SPRINGFIELD — House Republicans are calling on Comptroller Susana Mendoza to release badly needed funds for K-12 schools.
The state of Illinois owes schools a total of nearly $1.3 billion in unpaid vouchers. A letter from state representative Avery Bourne, signed by 15 of her colleagues, says, “The timing of these payments is at the discretion of the Comptroller alone,” and urges her to begin paying them out of the $587 million currently in the general revenue fund.
Mendoza’s office responded quickly, saying the funds are already on schedule to be released later this month.
“In the next two weeks, the office will be making $652 million in K-12 education payments, including $425 million in Mandated Categorical Grants,” her office said in a written statement provided to WCIA.
The $425 million dollars will reimburse schools for money spent during the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2017. It’s unclear when the Comptroller plans to issue the remaining $850 million for quarters two and three.
Categorical payments are separate from General State Aid payments and are designated for specific purposes, such as transportation to and from school or programs to assist students with disabilities.
Springfield representative Tim Butler was one of 16 Republicans to sign his name on the public letter. He tells WCIA, “If we continue to go into the next school year without these funds in place, a lot of schools are going to have a hard time getting their budgets together for next year.”
Two other Republicans who also signed the letter may have already been aware these funds were on the way. Representatives Linsday Parkhurst and Keith Wheeler both sit on the House General Services Appropriations committee, where just last month Mendoza testified she planned to begin issuing the payments to schools in April.
Mendoza’s response called on members of both parties to pass a budget.
“Unfortunately, there are hundreds of millions in education funds that can’t be spent due to the failure of the Governor and the Legislature to implement a comprehensive budget for nearly two years.”
The balanced, bipartisan response from the Comptroller’s office appears to be a noticeable departure from recent heated rhetoric aimed solely at Governor Rauner’s administration. Late last month, Mendoza called Rauner “the worst governor that’s ever served this state,” which apparently includes the four of the last seven governors who wound up in jail.
At first glance, the Comptroller’s more tempered response might appear to signal an effort to call a truce. However, an aide close to the Comptroller was unaware of any recent shift in that strained relationship. Staff in both parties have indicated it would be nice if their offices could get along with each other.
Mendoza’s staff suggested the Republican letter was intended to distract from their refusal to vote for a recent stopgap measure which passed in the House. Democrats call the legislation a “lifeline” budget, which would spend another $817 million on state universities and human services.
The Senate will consider the stopgap budget when it returns to session on April 25th. Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills sits at an unprecedented $13 billion.