[MAY 24, 2006]
CHICAGO -- Building on the work of the previous
four budgets and legislative sessions, which saw more than $3.8
billion in new funds invested in Illinois schools, the creation of
universal preschool in Illinois and raising graduation standards to
require students to take more reading, writing, math and science,
Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday unveiled his new plan to continue
reforming and improving schools, with initiatives including the
kindergarten and universal preschool
Funding new school
schools" and "identity schools"
districts regularly replace outdated textbooks
Extending the school
year for underachieving schools
Performance pay for
takeovers of failing school districts.
tutoring for underachieving students.
afford special education teachers
Introducing new ways
to help parents get involved
More and better
mentoring for principals and superintendents
afford new technology to help parents track their kids'
Improving career and
technical education curriculums
district administrative costs
For the 25 years preceding the Blagojevich administration, the
state of Illinois consistently neglected and chronically underfunded
-- increasing funding on a year-to-year basis by just 0.5 percent
(after adjusting for inflation). Instead, the state spent the
taxpayers' money on things like a bloated state payroll, corporate
loopholes that cost schools over $500 million a year in funding, and
special-purpose funds that held money aside for special interests.
In 2003, that began to change under Blagojevich, with state
budgets seeing significant increases for schools. State spending for
schools increased six times faster than under the previous
administrations, with the new funding paid for by dramatically
reducing the size of the state's payroll, ending the practice of
putting special-purpose funds ahead of needs like education and
health care, and closing $500 million in unfair corporate loopholes.
Preschool funding increased by 75 percent, and legislation passed
this year makes Illinois the only state to create a program that
will make preschool available to every 3- and 4-year-old child in
the state. High school graduation requirements were raised for the
first time in over two decades, the dropout age was raised to 17,
and the dropout rate fell to its lowest level ever, at 4 percent. At
the State Board of Education, new reforms and management eliminated
the teacher certification backlog, cut more than 500 pages of
unneeded rules and red tape, and expanded meal subsidies to 40,000
Blagojevich's plan builds on that progress, focusing on five
areas vital to improving schools and helping kids learn:
"We have to be willing to do things differently," Blagojevich said.
"We have a lot of schools that do well, but we have too many schools
that don't. This is a plan that carefully looks at what our kids
need to succeed and boldly proposes the changes needed to help them
get there. It will take time, money, hard work and a tolerance for
change. But if we're willing to do that, we can make a real
difference in the lives of millions of children."
= = =
I. A good place to learn
The governor's plan focuses on three key areas: school
construction, creating "small schools" and "identity schools," and
encouraging school district consolidation.
School construction: The plan includes $1.5 billion for new
school construction, which would be used to help growing schools
expand and help schools with outdated facilities upgrade.
"Small schools" and "identity schools": "Small schools"
represent an emerging reform in which a larger school building is
broken up into several independent schools operating within the
larger building. The idea is to give students more personal
attention. The state would help schools with the funding and
logistical assistance needed to create the small schools. The same
goes for identity schools, which are schools focused around a
certain theme like arts, music or agriculture, giving students
training and focus in specific areas.
School district consolidation: Finally, to address the
problem of having far too many school districts, the state would
encourage and provide incentives for the formation of unit districts
with one curriculum. Currently, students from multiple districts
attend the same high school and come in on all different levels,
requiring ninth-grade teachers to spend a major portion of the year
just trying to get their students on the same page. Unit districts
with single curriculums help solve that problem.
II. Strong teachers and administrators
The governor's plan focuses on four key areas: helping schools
afford special education teachers; new mentoring programs for
teachers, principals and superintendents; improving colleges of
education; and instituting performance pay for teachers.
Funding special education: First, to help schools address the
problem of not having enough money to pay for special education
teachers, the state would increase funding for special education
teachers from 97 percent to 100 percent. This would help schools
meet state and federal mandates for special education and give
special education students the help they need.
Superintendent mentoring: This year, Illinois began funding
state-of-the-art teacher and principal mentoring programs and
continued funding the "Grow Your Own" teacher program. More funding
for those types of programs means better trained teachers and
administrators, which helps result in better student performance.
This plan requires better and stricter mentoring for school district
superintendents, aligning them with requirements for teachers and
Colleges of education: The colleges that teach our teachers
are not always training new teachers in the subjects our schools and
students need the most, like science and math. There are teacher
shortages in some areas and surpluses in others. This plan provides
incentives so that colleges of education will produce graduates
trained to teach in the areas the schools need.
Performance pay for teachers: Teachers and schools currently
are not rewarded for good performance. They should be, and Illinois
could and should be a national leader in offering performance pay
for teachers. We must work with teacher unions and management to
reward teachers and schools whose students show academic
III. Quality materials
The governor's plan focuses on four key areas: improving textbook
quality, improving school technology, improving school libraries,
and improving the career and technical education curriculum.
Replacing textbooks: In 80 percent of school districts,
textbooks used by students are more than eight years old. That's
unacceptable. The governor's plan would require school districts to
replace their textbooks on a six-year cycle and would provide an
additional $40 million to replace old textbooks on a shorter cycle.
Funds would be distributed first to the districts that need the new
books the most.
Improving technology: Too many classrooms are technologically
out of date, because many school districts don't have the resources
to buy new technology. By providing funding to helping schools
afford cutting-edge technology in classrooms, we can reach kids in a
whole new way. We also need to train teachers to use the new
equipment. Examples include video on demand over the Internet for a
wide range of academic subjects, programs that offer practice help
in reading and math and provide continual feedback and progress
reports, and programs that help parents track assignments and news
about their children's school.
Improving school libraries: Students and teachers need school
libraries with better materials and resources. This plan provides
resources for schools to upgrade their libraries and hire new
Improving career and technical education: The state's
curriculum for most career and technical education courses is
outdated. Successful programs help students learn skills that help
them get good-paying jobs. This year, the state budget provided the
funding to update the curriculum, but we need to make sure that
schools have the resources to actually teach the new curriculum.
IV. Enough time to learn
The governor's plan focuses on five key areas: full funding for
universal preschool, full-day kindergarten, expanding after-school
tutoring, extending the school year and improving parental
involvement and participation.
Preschool: Over the last four years, the state has increased
preschool funding by 75 percent, putting Illinois among the top
states in the nation for preschool. We know that kids who attend
preschool are better at reading and writing, less likely to need
special education, more likely to graduate from high school, and
less likely to be arrested. However, even with these record
increases in funding, there are still thousands of children who need
to attend preschool. Continued funding of the governor's Preschool
for All plan would ensure that preschool is available to every
3-year-old and 4-year-old who needs it.
Full-day kindergarten: Even though some kids need more time
to learn and develop, some schools do not offer full-day
kindergarten. Under the current funding formula, when a school
district moves to full-day kindergarten, the district does not
receive reimbursement from the state for two years. Providing the
needed funding immediately would help many school districts offer
Funding after-school tutoring: For some kids, the regular
school day isn't long enough to teach them what they need to know.
After-school tutoring is an effective way to help some kids catch
up, but we have to make sure that schools have the resources to
provide the tutoring currently required by federal law. Funding
would be targeted specifically at schools with underachieving
students so that those students get the help they need.
Extend the school year: Kids at risk of academic failure lose
significant ground over the summer break. By extending the school
year, we can make sure that kids don't fall behind over the summer.
We will help underperforming school districts extend their teacher
contracts by at least a month.
Improving parental involvement: If parents aren't involved in
their kids' education, it's much tougher for their kids to succeed
in school. Programs that train parents to advocate for their
children, help create websites that assist parents in steering their
kids through school, and help parents keep track of their kids'
assignments and progress all help parents get involved. This plan
funds classes and programs for parents and would form a statewide
council on parental leadership.
V. The financial resources to get the job done
The governor's plan focuses on four key areas: increasing the
foundation level, reducing administrative costs, funding this plan
in year one and funding this plan in years two through four.
Raising the foundation level: Over the last four budgets, the
foundation level has been increased by $774, more than in any
previous four-year term in the history of Illinois. But even after
record increases over the last four budgets, years of neglect mean
there is still far more to do. Increasing the foundation level is a
necessity in any education reform plan.
Reducing administrative costs: It is also critical that
school districts cut their administrative costs and invest more
money in the classroom. This plan would require school districts to
publish their administrative cost increases directly onto property
tax bills so that the taxpayers know what they're paying for. In
addition, the General Assembly should pass legislation consolidating
procurement, health insurance purchasing and construction, to lower
costs and put more money in the classroom.
Year one funding:
foundation level: $250 million
education funding: $200 million
$50 million (debt service)
Programs targeted at
underperforming students: $200 million
Other reforms: $200
$6 billion in new funding: In 1975, the state of Illinois
created the lottery. The idea behind the game was to create a
funding source that would solve the inequities in school funding.
However, over the years, lottery money was not used exclusively for
schools. Instead, it was used for a variety of purposes, failing to
fulfill the mission promised to the taxpayers over 30 years ago.
Today, we have a valuable asset that could be used to do far more
for education. And we have schools that need more funding. Under
this proposal, the Illinois Lottery would either enter into a
long-term lease with a private entity or conduct an initial public
offering that would generate approximately $10 billion in proceeds.
That money would go directly and only to schools, fulfilling the
promise originally made to the people more than 30 years ago.
Specifically, the lease would provide $4 billion toward a new $6
billion funding plan for schools over the next four years and
guarantee a $650 million annuity to the Common School Fund until
The funds would be generated in one of three ways: either (1) a
competitive bid for a long-term lease of the lottery; (2) an initial
public offering in which stock in the Illinois Lottery would be sold
to individual and institutional investors; or (3) a hybrid of the
two. The lottery would be regulated by a new, independent,
bipartisan board, consisting of seven members appointed as follows:
by the General Assembly, four appointees, one from each caucus; by
the governor, one appointee; by the state comptroller, one; and by
the state treasurer, one.
Over the next four years, $6 billion would be invested in
schools, increasing the foundation level, mandated categoricals,
school construction, universal preschool and a host of new programs
and ideas targeted specifically at helping underachieving students
and schools improve. A total of $4 billion would come from the $10
billion generated in lottery proceeds, with the remaining $2 billion
generated by the following: approximately $500 million through
investment proceeds off the $4 billion, as it sits in an
interest-bearing account, and from income tax paid by the new
operator of the lottery; and $1.5 billion from a mix of revenue
growth and special fund transfers, mirroring the $400 million annual
increases seen over the last four budgets.
VI. Taking over failing districts
School districts should be willing and able to implement these
reforms and opportunities and take advantage of the new funding. But
failing school districts that refuse to make changes cannot be
allowed to continue to fail without intervention. School districts
that continually fail will face state takeovers until the problems
are turned around.
VII. Long-term planning
These ideas are not the only ideas that would help our schools,
and continued discussion among elected officials, education leaders,
business leaders and community leaders is needed. A new council
would create an ongoing process designed to shape the course of
education in Illinois for decades to come.
= = =
"There's no magic formula that fixes our schools and helps our
kids learn," Blagojevich said. "But if we give our kids better
places to learn, good teachers, better materials, and enough time
and attention, odds are they'll improve. That's what this plan
attempts to do, through a combination of new ideas and doing a
better job with the things we already know. It will take hard work,
cooperation, a tolerance for change, and time. But with enough of
each, we can do it."