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Published in Print: February 27, 2002, as State of the States

State of the States

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Illinois | Rhode Island




ILLINOIS

Ryan's Budget Seeks Staffing Cuts, Would Consolidate State School Aid

In his final State of the State Address to legislators, Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan outlined an austere $52.8 billion spending plan for fiscal 2003 that would make major changes in the way millions of state dollars are spent on education, and slightly reduce state K-12 spending.

Mr. Ryan, who has announced he will not seek re-election next fall, said that his 2003 spending blueprint would reduce state agency budgets by 5 percent over the current fiscal year in response to sagging state revenue.

Saying that curbing spending "cannot be done without pain," he predicted that the state-government payroll would shrink by 3,800 positions in the coming year. It's too early to say exactly where those cuts would fall.

The Republican governor's key proposal on education calls for consolidating 22 education grant programs and sending the $500 million that currently pays for those efforts directly to school districts as part of the state's basic per- pupil subsidy.

Mr. Ryan touted the plan as a way to raise that average allotment, or "foundation level," by about $400 per pupil to nearly $5,000. He said his plan would help local school administrators by cutting back on their paperwork and reducing bureaucracy. "We're giving school districts money to teach, rather than money to process paperwork," he said in the Feb. 20 speech.

Objections Raised

School advocates immediately voiced concern that the governor's plan to consolidate programs for bilingual education, reading, and gifted and talented students, for example, would hurt urban schools, which are targeted by many of these efforts. The plan would likely cost the state's education agency scores of jobs as well.

Factoring in federal education aid, his budget for K-12 spending would rise by $270 million to $8.2 billion in fiscal 2003. When that aid is not counted, however, actual K-12 state spending between the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year would drop by about $15 million to $6.19 billion.

Also in his speech, Mr. Ryan announced that he has responded to recent changes in federal education law by ordering the state board of education to draft and implement a plan to put state academic standards in sync with those in federal law.

Saying that Illinois can do more to educate preschool-aged children, he also wants next year's budget to include $6 million to help the board of education begin statewide preschool.

The governor's education spending plan also includes more than $15 million to start programs to help recruit, mentor, and train teachers at all levels.

"Even though the teaching ranks in Illinois have increased by more than 10,000 in the last three years, estimates now show that we're going to need more than 50,000 new teachers within the next few years," he said.

—Robert C. Johnston


RHODE ISLAND

Almond: No Retreat on State School Funds

Though his state is facing an economic slump, Governor Lincoln C. Almond says now is not the time for Rhode Island to cut back on education spending. In fact, the Republican leader used his eighth and final State of the State Address to press for increased public expenditures on K-12 schools and higher education.

"We cannot roll back the pages on important programs that set the foundation for our children to lead fulfilling lives," said Mr. Almond, who will be forced by term limits to step down next year.

In a fiscal 2003 budget plan released the same week as his Feb. 6 speech, he proposed spending $703 million on K-12 education, compared with a current spending level of $676 million.

The biggest hikes would come in state- aid programs for districts serving high percentages of poor children and those in communities struggling to raise funds through local property taxes to support their schools.

Mr. Almond also called for a state bond referendum on the November ballot to raise $33 million to finance facilities improvements at the state's public colleges and universities.

To help head off a projected overall state-budget shortfall of $323 million in the next fiscal year, the governor recommended a series of special tax measures and spending adjustments. One would increase cigarette taxes in Rhode Island to among the highest in the country, and another would put the brakes on a planned phase-out of local taxes levied on car owners. But he also said he would veto any bill that attempted to allow casino gambling in the state, an idea some lawmakers have supported as a way to generate more revenue.

"We have a difficult road to travel," Mr. Almond said. "But we will chart a fiscally responsible path for Rhode Island that will position our state to benefit from an upswing in the national economy."

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 21, Issue 24, Page 16

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