State lawmakers might be forced to reduce K-12 public education funding for the coming school year by more than $1 billion to offset revenue losses associated with the recent rollback of Illinois' temporary income tax hike, a children's advocacy group is warning.
On January 1, the state income tax dropped from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals and from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for corporations. With the phaseout of the higher tax rates, state revenues are projected to decline by $2 billion in the current fiscal year and about $5.4 billion next fiscal year, according to an analysis by the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children.
Without additional revenues, Springfield legislators would have to slash General State Aid and other line items by an average of 25 percent in order to balance the budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins in July, the center's findings show.
A 25 percent cut to General State Aid equals a $1 billion reduction in K-12 public education funding, which would "mean 13,000 fewer teachers statewide, more crowded classrooms and the elimination of some student transportation," according to the group's report on the topic.
Additionally, the potential public education cuts could result in "the loss of millions of federal dollars since the state would no longer be able to make required contributions to career and technical education, as well as services for children with disabilities and those from low-income families."
Since 2009, state per-pupil education funding has been cut by nearly 9 percent, the report points out.
"Public K-12 education in Illinois has already been compromised because lawmakers have chosen not to invest the resources our schools need," Emily Miller, Voices for Illinois Children's policy advocacy director, said in a statement. "Our kids can't afford a single dollar more in cuts -- let alone the $1 billion in cuts that are right around the corner."
When the state reduces public education dollars, it is often difficult for poor school districts to increase local funding to make up the difference, resulting in limited "education opportunities they are able to offer their students," the report reads.
In lower-wealth areas, Miller said the "cuts on the horizon will completely decimate schools and weaken the communities that rely on them."
"But our lawmakers have a choice," she stressed. "They can choose to take the responsible path and provide the resources our state needs to fund competitive K-12 education for a stronger Illinois."
Over the past few months, the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children has put out seven reports as part of its "A Stronger Illinois" series detailing how crucial public programs and services could be impacted by the revenue drop connected to the income tax rollback. The center has looked at the potential effects that budget cuts could have on state programs involving higher education, homelessness prevention, day care and others. Read more about those reports here.