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Pritzker pledges to increase education funding if re-elected

Education has been a major issue in the Illinois gubernatorial race as the state’s 852 districts continue to deal with the fallout from pandemic disruption, decline in test scoresand a slight increase in chronic absenteeism rates.

Incumbent Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat running for a second term, said he wants to increase funding for K-12 schools and make early childhood education and higher education more affordable. State Republican challenger Sen. Darren Bailey said that it would reduce spending on education and fire the state board of education.

Pritzker spoke with Chalkbeat Chicago about his education agenda, touching on early education, K-12 public schools, funding, and access to higher education for working-class families. .

Chalkbeat requested an interview with Bailey and received no response.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

School enrollment is down in Illinois. Chicago Public Schools are no longer the third largest school district in the nation. What strategies would you suggest to reverse this trend?

We have seen a decline in K-12 enrollment across the country. Part of that is due to the pandemic, and a lot of the effort to try to recover depends on our ability to hire teachers to make sure we’re properly staffed to keep schools open. It is also important that we recognize that demographic trends are driving down the number of K-12 children across the country, as well as in Illinois. There is work we need to do. It’s the learning renewal plan that will be very important in making sure we get the kids back and helping families recover financially to stay in the city and send their kids to Chicago public schools.

In Illinois, daycare fees eclipse rent. It also increases every year in times of inflation. How do you plan to deal with rising childcare costs?

Illinois has a child care assistance program. During my tenure, we increased income eligibility to include higher income families. When I came to power that level was about 185% of the poverty line, now it is 225%. Everyone at this level and below is eligible for the CCAP program. My goal is to reach 300% of the federal poverty level and have it on a rolling basis from 300%. So up to this level you can get some level of support. Additionally, the state offers three months of free coverage to unemployed parents seeking to re-enter the workforce, which previously did not exist.

Early childhood educators and caregivers are underpaid, often working with no benefits and take a second job to pay their own bills. What are your plans to increase the salaries of educators?

So far, we’ve solved that by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and increasing reimbursement rates for providers so they can afford to pay more and keep people on staff. . Finally, we make sure to offer child care workers the opportunity to increase their skills and be better paid in more senior positions in child care. We’ve invested $200 million in a scholarship program so everyone in child care can go back to school and get a certificate or degree to get a better job, like being a manager in a an establishment or to open their own establishment.

The evidence-based funding formula was created in 2017 to help schools be nearly fully funded by 2027. Legislation requires the state to commit at least $350 million in new funding each year, which did not happen in 2020but made in 2021 and 2022. If re-elected, will you increase the amount of funding for K-12 education each year by more than $350 million?

In order for us to increase funding for education even more—and I am absolutely committed to that—we need to balance the budget. Before I took office, the state government spent only about 24% of funding on public education, and then almost all of the rest came from local property taxes. The state has gone from 24% to nearly 30% in education funding and we need to do more. But, when we increase state funding for education, we need to ease the pressure on property taxes. Education accounts for about 70% of an average property tax bill.

The most recent state budget included more money for the Monetary Assistance Program — or MAP — grants that provide college scholarships to students who demonstrate financial need. Will you continue to increase funding for these grants?

I am so proud of what we were able to do to increase the MAP program by 50% or $200 million during my tenure. It enabled 26,000 more students this year than in 2019 to go to college and be able to afford college in Illinois. I’m thrilled about that, but there’s so much more we need to do. I would like to make sure that anyone at the median income level or below—in Illinois, most people are between $60,000 and $70,000—can go to college for free.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering state school districts, legislation, special education, and the state Board of Education. Contact Samantha at [email protected].

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