Illinois passes 2024 budget with increased funding for K-12, early childhood education

An early childhood student support worker in a blue shirt, wearing a filtered mask assists a girl wearing a pink bow and pink protective mask.
Illinois lawmakers pass 2024 budget early in the morning morning on Saturday. The budget has a boost in funding for early childhood education. (Youngrae Kim for Chalkbeat)

Early Saturday morning, Illinois lawmakers passed the 2024 budget with increases in funding for K-12 public schools, early childhood education, and college-bound students. The House pass the budget with a vote of 73 to 38.

State legislators passed the $50.6 billion budget with a $570 million increase in K-12 spending, $250 million more for early childhood education, and over $100 million to support students heading to college and those who want to become teachers. The 2024 overall Illinois State Board of Education budget will be $10.3 billion, a 6.2% increase over last year’s $9.7 billion budget

The budget looks similar to the proposal that Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced during his State of the State address in February. The budget leaves out the tax-credit scholarship known as Invest In Kids, which Pritzker supported during his re-election campaign, and trims back funding the governor requested for early education facilities. 

Early childhood education gets a boost

Smart Start Illinois, announced by Pritzker in February, will invest $250 million in early childhood education in the 4-year initiative’s first year, and that funding was also approved by lawmakers.

Of that $250 million increase, the state’s Department of Human Services early intervention program, which supports young children with disabilities, will receive an increase of $40 million. The Child Care Assistance Program, which helps low-income families access child care and early childhood education, will get an additional $70 million, and the home-visiting program that supports pregnant people and families with children between birth and 5 years old, will receive an additional $5 million.

The state board’s early childhood block grant, which supports establishing early childhood education programs, gets an additional $75 million. 

“This budget makes transformative investments in the children and families of Illinois while building on our record of fiscal responsibility,” Pritzker said Friday in a statement. 

Latino Policy Forum senior education policy analyst Rosario Hernandez said in a statement that the group applauds the general assembly for creating a budget that adds more funding for early childhood programming.

“We are especially excited about the $75 million increase to the Early Childhood Block Grant that will expand preschool access throughout the state, which stands to benefit the fastest growing group of students in Illinois: English Learners,” said Hernandez. “Recent research from the University of Chicago demonstratively shows that when English Learners have access to full-day bilingual preschool beginning at age three it yields positive outcomes in third grade.”

K-12 gets $350 million for funding formula

The state board’s evidence-based funding formula, which distributes money to K-12 public schools, received an increase of $350 million. 

Education advocates had wanted lawmakers to give an additional $550 million to school districts under the state’s evidence-based funding formula, but that didn’t happen this year. They say more money is needed to put the state on track to fully fund schools by 2027 — which was the targeted timeline when the formula was created in 2017. 

Rep. William “Will” Davis, a Democrat who represents suburbs south of Chicago, filed a bill that would have required the state to increase the minimum for evidence-based funding from $350 million to $550 million. But Davis’s bill did not move out of the House rules committee. 

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonpartisan budget watchdog and one of the key architects of the formula, found in March that the evidence-based funding formula is working as intended. Over the past five years, funding for public schools has increased by $1.6 billion with 99% going to historically underfunded districts, closing the gap between wealthier and underfunded districts.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability also agrees with advocates that the formula is severely underfunded and needs more than $350 million added annually.

Center Executive Director Ralph Martire said that there should have been at least $550 million put towards the evidence-based funding after 2020, when nothing was added.

“It will take them until 2038 to fully fund the evidence-based model. So we lose another generation-and-a-half of kids to an underfunded system, which is really unfortunate,” Martire said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It would have been nice if the state could have made an additional investment to shorten this period of time and get the educational system the resources it needs to educate students.” 

The state board will also receive $45 million for the first year of a three-year pilot program to help school districts that have a large number of teacher vacancies.

Funding to support students in higher education

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship, which provides scholarships to students of color and bilingual students who want to become educators, received an increase of $3.8 million instead of the $2.8 million increase proposed by Pritzker earlier this year. The program has grown to $8 million this year.

Funding for the commission’s Monetary Award Program, a grant program that provides funding to students from low-income families for college, received an increase of $100 million and the annual budget for the 2024 fiscal year will be $701 million. 

Invest In Kids not in budget

Excluded from the budget this year is the controversial Invest In Kids program, a tax-credit scholarship that provides financial assistance to students from low-income households to attend a private school and makes available a tax credit for individuals who donate to the program. Public school advocates pushed lawmakers to not include it in the budget this year.

Illinois Families for Public Schools was a key opponent to the program and asked lawmakers to allow it to sunset. Cassie Creswell, the group’s director, said that the organization is happy to see the private school choice program is not in the budget and hopes that it will end soon.

“We shouldn’t be handing over public dollars to very weakly or completely unsupervised private schools that are discriminating and teaching low-quality curriculum,” said Creswell. “And there’s no evidence that they’re being helpful because there’s no data yet on the schools and we are finishing the fifth school year.”

While it is not included in this year’s budget, Invest in Kids could be considered later in the year. A spokesperson for Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch previously said that lawmakers could approve an extension during fall’s veto session.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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