SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday the state might consider using excess sales tax revenue to boost general state aid to schools this year.

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday the state might consider using excess sales tax revenue to boost general state aid to schools this year.


Speaking at an appearance in Chicago, Quinn said state sales taxes are coming in higher than expected and some of the unexpected funds could be directed at restoring cuts made to state aid to local school districts.


“We’ve got some revenues we are happy to get,” Quinn said.  “It seems to me we ought to look at investing that money in learning.”


As part of the budget agreement reached by lawmakers last year, general state aid to school districts was reduced.  However, the lawmakers did not reduce the “foundation level” of $6,119, the amount of money the state says is needed to provide each student with quality education.


Because of that, the amount of general state aid to school districts was prorated at 95 percent of what is considered full funding.  State education officials determined the best way to administer that cut was to eliminate the second school aid payment to all districts, which is scheduled for disbursement in June.  Many school districts will also receive reduced amounts for the first aid payment due in June.


“School districts requested that we hold off (the cut) until the last month,” said state School Superintendent Christopher Koch.  “They are trying to get through the school year as much as possible on what they can, and then they are going to shoulder June’s payments.”


Koch said school districts were notified last fall about the pending payment cut.


“They’ve had time to make sure they are in line with the actual money they are getting,” Koch said.


Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, has introduced a bill to increase aid payments by $231 million this budget year.  That would provide enough money for districts to get their full payments in June.


State sales taxes have performed better than expected throughout the current budget year, which started July 1.  The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability said sales tax revenue is running about $239 million ahead of the same time a year ago.


Whether lawmakers will approve additional school spending, however, is questionable.  When the budget was approved, lawmakers from both parties said any excess revenue should be used to pay off the state’s mountain of overdue bills, rather than to increase state spending.


The state Board of Education has requested more money for general state aid in next year’s budget to avoid having to prorate state aid again.


The school aid formula is designed to help districts deal with increases in the number of poverty-level students and declines in property values, two factors that have been aggravated by the current recession.


“Right now, the recession has been hard on the formula,” Koch said.


Quinn’s budget plan calls for no increase in general state aid next year, which would mean prorating assistance to school districts again.  But the prorated amount would be 92 percent of the foundation level instead of this year’s 95 percent.


“There are a number of districts in the state highly dependent on state aid,” Koch said.  “A proration will impact them very heavily.”


Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.