In Metro-East, continued work on the new Martin Luther King Bridge I-55/I-64 off ramp at East St. Louis is probably the most obvious evidence of a new, six-month, temporary budget packaged finalized by Gov. George Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly, just prior to the July 1 start of the state’s new fiscal year.
School districts, like Cahokia Community Unit School District 187 – which had announced it would close at the end of August, absent the assurance of full state funding – and Belleville School District 118 – which announced last month a possible delay in the start of the new school year – are now accepting registrations for the fall 2016 semester.
The area’s three major public colleges, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) and Lewis & Clark Community College (L&C), are likewise enrolling students. However, with no assurance of state tuition assistance for students, a decline in enrollment is possible, administrators admit.
Senior service agencies, such SWIC’s Programs and Services Older Persons (PSOP), remain in operation, as the state budget deal allowed continuation of federal funding. However, with a number of St. Clair and Madison county communities ranked among the poorest in America, Metro-East social service agencies are among the most concerned about the prospects for fiscal instability after the budget deal expires on Jan 1, 2017.
“Today (June 30) the General Assembly finally reached a bipartisan agreement to ensure K-12 schools receive the funding they need to open on time and remain open for the upcoming school year,” said State Representative Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon). “We reached a compromise to keep road, bridge and rail projects going. We negotiated funding to keep our public universities, such as SIUE and our community colleges including [Southwestern Illinois College] and [Lewis and Clark], open. We funded MAP grants for college students, and we provided funding for critical human services.”
All Illinois House and Senate members representing Metro-East
voted for the budget package, comprised of five separate bills.
Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) District 8 officials had threatened to begin shutting down $130 million in road construction across Metro-East on June 30, unless a key components of the stopgap budget plan (HB 6585/SB 3435), designed to keep 2016 road projects funded, was enacted.
The legislation authorizes the use of $550 million in revenue from bonds recently sold by the state to help pay for road projects — meaning IDOT may have greater hope than some state departments of keeping programs alive long-term.
For K-12 schools, the budget package provides basic funding of $6,119 per pupil and a hold-harmless provision to ensuring that no district loses state aid this year.
“(It) also adds $250 million in equity grants directed at school districts with high concentration of poverty students, of which many Metro East school districts will benefit,” adds Alison Maley, Illinois Principals Association government relation director.
However, the short-term budget does not provide for
comprehensive reform of the state funding formula, sought by many Metro-East districts. Edwardsville School District 7 continues to pursue a tax increase this November, prompted in part by uncertainties over state funding.
Illinois colleges and universities were actually assured funds to open this fall under a separate stopgap bill, enacted on April 25. Funding for Illinois’ Monetary Award Program (MAP) of student financial assistance was restored as part of the last month’s budget package.
The Southern Illinois University (SIU) system will receive $106.1 million in operating funds, as well as approximately $8.4 million in MAP reimbursements and $54,000 for SIU scholarship grants. SIUE will get $625,000 for its school of pharmacy, $155,000 for fire protection, and continued funding for construction of a new science building.
However, the April legislation restored only part of the state funding originally allocated. The MAP funding is retroactive, covering only the just-completed academic year. With MAP grants widely used by Metro-East students, SIUE announced last week announced it will cover the cost of MAP tuition assistance for students this fall. The program’s fate at SIUE thereafter remains undetermined.
“In the case of Lewis and Clark Community College, receiving essentially one quarter of the state’s overall commitment for Fiscal Year ‘16 and Fiscal Year ‘17 has forced the college to issue working cash bonds of $8 million to cash flow the state’s lack of payment to maintain academic programs, retention support services, and college operations. In addition, the college will deplete 40 years of working cash interest, a result of conservative financing, in one year to balance Fiscal Year ‘16,” said college President Dale Chapman.
Concerns remain across Metro-East even with state budget deal —