Outside Staunton High School, the message to Illinois lawmakers is loud and clear.
“This isn’t about party. This is about funding schools and doing what’s right for kids,” said Superintendent Dan Cox.
The district has changed the building’s marquee to say “Invest in our schools and kids. Pass Illinois’ budget!”
It’s a less than subtle way of letting legislators know that if the district doesn’t get paid soon, there could be dire consequences.
“We keep telling our people to do more with less, but we can’t do that anymore. And that’s not something we should expect or accept,” Cox said.
Taking in to account a recent payment, Cox estimated that the state owes Staunton Schools approximately $400,000 for things like early childhood education and transportation.
And without a new budget?
Cox said the district would only have enough money to stay open for a little more than half the year.
“We have less than two months cash on hand. We’ve calculated with property tax dollars that would come in, we could have school until mid-February,” he said.
And even then, Cox said the district would be completely wiped out financially.
“The impact of that, having school without a budget or a fund balance, it would be devastating. We would never recover,” he said.
That’s why Cox and dozens of other education leaders across Illinois have been routinely traveling to Springfield to warn lawmakers of what’s at stake.
He said, “We do without proper resources for our kids. We don’t have enough social or emotional resources for our kids. We’ve not replaced teachers who retired. We’ve laid people off. Our teachers don’t feel supported.”
Parents like Ailee Taylor, meantime, hope there’s a solution soon that involves a new spending plan and reform for education spending.
“This is going to pass. Lawmakers are going to do this. I was encouraged by the progress we saw out of Springfield today,” she said.
And for Taylor’s family, the issue is deeply personal. She just moved three kids from private to public school.
And now, she’s hoping the state doesn’t make her regret that decision.
“In one way, it’s a big gamble, but in another way, it’s a step of faith because I have a lot of faith in our school district,” Taylor said.
There were obvious signs of bipartisan support for a new spending plan in Springfield on Thursday.
But for the third consecutive year, lawmakers failed to pass a budget on time because the House and Senate adjourned.
Illinois’ new fiscal year starts at midnight Friday. Legislators will return to the Capitol at 11 a.m. Friday to continue negotiations.