Illinois schools – especially downstate schools – have been encouraged to consolidate. But the state has not come through with all the funding promised for consolidations.
“Take, for example, the Abingdon and Avon school districts when they recently consolidated,” said State Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb). “Because the General State Aid is prorated at 89%, the powers that be decided, ‘Well, we’ll just fund the consolidation funding at 89% as well.’ I don’t think it’s right.”
Hammond said she will work with State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) on a bill to ensure districts are fully paid for the cost of consolidating. She said another bill will make sure districts that have already consolidated have been fully paid.
School systems that consolidate create a new district that is larger geographically, yet the state has drastically cut transportation funding for schools in recent years. Hammond said it’s challenging to make Chicago area lawmakers understand the impact of that cut.
“A lot of the folks that I serve with have no concept of the size of our districts,” said Hammond.
“When I tell my colleagues that I have a district that’s over 400 square miles, they just look at me like I have three heads. They cannot fathom it.”
Hammond hopes more funding can be provided for school transportation, but she doubts that will happen. In fact, she’s concerned it might be a battle just to hold funding level.
Hammond said preliminary figures from the Committee on Government Forecasting and Accountability project the state will generate $34 billion in revenue this year. She said that is $1.6 billion less than last year, which means the state will probably need to make more cuts for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins July 1, 2014.
Hammond said she opposed the decision to delay the governor's budget address until late March. She said that leaves less time to ensure the governor and lawmakers are in tune with each other on the next budget.