Another key component of the Illinois state budget moved through the General Assembly on Wednesday. The Democrats' spending plan prevents what could have been steep cuts for schools, but Republicans say students outside Chicago are getting shortchanged.
Democrats are approving mostly level funding for elementary and high schools in Illinois. That's significant because education spending, like most areas of the state budget, has been cut in recent years. And Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal said even deeper cuts would be necessary.
Republicans, however, say level funding is not good enough. They object to what they say is a disproportionate share of state money going to students in Chicago. Sen. Kyle McCarter is from Lebanon.
"I take your endorsement of the status quo as being a lack of concern for Downstate kids," McCarter says.
But Democrats, like Sen. John Sullivan, from Rushville, say it's easy for Republicans to stand across the aisle and throw stones.
"You've got the ability to introduce a budget," Sullivan says. "Where's your budget numbers that fully funds all these programs, and how are you going to pay for them? You've not put that forward; I think it's hypocrisy at its best."
The budget was negotiated by Democrats in both the House and Senate; Republicans have uniformly voted against it.
Funding for colleges and universities would also be pretty much at last year's levels.
Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge, says funding for higher education is critical because it's tied to the problem of unemployment.
"If you don't have a college degree in the state of Illinois, the unemployment rate is 20 percent," Kotowski says. "Twenty percent — it's off the charts. But if you do have a college degree, it's six percent."
Most state universities would see fractional increases — U. of I.'s appropriation would increase by 0.02 percent. Northern and Southern Illinois universities saw slight decreases — in the tens of thousands of dollars out of budgets that are respectively $93 and $203 million. Chicago State and Western Illinois universities saw the biggest increases — greater than one percent.