As gears up for a new school year, the Dist. 229 Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Wednesday. Though the agenda was light, special guest, 36th District Representative Kelly Burke, dropped in to talk about the state of education in Illinois.
“I thought it would be a good idea to come out after the session ended and kind of touch base on some education related bills that have come up and just let you know that I'm always available,” she said.
Burke opened by talking about the budget and specifically the Illinois House 's elementary and secondary education committee. She said that, unlike in years past, the committee received input from the legislature which resulted in a slight decrease in general state aid, something she said worked out for districts like Oak Lawn.
She added that the difficult situation that the state budget is in that led to the education cuts is widely known. However, the state has taken a very conservative approach to projecting education funding and said that any surplus money over projections will be dispersed quickly to make up for missed payments.
“That would really be helpful to school districts, park districts, anybody that's waiting on state aid,” she said. “We're hoping that going forward, you're going to see short times for when your money is coming in.”
Burke said that the plain isn't going to be an overnight fix and that it could be years before the state catches up with its payments.
The 36th District representative also talked about two important education bills, the recently passed Senate Bill 7 and the potential gaming bill that is currently locked in the State Senate.
She called SB 7 an "a big, comprehensive, ambitous bill that pushes for education reform, including incorporating performance in personnel decisions to keep the best teachers in the classroom, and greater transparency in contract negotiations, which is considered imperative to reforms of lengthening the school day. Feedback from the district, and other districts in the area, could help continue to shape and reshape the bill in the future.
“You know how when you take on something big and ambitious it doesn't always work exactly as you planed,” she said. “So it will be interesting to hear feedback from you guys and see if there are things that are working for you and things that might need to be tweaked in the future.”
The gaming expansion bill could be a boon for the state's coffers and potentially for education funding, if it is passed Burke said. She said that, as of now, the bill dictates that a percentage of revenue from casinos would be directed to education, which would supplement, not replace, any money that comes out of the state's general revenue fund.
State lawmakers claim that expanding the Illinois' number of casinos and gambling at horse tracks could generate $1.5 billion in revenue for the state. Gov. Pat Quinn is meeting with supporters and opponents of SB 744 before deciding whether to send the bill back with changes during the Illinois General Assembly's fall veto session, the State Journal Register reported.
“We'll see if the governor passes that bill or if [the education funding] part makes it in, if and when the casinos get moving, hopefully that will be increased money for education,” Burke said.