CHAMPAIGN – School districts in Illinois will receive $7 billion in federal funding over three years for kindergarten through high school education. The influx of cash comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, the latest federal COVID-19 stimulus package, which Congress passed earlier this year.
This funding is in addition other monies provided by the legislation: $7.5 billion for Illinois state government and $5.5 billion set aside for local governments across the state.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker hosted a press conference at the Champaign Early Childhood Center on Monday, where he explained that the federal funding schools receive will be used to counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning and development. Champaign Unit 4 Schools are due to receive $39 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Pritzker said the state’s P-20 Council — a governor-appointed council made up of business leaders, educators, parents and lawmakers — developed a resource guide to help school districts, families and students transition back to in-person learning. Pritzker said he’s launching initiatives to provide guidance in four areas: high-impact tutoring, social emotional learning, assessments that target student needs, and transition support to encourage enrollment of children in early education programs and help high school students move into higher education.
During the press conference, Pritzker was asked how schools will be able to financially maintain the programs they create with this lump sum of federal money. In response, Pritzker said that’s something that will need to be addressed in two to three years, but learning loss won’t last forever.
“The idea is to accelerate learning for kids, to provide them with maybe more individualized tutoring or plans, so they can get up to speed and maybe even get ahead of where they would be otherwise without the pandemic,” he said.
Pritzker’s proposed state budget for the next fiscal year does not include the recommended $350 million annual investment into the state’s school funding formula, which is designed to send state dollars to the neediest districts. If approved, this would be the second year that the state has not invested additional dollars in its funding formula. Advocates for public education in Illinois have criticized the governor’s budget for not contributing more dollars to education. Pritzker said his budget does not include that additional funding, due to Illinois’ financial status.
“We’re in a pandemic budget. We’re trying to deal with a financial and fiscal situation that really we have never seen before in the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “We had to be more austere than I would have liked… but it’s because we have to be responsible and balance the budget.”
After the state has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis, Pritzker said “going forward, I’m your biggest advocate for education funding.”
Lee Gaines is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.
Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines