By BEN ORNER
Capitol News Illinois
Members of the 32-lawmaker Illinois Legislative Black Caucus said Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting in July is a good start but needs more money and support for people of color.
“I was so pleased to hear so many things that the governor mentioned that have been issues that the Black caucus has fought for for many years,” said Black caucus chair Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood.
Every member of the Black caucus is a Democrat, the same party of Pritzker, who delivered his second annual budget address to members of the House and Senate Wednesday at the Capitol.
Among the top issues discussed by caucus members after the address was education funding, from kindergarten through college graduation.
Pritzker’s proposed budget would increase K-12 school funding by $350 million, but $150 million of that is tied to the passage of a graduated income tax. That tax will go before voters in November in the form of a constitutional amendment that increases income taxes on people earning more than $250,000 annually.
“While his speech suggests that $350 million (would) be allocated toward funding, we know the reality based on the revenue outlook,” said state Rep. Will Davis of Homewood. “Our message to the governor is this funding level must be realized.”
Davis, who sits on the House committee that deals with K-12 education spending, says the budget should include even more funding for schools.
“If we truly believe that education is the great equalizer, as we believe it to be, our overall funding as for K-12 must be no less than a half a billion dollars,” he said.
Urbana state Rep. Carol Ammons, who chairs the House higher education committee, was pleased to hear Pritzker’s proposed funding increases for early childhood education and universities.
But she said the caucus plans to work with the governor to address “structural racism” faced by Black communities.
Ammons mentioned that just 19 percent of Black 4th-graderes are proficient in reading, compared to 46 percent of white 4th-graders, according to last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“If our students are not able to read at the K-12 level, and they lack resources at the K-12 level, and they lack the closing of the gap in educational attainment, then it is very difficult for us to take these dollars and turn them into real leadership for our communities,” she said.