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Families are hurting as division on budget widens

As debate ensues regarding the next fiscal cycle, the Latino Policy Forum is profoundly disappointed that Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly have failed to reach agreement on the FY16 budget eight months into the fiscal year.  The state’s operating budget is more than a government document; it is a moraldocument that outlines how the state plans to annually invest more than $30 billion in General Revenue Fund dollars to advance state priorities and improve the lives of Illinois 12.8 million residents.

Rather than re-commit to immediately addressing this year’s fiscal crisis, Governor Rauner used his budget address to issue an ultimatum to the legislature for FY17: accept elements of his administration’s Turnaround Agenda and budget cuts in exchange for new revenue; or give the executive branch the flexibility to reallocate resources and make spending reductions.  This approach to negotiation has not yielded results during his tenure and has contributed to the current state of affairs.  State leaders have a duty to pass the state’s operating budget, and this responsibility should not be contingent upon the progress of non-budget related policy priorities. 

The only segment of the operating budget given priority for immediate action  was funding for elementary and secondary education, with an emphasis on early childhood education and General State Aid.  As staunch advocates for increasing access to high-quality early learning opportunities for Latino children, the Forum commends the Rauner administration for joining the Illinois State Board of Education in its recommendation to increase funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant by $75 million, a 25 percent increase in funding that would enable the state to continue expanding access to full-day preschool services with supplemental funding from the Federal Government’s Preschool Expansion Grant.  Coupled with recommendations in the DHS budget proposal to elevate income eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program back to 185 percent of the federal poverty limit, a $5 million dollar increase in Early Intervention Services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and level-funding for home-visiting programs the administration is displaying a new commitment to comprehensively investing in early learning programs. 

Governor Rauner’s education proposal also includes an increase of more than $140 million for General State Aid, which would allow the state to meet the foundation level of funding directed towards elementary and secondary schools and avoid prorating resources to school districts, a practice that adversely affects low-income children enrolled in property poor school districts. 

Despite the Illinois State Board of Education’s recommendation to increase funding for bilingual education by $11.9 million, the administration recommended level funding at $63.6 million.  The per-pupil value of this expenditure has diminished for years given the continued growth of the state’s English learner student population, which now exceeds 10 percent of all students.  Failing to equip schools with adequate resources to provide language support services for Illinois’ 207,000 English learners is detrimental to the education these students receive and runs counter to the administration’s intent to enhance the quality of education for every child in Illinois.

The Rauner administration also recommended zeroing out state funding for Illinois Welcoming Centers and immigrant integration services within the DHS budget.  These programs enable immigrants to access state programs, participate in adult education and file to become U.S. citizens – each of which enhances the well being of children and families and increases their household earning potential.  The DHS budget also proposes reductions in addiction treatment and prevention services, supportive housing services and homeless prevention services.

The Forum shares Governor Rauner’s goal to make Illinois the greatest state in the nation. 

As the largest driver of Illinois population growth for more than two decades, Latino children now account for a quarter of all school-age children.  But Latino children, like all youth, need much more than enhanced classroom support to achieve their full potential.  Twenty-seven percent of Latino children already live in poverty.  Dismantling the state’s social safety net will push more families into poverty, thwart opportunities for upward economic mobility and make Illinois a less compassionate state.

It is time for Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly to refocus on negotiating the terms of an immediate budget agreement for FY16 funded with new forms of sustainable revenue and to move forward with the traditional, predictable process for budget negotiation in FY17 and beyond.