Illinois’ statewide, unfunded mandates limit school-district budget flexibility

Illinois’ statewide, unfunded mandates limit school-district budget flexibility

It’s time to end Illinois’ practice of mandating spending and curriculum requirements – and give control back to local school districts.

School districts throughout Illinois complain that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed property-tax freeze would wreak havoc on their budgets and that they don’t have the financial flexibility to cope with this.

One reason school districts can’t adjust swiftly to changing budgetary realities is that officials are bound by mandated spending and curriculum requirements.

Rauner is trying to change that. He’s attempting to eliminate some of the most unpopular unfunded mandates from Springfield under which school districts around the state must operate. Rauner said this could save districts across the state more than $200 million a year. As reported by The Associated Press:

“Illinois imposes well over 100 mandates on school districts, covering everything from classroom content to parent-teacher conferences and school holidays. Districts that cannot or don’t want to follow the mandate may apply for a limited number of waivers — a process that requires public hearings, paperwork and state approval.

Rauner is targeting three areas that are particularly unpopular: Mandates that districts offer driver’s education and behind-the-wheel training and daily physical education, and restrictions on third-party contracting, or outsourcing, for services such as transportation and janitorial work.”

The elimination of such unfunded mandates would be a significant and welcome reform. Local districts, along with the students and parents they serve, are the primary stakeholders in education and should decide how best to run their schools.

The fewer rules imposed by the state, the better – especially when such rules impose significant financial burdens on the school districts that are subject to them.

Illinois’ property taxes are the second highest in the nation. The state must adopt financial reforms, such as ending unfunded mandates, to begin relieving taxpayers of that burden.

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