Investing in education is good for Illinois’ future

It’s good for kids, and the state, that Gov. J.B. Pritzker focused on education in his budget and State of the State speech.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his combined budget and State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly last week at the Illinois State Capitol.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his combined budget and State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Feb. 15 at the State Capitol.

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool

There’s no good argument, really, against putting education at the front of the line when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.

Good schools can make or break a community, a city and a state. They play a huge role in where families decide to settle down, where young people opt to attend college and even where businesses, in search of an educated work force, choose to locate.

So it made sense for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to focus on education spending in his Wednesday budget and State of the State address, where he unveiled his $49.6 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2024. Education, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education, will receive an increase of almost $1 billion.

We support the increase. It’s a wise investment in Illinois’ future.

Editorial

Editorial

Illinois is on far more solid fiscal footing these days than in years past, and the governor’s budget plan reflects that reality. We’re no longer a junk-bond state. Overdue bills and other state debt has been paid down. The rainy day fund no longer runs on empty. Pensions are still an albatross, but a little lighter. We’d like to see additional pension spending to more quickly pay down the $139.7 billion in unfunded liability. The quicker Illinois fully funds its pensions, the better.

Pritzker, to his credit, has shown fiscal responsibility during his time in office. Now that legislators have his budget plan in hand, they must do the same with any fine-tuning.

From infants to college students

The centerpiece of Pritzker’s education spending plan is his $250 million Smart Start Illinois, an early childhood initiative that, if well-implemented, could put Illinois on the road to being a national leader for early learning.

Pritzker’s proposal would open up 20,000 new seats in early childhood programs over the next four years; provide more competitive wages for workers in the field, who are usually woefully underpaid; and increase spending on early intervention, home visiting and child care assistance programs.

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For K-12 education, Pritzker’s budget once again provides an additional $350 million in state funding to school districts. But Illinois is years behind in fully funding its Evidence-Based Formula, which includes money for property tax relief. Lawmakers should look for options to increase that $350 million.

The governor’s budget includes a welcome $100 million increase in funding for grants to college students from lower-income households, bringing the total to $701 million; plus an $80.5 million increase for public universities and $19.4 million more for community colleges.

One budget won’t bring Illinois to the head of the class on education. But this budget is a start.

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