know, if this passes, I’ve read the statistic that, you know, 40%, potentially, of public university students and almost all community college students would be able to attend college essentially for free and that makes a huge difference.

You know, when I’m on campus at Augustana, for example, and I talk to students that just come up to me and personally thank the legislature for these Map Grants because it made the difference as to whether or not they were going to attend, they’re a first time in their family going to college, and it really sets them on a path.

It’s really exciting to see that opportunity and any chance now that we have a better fiscal situation here in the State of Illinois, any chance we have to give more of those people that option is certainly better for the state.

– There are significant increases for public universities, 80.5 million, or a 7% increase, another 7% increase, $19.4 million for community colleges.

That’s a very big investment in public higher education and it’s especially critical after universities and colleges came off of the budget impasse a few years ago where they didn’t get any state money for a couple of years.

– No, you’re absolutely right and during that budget impasse, the higher education was one of those areas that was on block and actually received a decrease and over the past couple of years, we’ve tried to correct that problem.

This 7% is a substantial increase, but the sad reality is this doesn’t even get our university’s back in real dollars to where they were, you know, 10 years ago, almost 15 years ago.

We’re still playing catch up even with this increase, so I’m hoping that this is not the final word on the subject and that we’re able to continue to reinvest in higher education.

– I do wanna ask you one question about something you’re doing in terms of a piece of legislation.

It’s basically modernizing and streamlining access to student directly information.

Why is that so critical?

– Well, what we’ve seen is that our in state high school students are often looking to other states and other state colleges and universities, you know, purchase directly information and they’re able to reach our high school students sooner and then those students make the decision to travel out of state.

What this bill does, it kind of gives our own public universities a little bit of a leg up so that they can market to these students, show them the value of these Illinois universities and do it on, you know, a statewide basis rather than piecemeal where each university has to, you know, go through a private vendor and purchase a directory to try to find these students.

This is an efficient, statewide effort to get high school students in front of the folks that are trying to recruit them to our in state universities.

I think it’ll be helpful to, you know, not just save some university costs, but also, again, make that first impression that Illinois schools are here, we’re ready to educate and there’s gonna be value in that.

– Stopping the brain drain.

Senator Halpin, thank you so much for your time on "Illinois Lawmakers."

– Have a great day.

– We continue our discussion on higher education funding with Senator Dale Fowler of Harrisburg, the Republican co-chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Good to have you back on the program, Senator.

– Always a pleasure to be with you, thank you so much.

– One of the things I like to do when we’re talking about higher education is ask the senator or representative about the schools that are in their district.

You have Southern Illinois University, Carbon Dale, you also have colleges like John A. Logan, Southeastern Illinois College and Shawnee, that is a big investment in the people in your district when it comes down to jobs and workforce development and all of that.

– Yes, absolutely.

I couldn’t be more excited to have those, SIU and the three community colleges you mentioned, Jak and, you know, Rend Lake’s right on my border, so, you know, we have a lot of community colleges right here in Southern Illinois, and they’re very special and I couldn’t be more excited to see the proactive measures that our, you know, our state, you know, the SIU and our community colleges are taking, especially into vocational training opportunities and such with a need for our workforce development and the job creation that we have in Southern Illinois and in the 59th District, so they’re doing an incredible job.

I’m really excited for them.

– Well, I wanna follow up on that a little bit.

You’re background comes from small business development, working with banking, working with the community there, how are the higher education institutions partners in that plan?

– Absolutely.

You know, with all the development projects we have going on in Southern Illinois, you know, working closely, and you’re seeing more trade opportunities, trade training schools and vocational training in our community colleges and SIU, as well as our labor group, so working hand in hand with them and really, you know, conveying issues that we have and the need that we have for trades and training opportunities, especially in vocational trades.

– After a number of years, actually the past couple of decades where the State of Illinois and other states did not invest very much in higher education because of a number of factors, we had a budget impasse a few years ago where state universities and community colleges didn’t get any money from the state.

They had to rely on tuition income, the Pritzker Administration is trying to make some major investments back in that direction, looking at the proposal for fiscal year 24, it’s a nearly 2.5 billion dollar budget and increase of $219 million back to the universities and community colleges.

Is that a step in the right direction?

– Absolutely, you know, the fact that that means, you know, insuring that our universities are properly and adequately funded and, you know, when you see increases in such things as, you know, the proposal for the AM Pipe Program, you know, which is a bipartisan, bicameral group, that is working together to make the Aim High Program permanent, I currently serve on the Higher Education Working Group, so I’m working closely with that and the governor has recommended 35 million actually for the Aim High Program, which is a level that, which is level to the fiscal year 2023.

And the Aim High, as you well know, is a great program that provides, you know, merit based awards, you know, with a career opportunity for our students, so, and then as well as Map Grants.

You know, $700 million I believe it was is recommended for, you know, for general funds for Map Grants, which are monetary award programs for our students, so, you know, this administration’s really taking higher education funding seriously and that’s really exciting for, you know, for SIU and our community colleges as a whole.

– And there’s a 7% bump overall for higher education institutions like SIU, U of I and the like, and a 7% increase for the community colleges.

In the last minute or so we’ve got here, that’s trying to make up some ground that was lost during the budget impasse a few years ago when things were very bleak for about 2-1/2 years.

– Yes, that was a difficult time.

You know, I walked into that, you know, in the general assembly and those two years were tragic for, you know, for the entire state, especially education, higher education and K through 12 actually, so to see, you know, this administration really taking proactive measures and, you know, solidifying, in fact, you know, the fact that, you know, we need to continue to invest more into our education because that is, that is our economic development.

You know, that’s where it all starts for our students, investing in our students.

You know, I have a passion to help our youth and our students to be able to have a great career.

You know, we have seen an out migration of students leaving the State of Illinois, so now I think we’re seeing more, especially through my Student Advisory Council that I have, we’re seeing more students encouraged about staying in southern Illinois because they know, you know, we have beautiful territory in southern Illinois, Jak, as you well know and they see the opportunities that are had in southern Illinois.

So, that’s very encouraging and I’m very excited for that.

– Senator Fowler, thank you so much.

We always appreciate your time on "Illinois Lawmakers."

Take care, sir.

– It’s always a pleasure to be with you.

Thank you so much.

(triumphant music)


via Illinois Lawmakers | WTVP

April 30, 2023 at 06:33PM

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