"Smaller classes mean more
individual attention for students," Blagojevich said. "For teachers,
it means spending less time on discipline and more time on
In 2005, the average class size in Illinois was 21
in kindergarten, 21.5 in first grade and 22 in third grade. A
sampling of high-growth districts found that class sizes are much
larger than average in some areas, including 26 kids per
kindergarten class in West Harvey-Dixmoor in the south suburbs, 28
kids per first-grade class in Plainfield District 202 and 24 kids
per third-grade class in Chicago Public Schools.
The $10 million in the budget would be divided into $50,000
grants that would go to schools to pay for teacher salaries and
benefits. The grants would be distributed equally among suburban,
downstate and Chicago Public Schools. The grants would be awarded to
elementary schools with K-3 class sizes that average more than 20
students. Schools would be required to use the funds to hire
additional classroom teachers in order to decrease the number of
pupils per class. The State
Board of Education would then track measures of student success,
including assessment scores and attendance rate, in comparison with
schools that are not in the pilot program and have larger classes.
"We're pleased the governor has decided to include this
initiative in his budget proposal," said James Dougherty, president
of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "The IFT has always been a
proponent of smaller class size because all of the studies show the
significant improvement young children make in smaller classes. We
know a child's early years are crucial to their development, and we
know that smaller student-to-teacher ratios make a difference. It
makes sense to implement a program that is proven to work."
Research shows that class size reduction has a number of positive
benefits for both students and teachers. It can result in more
in-depth coverage of each subject, more engaged students, fewer
disciplinary problems and a more personalized relationship between
teacher and student. Kindergarten through third grades are shown to
be most sensitive to the positive effects that are made possible
through smaller class sizes, and nearly half of states have begun to
reduce those class sizes as a result.
[to top of second column]
Tennessee's Project STAR -- which stands for student-teacher
achievement ratio -- began more than 20 years ago with an effort to
put kindergartners in classes of 13-17 students. Studies have
consistently shown that students who had the benefit of those
smaller classes scored higher on achievement tests and were less
likely to drop out or be retained. In fact, students who were in the
project went on to take more advanced courses in high school and
graduated with higher rankings than those who were in larger classes
in their lower grades.
Wisconsin developed a similar program in 1995. The Student
Achievement Guarantee in Education program, among other initiatives,
required that K-3 classes be reduced to 15 pupils. Students in the
program performed better on every test measure than students without
the benefits the program provided. Additionally, teachers indicated
through questionnaires and interviews that they were able to provide
more individualized instruction to their students and had greater
enthusiasm for their work.
The announcement is part of Blagojevich's long-standing
commitment to funding and improving education in Illinois.
Specifically, the governor:
funding by $2.3 billion
-- more money than any state in the Midwest and more than all
but six other states in the nation.
Increased funding by
50 percent for access to preschool, giving more than 25,000 more
children the ability to start school early. Illinois is now
ranked among the top three states in the country for access to
high school graduation standards. For the first time in over two
decades, Illinois high school students are required to take more
math, science, reading and writing to graduate -- better
preparing them for college.
And, during his State of the State address last month,
Blagojevich proposed a $1,000 tax credit for every student who
attends a college in Illinois -- private or public. The governor's
proposal requires students to maintain a B average to receive and
keep the tax credit. It would also apply to the first two years of
college, because when students make it through the first two years,
odds are high that they'll graduate.
Blagojevich will formally unveil his plan to reduce class size
and other key initiatives in education, health care, public safety
and job creation during his fiscal 2007 budget address in
Springfield on Wednesday.
[News release from the governor's