Gery Chico | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: July 2, 2013 7:04AM
This is the time of the year when the appeals from worthy causes pour in.
With legislators nearing completion on the state budget before a Friday adjournment deadline, everyone wants their program or agency spared.
And we don’t blame them. The last several years were all about cuts, many of them vicious.
But among all causes, one stands above all else: Education. In a letter and an interview with us, State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico put it best: Good schools, he says, can ease much of what ails us — the need for more jails, extra police, remedial education, job training and more.
Spend on schools today and, long term, you save everywhere else.
The state board has been on a campaign for months to increase state spending on education and reverse cuts made in each of the last four years. Since 2009, the reductions total $861 million, cuts that have led to the loss of 6,400 teachers and aides and 18,000 fewer pre-school slots, Chico says.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that the bleeding will likely stop this year. The education budget, which passed the Senate Wednesday and could face a House vote Thursday, essentially holds education harmless. Funding for early childhood education, bilingual education and transportation will stay at this year’s level. Funding for general state aid, which helps level the playing field for poor districts, will get a boost, though that only keeps it at this year’s level because of a growing low-income student population. A recap on that startling news: The percentage of low-income Illinois students increased from 38 percent to 49 percent between 2003 and 2012.
Given the state’s precarious finances, we see little room to spend significantly more on education today, despite rising standards and greater demands on schools and teachers. But once the state solves its pension problem and passes a gaming bill, education belongs at the front of the line for a much needed boost.