The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
The 2004 legislature gave Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich new power to appoint and remove members of the state board of education, the panel that sets statewide policy for schools. Lawmakers also found more money for education, though many districts continue to face serious budget woes.
With that power, Gov. Blagojevich overhauled the board, and its new members have made several efforts to improve the performance of the state education agency, which is also known as the Illinois State Board of Education. The new board members and interim state Superintendent Randy Dunn have taken steps to reduce spending by the agency, eliminate errors in district report cards, and reduce paperwork for local school administrators—moves that have won praise from some quarters.
“The agency is coming back,” said Ben Schwarm, the associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. “Our working relationship with them has greatly improved.”
Many districts nonetheless continue to suffer from a paucity of state and local revenue, which has forced them to cut programs and jobs, Mr. Schwarm noted. Some public school advocates and legislators continue to argue that Illinois needs a more reliable school finance system, but lawmakers did not make any major changes to that funding system.
State leaders provided some measure of relief to schools by increasing general funding for education for fiscal 2005 by nearly 7 percent, to $5.8 billion, as part of the $23.6 billion general-fund budget.
During last year’s legislative session, the governor and lawmakers labored to close an estimated budget deficit of $2.3 billion for fiscal 2004, and it appears that more fiscal uncertainty waits. The legislature’s bipartisan Economic and Fiscal Commission estimates foresee a state budget shortfall of at least $1 billion during fiscal 2005. “The difficult times are likely to continue,” said Dan Long, the commission’s executive director.
A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week