The report notes that during the pandemic, schools in Illinois benefited greatly from federal disaster relief money, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, or ESSER. According to ISBE, Illinois schools have received nearly $8 billion in ESSER funds since the pandemic began, and more than a third of that money, $1.7 billion, was used to fund salaries. Those funds are scheduled to expire next year, which means school districts will face some difficult budget decisions if they want to maintain all of the positions they currently fund. Steans said she believes schools should be able to absorb the loss of that federal funding as long as the state continues to fully fund the Evidence-Based Funding formula, the 2017 law that calls for $350 million in additional school funding each year, with the bulk of that money going to the least-funded districts.
“It’s really hard for me to believe that all of those dollars are going to go away, and we’re not going to see some contraction,”Steans said. It’s possible that will be minimal. I think we’re really just going to have to wait and see.”
Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, said Advance Illinois’ research is a tool for lawmakers, and the organization often acts as a go-to think tank on education issues for policymakers. “It really does provide us with the fodder of data so that we can see a real picture of what’s going on post-policy,” she said. “We pass a law, they look at it. We pass a law, they look at it. To me as a lawmaker, that’s critical.”
Ammons was in Chicago on Thursday, October 12, to speak at the launch event for the non-profit’s new report at a banquet sponsored by the City Club of Chicago, which regularly attracts prominent policy advocates and business leaders. Thursday’s event drew an influential mix of government officials, including several members of the Pritzker administration, four state lawmakers and former Senate President John Cullerton, who now sits on Advance Illinois’ board of directors.
In a panel discussion between Ammons, ISBE Chief of Staff Kimako Patterson, and 2023 Teacher of the Year Briana Morales, the three focused on inequities as a driving force for reform. “When we talk about a teacher shortage, we’re talking about an equity issue…,” Patterson said. “It is imperative that we continue to focus the support where it’s needed.” Ammons later echoed that sentiment, saying that paraprofessional and principal workforce development are important topics when considering how to address educational inequity.