Pritchard's Perspective for August 1st

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to 
August 1, 2016

In This Issue:
Ø  Despite Budget, Schools Fear Funding Cuts
Ø  NIU Receives Approval to Resume Stevens Project
Ø  School Funding Reform Commission Faces Large Task
Ø  County Fairs Display Youth Skills
Ø  Struggle for Fair Redistricting Continues
Ø  Bill Protects Children of Military Families
Ø  Summer Readers Rewarded

Despite Budget, Schools Fear Funding Cuts
After years of funding cuts and proration of funding, many school districts don’t trust the state to provide more money towards education this year.  The stopgap budget approved in June appropriated just over $1 billion more for PK-12 education this fiscal year including a $361 million increase in general state aid, $250 million for low resource schools, and $75 million more for early childhood education. 
In my legislative district, every elementary and secondary school is appropriated at least some increase in state funding compared with last year.  Despite this, many local schools are considering budgets that will cut programs and even lay off some workers.  The reason is obvious, they don’t believe the state will have enough revenue to provide the promised funding and operating costs are rising faster than revenue growth.
While the stopgap budget appropriates a full year funding for education, all other areas of the state budget are only provide enough money to operate through December.  The State Comptroller estimates there will be over $10 billion in unpaid bills by December 31. 
So as schools finalize their budgets for the 2016-17 school year this month, many are continuing to tighten their financial belts.  I applaud the difficult job that school administrators and school boards have in providing a quality education for every child, complying with state mandates and trying to estimate what the state will be able to pay.  Despite the Governor’s priority for education funding, there isn’t enough state revenue to fund everything.   

NIU Receives Approval to Resume Stevens Project
Last week the Capital Development Board (CDB) instructed the contractor and architect for the Northern Illinois University Stevens Building project to restart their work that was halted over a year ago.  There are a lot of questions about how fast the work can resume and when the project that was scheduled to be completed this fall will now finish.
The project is approximately 50 percent complete.  The remaining work includes interior finish out of the existing 67,000 square foot building, new 33,000 square foot north addition area, new lecture hall, offices and building connections.  
According to CDB, the project manager will schedule a restart meeting as soon as possible with the architect, contractor, CDB and NIU.  The architect will inspect the project to assess the condition of the work already completed but left exposed to the weather. 
A new project schedule will have to be negotiated with the subcontractors and suppliers.  Activity at the site is expected to increase over the next month or two as subcontractors are able to reengage workers who may have been assigned other projects for this summer.
Work which was part of the original scope can begin immediately, but any additional work related to the work stoppage will require proper documentation, cost justification and approvals.
The Stevens project, first announced in 2010, is funded from the 2009 capital project legislation.  The recently passed stopgap budget appropriates over $15 million dollars to the completion of the project which was approved to cost $27.4 million.  Governor Rauner’s decision to halt all capital projects in 2016 stemmed from the failure of the General Assembly to pass a budget that year.  

School Funding Reform Commission Faces Large Task
The need for a new school funding formula that will improve the equity and adequacy of state funding for all schools has been talked about for at least a decade.  There is cause to believe that the momentum has finally reached the point where the General Assembly will soon take action.
As the spring legislative session came to a close there was a flurry of activity surrounding the issue.  Several bills changing the formula were introduced and debated in the Senate.  I voiced strong concerns about the bills that did not address the issue of adequate funding for all schools while just taking money from some districts and redirecting it to others.
Acknowledging that school funding is a complex issue that we need to get right, instead of as part of a last minute budget deal, Governor Rauner asked the legislature to not rush the solution.  He asked the legislature to consider the sources of revenue needed to address adequacy while holding some districts flat and increasing funding to others.
Then in July the Governor created an intentionally large bipartisan, bicameral commission to study and recommend changes to the school funding formula by February.  I am one of the 25 members.
The commission finally brings members from both parties and both chambers together to debate the proposed solutions and consider how other states fund education.  We will not only consider the cost of an adequate education and how to increase the share of funding from the state, but how to incorporate property tax relief.
The meetings will be transparent and accessible on the internet.  I will also keep you updated on our progress in this newsletter.

County Fairs Display Youth Skills
Kane County celebrated its 148th county fair a few weeks ago, DeKalb County will hold its 4-H fair this weekend and the Boone County Fair will be next week.  These are great opportunities to see youth demonstrating their projects among other attractions.
One of the grand champion market lambs entered
by Elena Halverson, DeKalb
I had the chance to go to the Kane County fair and meet some of the youth competing for ribbons.  They learn responsibility and hard work as they raise animals, fit them for show and then exhibit them.
Many of the contestants came from generations of farmers but not all will grow up to be farmers.  The lessons instilled in raising these animals help build character and teach things like time management, budgeting, and patience that will help with any future career.

Struggle for Fair Redistricting Continues
The battle to draw less political legislative maps is not over.  The ruling of a Chicago circuit court judge to keep the issue off the ballot for voters this fall has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.  The high court could rule on the matter before the August 25 deadline to get constitutional amendments on the November ballot.
The circuit judge ruled the constitutional amendment petition signed by over half a million voters was unconstitutional even though the petition was written based upon a Supreme Court ruling two years ago.  The judge found that the proposal would have assigned new duties to the State Auditor General and Supreme Court which would violate the constitution’s provision that amendments be limited to just the legislative article.
The guidelines for how legislative maps are drawn every 10 years have been key to the political districts that favor one party or the other.  Better government groups have continued to support guidelines that take politics out of the redistricting process.

Bill Protects Children of Military Families
Legislation I sponsored to protect children of military families was signed into law last week.  Governor Rauner signed House Bill 4425 that will require the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to inform the Department of Defense and Illinois National Guard if there is any report of child abuse or neglect in a military family.
The Department of Defense Advocacy Program requested the legislation so they could respond more quickly to any incidents.  Military officials want to protect the children in military families and provide support to the military family.
Often time DCFS investigations can take days or weeks before any finding is made.  If there are members of the military who are conducting themselves in a way that would be detrimental to our armed services or their families, military officials deserve to know so they can intervene quickly.

Summer Readers Rewarded
Each year I join community libraries in encouraging youth to continue developing their reading skills over the summer vacation.  Few things are more important to doing well in school than the ability to read and comprehend.

Those young readers in first through fifth grade who read 8 or more books over the summer are invited to my reading parties as well as the libraries’ party.  Readers in the Hampshire area were treated to ice cream as a part of the party over the weekend.  Future parties will be held at libraries in Hinckley and Big Rock on August 6, Sycamore on August 11 and DeKalb on August 13.