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Illinois Aid Hike Not Seen Easing Chicago Deficit

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The Illinois legislature has given final approval to a fiscal 1994 budget that provides an additional $84 million for the Chicago schools but leaves the district still facing a massive deficit for the coming year.

Observers said the $30 billion state budget approved last month reflected the power of suburban interests and of the Republicans who won control of the Senate in the 1992 elections. As a result, Chicago school officials received less state help than they had hoped for in countering the district's $415 million projected shortfall.

Lawmakers agreed to a plan that will speed up some state aid to the Chicago schools, largely through accounting changes.

The plan includes an early-retirement option for city teachers, about 9,000 of whom will be eligible.

The budget also authorizes creation of learning zones within the city that will exempt some schools from state requirements.

At the end of the session, lawmakers also designated another $7 million to help offset the Chicago shortfall. But local officials said they still needed further state assistance.

Administrators in Chicago have identified $24 million that can be saved through administrative savings, and are counting on a $55 million shift from the teacher-pension fund to soften cuts. But even after those measures, they still face a $245 million shortfall.

While district officials are planning this week to propose a balanced budget calling for severe cuts, they are optimistic that many of the recommendations will be moot as lawmakers consider some type of bailout plan during their August session.

"The legislature has got to go back and finish its work,'' said David C. Rudd, the district's press secretary. "So far, they've done very little.''

Stretching an Inelastic Dollar

Despite the continuing uncertainty of funding for Chicago, education officials said the legislature had proved friendly to education statewide by adding funds on top of the modest new money recommended by Gov. Jim Edgar.

"Given the financial constraints on the state's budget, the Governor and General Assembly kept education as a priority,'' said Superintendent of Education Robert Leininger. "Schools, however, remain in a familiar position of stretching a dollar that shows little elasticity in responding to the educational needs of children.''

"For those schools facing severe financial problems, they will find little relief in this year's budget,'' Mr. Leininger added.

Beyond the provisions aimed strictly at Chicago, other education provisions in the budget law include establishing an elected regional school superintendent in Cook County and creating sales- and income-tax credits for businesses that offer vocational training for youths.

Over all, state funding for K-12 programs increased by $135 million, officials said.

The budget also includes provisions increasing 95 different fees and making a temporary income-tax surcharge permanent.

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