In a joint session of the General
Assembly, the governor urged legislators to join him in supporting
ways to streamline the enormous education bureaucracy, improve
students' reading skills, link vital state services to families,
improve health and nutrition in schools, continually educate
Illinois teachers, further prepare students for college and the job
market, and send more at-risk children to preschool.
"I'm not satisfied with the state of
education in the state of Illinois," Gov. Blagojevich said. "The
children deserve better. The parents deserve better. The taxpayers
deserve better. If we are really serious about fixing our schools,
then we have to be serious about change and reform."
Because he believes the Illinois State
Board of Education has failed in its responsibility to lead
education in Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich is proposing legislation
that would remove all administrative powers and responsibilities
from the board and place them in the new Department of Education
under the governor. The Department of Education will lead the charge
to streamline state-level education administration and reduce
noninstructional costs to school districts. It's estimated this
change will result in savings of more than $1 billion over four
years, which will be reinvested in Illinois classrooms.
Mismanagement and misplaced spending
have defined the Illinois State Board of Education, according to the
governor. At the same time, the board has failed to produce results,
demonstrated by Illinois students' under-performance on national
testing in 2003. Instead of being a resource for local school
districts in the classroom, the board has saddled them with
complicated administrative rules and thousands of pages of
paperwork. Furthermore, the board spends only 46 percent of
education funding on direct instruction. In fact, Illinois is among
the lowest ranked states in the nation in terms of education
spending in the classrooms.
"Like many unaccountable bureaucracies,
the Illinois State Board of Education turned into an organization
that exists more for the benefit of its own administrators than for
the benefit of the children of this state," the governor said.
For these reasons, Gov. Blagojevich is
proposing a seven-part plan creating the new Department of
1. The department will work with local
educators to streamline the 2,800 pages of rules governing education
2. The department will partner with the
regional offices of education and local districts to provide schools
with better administrative services, at a fraction of current costs.
3. The department will create a
"statewide educator benefits purchasing center" to decrease the cost
of health care coverage for school districts and their employees.
4. The department will create a "state
center" for school districts to purchase products at
5. The department will work with the
Capital Development Board to reduce the costs of school
6. The department will streamline
applications for state funding by rewriting programs to cut
bureaucracy and simplifying the process by which school districts
request state assistance.
7. The department will deliver all the
services outlined above for less than 80 percent of Illinois State
Board of Education funding and with 60 percent of the board's
current head count.
"By creating a Department of Education
that's accountable to the legislature, accountable to the governor
and most importantly, accountable to the parents and to the children
of this state," the governor said, "this will solve more of our
problems, answer more of our questions and free up more money, more
time and more resources for the classroom, so that children can
learn, test scores can improve, and the education system in Illinois
In addition to the proposed Department
of Education, the governor highlighted other new and innovative ways
to improve education in the state.
The Imagination Libraries initiative
will provide free books for all Illinois children from birth until
age 5. The state will partner with the Dollywood Foundation of
Tennessee and the Illinois Hospital Assocation to send 12
age-appropriate books a year to children, free of charge. Parents
will receive the first book in maternity wards at hospitals and
register to receive future books.
If every single Illinois child
participates, totaling about 1 million children, Imagination
Libraries is expected to cost around $26 million. However, the
program costs for its first year are expected to be about one-third
of that amount. Funding will begin July 1.
Gov. Blagojevich is proposing to revive
Project Success. This initiative will provide a link for
families to various state services necessary for their children to
succeed in school. Former Gov. Jim Edgar created Project Success in
1991, but former Gov. George Ryan later eliminated it.
The initiative will provide a
comprehensive, systematic delivery system that responds to various
needs of children and families, using the school as a hub of
delivery. Services include basic preventative health care for
children, proper nutrition and education, mental health services for
children and families, services promoting the stability of families,
substance abuse prevention and intervention, and social activities
to bolster parental and community involvement in a child's
education. The governor's initiative will create local governing
boards to identify needs of children and develop specific plans to
meet those needs. Local coordinators will ensure Project Success is
reaching the maximum number of children.
The project is estimated to cost $5
million dollars and would begin July 1.
Gov. Blagojevich is proposing to put
reading specialists in Illinois elementary schools that are failing
to meet reading achievement standards. An additional $15 million
will be added to the Reading Improvement Block Grant in fiscal 2004
to hire the specialists for schools that are on the Early Academic
Warning list and have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress
standards for two consecutive years on the state ISAT tests in
reading. In 2003, only 62 percent of third graders and 60.4 percent
of fifth graders met or exceeded Illinois Learning Standards for
Reading specialists utilize up-to-date
reading techniques and strategies to diagnose students' reading
weakness. The specialists also provide one-on-one instruction that
elementary school teachers often do not have the time or resources
[to top of second column in
Gov. Blagojevich wants to require all
Illinois high school students to perform 40 hours of community
service in order to graduate. Because every community is unique, the
governor's proposal allows each local school district to define what
qualifies as community service. Research in a national education
journal found that 83 percent of schools with community service
requirements report higher grade-point averages for participating
It's estimated the community service
requirement will require $6 million in fiscal 2005. Of the $6
million, each local high school will receive $10,000 to fund two
coordinators to implement the requirement. The proposed legislation
calls for the requirement to begin for the 2006 incoming class.
and soda ban
Because overweight and unhealthy
children are an epidemic in America, Gov. Blagojevich proposes to
ban soda and junk food from school vending machines by Jan. 1, 2005.
Studies show that, compared with 20 years ago, more than three times
as many children now are considered overweight. Additionally, a
study in Arkansas found that type 2 diabetes, a condition once found
almost exclusively in adults, is up 800 percent among children since
a decade ago.
Banning junk food and soda is not
expected to financially burden local school districts. In fact, some
schools with junk food bans already in place are making money. New
York schools, for example, earned $166 million as a result of a
contract with Snapple to provide vending machines that offer only
water and fruit juices.
Legislation to ban junk food and soda
has already been filed. The governor urges the General Assembly to
pass the bill during the spring legislative session.
Hunger Relief Act
Gov. Blagojevich is supporting Senate
Bill 1400, which creates the Hunger Relief Act. The proposed
legislation requires schools with 40 percent of the student
population eligible for free or reduced lunches to also offer
breakfast. Last year, Illinois school cafeterias served more than 99
million free lunches but less than 30 million free breakfasts.
Numerous studies conclusively link proper nutrition to cognitive
ability. The Illinois Hunger Coalition reports that students who are
properly nourished at the start of the day perform academically
higher in class. The proposed legislation applies to more than 300
Illinois schools in more than 100 districts.
This type of legislation is largely
supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and is
anticipated to cost the state $1 million once it becomes effective.
certification and preparation
Gov. Blagojevich is proposing three
initiatives aimed at better preparing and continually educating
First, the governor will create a
statewide task force to study the issue of alternative routes to
teacher certification. Members of the task force will include
representatives from the K-12 community, teacher unions, university
teacher educators, the General Assembly, the governor's office and
the business community.
Second, the governor is proposing
legislation to require all kindergarten through eighth-grade
teachers with a standard or master certificate to complete 50
percent of their certificate renewal requirements by taking courses
in reading strategies at universities or by participating in various
professional development opportunities. This initiative will not
create additional burdens for teachers, as they are already required
to take course work or to participate in professional development
activities to be recertified.
Third, the governor is proposing to
create a Professional Teacher Standards Board. The board will
administer the certification of teachers and other school personnel.
All certification and program approval processes currently handled
by the Illinois State Board of Education and the State Teacher
Certification Board will be transferred to the new Professional
Teacher Standards Board. The governor stresses the importance of the
new board, indicating that the Illinois State Board of Education has
not fulfilled its responsibilities to certify teachers in a timely
fashion or to provide much-needed assistance to teachers regarding
students for careers
Gov. Blagojevich is proposing to expand
the Illinois Tech Prep Program to help prepare students who are not
planning to attend a four-year university for vocational careers.
Technology preparation programs begin in high school and lead to
two-year apprenticeships, associate of applied science degree
programs or two-year certificate programs. This program gives young
people a clear path toward employment and boosts the graduation rate
among participants. In fact, a study of the Illinois Tech Prep
Program found 93 percent of participants in the program graduate
from high school.
Currently, $5 million in state funding
and an equal number of federal dollars support the Illinois Tech
childhood education funding commitment
In order to send 25,000 more at-risk
children to preschool over a three-year period, the governor
proposes to increase funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant.
The Chicago Longitudinal Study found that at-risk children who
receive high-quality education are more likely to complete high
school, less likely to be arrested as a juvenile for a violent
offense, less likely to be neglected or abused, and less likely to
be placed in special education.
Last year, the governor increased the
block grant by about $29 million, sending 8,330 more at-risk
children to preschool. He will continue that commitment over the
next two years, to reach his goal of sending 25,000 more at-risk
children to preschool.
- - - -
Gov. Blagojevich firmly believes that
these initiatives, starting with the new Department of Education,
are critical to move Illinois forward. He urges members of the
General Assembly and the citizens of Illinois to join him in this
fight. To provide citizens more of a voice in the process, the
governor created a toll-free education hot line for the public to
leave messages of support and concern related to his education plan.
The phone number is 1 (800) 750-6042.
continue to make the mistakes of the past. We cannot continue to
allow the bureaucracy to stand in the way of educating our
children," the governor said. "At this time, at this moment, we
share a unique opportunity -- an opportunity to change things, to
challenge the status quo, to move forward."
[News release from governor's