Wednesday, May 24

Gov. Blagojevich's new education plan would provide $6 billion in new funding

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[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 following:

  • Implementing full-day kindergarten and universal preschool

  • Funding new school construction

  • Creating "small schools" and "identity schools"

  • Helping school districts regularly replace outdated textbooks

  • Extending the school year for underachieving schools

  • Performance pay for teachers.

  • Increased state takeovers of failing school districts.

  • Funding after-school tutoring for underachieving students.

  • Helping schools afford special education teachers

  • Introducing new ways to help parents get involved

  • Increasing school district consolidations

  • More and better mentoring for principals and superintendents

  • Helping schools afford new technology to help parents track their kids' performance

  • Improving school libraries

  • Improving career and technical education curriculums

  • Reducing school district administrative costs

For the 25 years preceding the Blagojevich administration, the state of Illinois consistently neglected and chronically underfunded its schools
-- 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 more children.

Blagojevich's plan builds on that progress, focusing on five areas vital to improving schools and helping kids learn:

  1. A good place to learn

  2. Strong teachers and administrators

  3. Quality materials

  4. Enough time to learn

  5. Schools with the financial resources to get the job done

"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 principals.

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 improvement.

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.

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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 librarians.

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 full-day kindergarten.

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:

  • Increase the foundation level: $250 million

  • Increase special education funding: $200 million

  • School construction: $50 million (debt service)

  • Preschool expansion: $60 million

  • Programs targeted at underperforming students: $200 million

  • Textbook replacement: $40 million

  • Other reforms: $200 million

$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 fiscal 2025.

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."

[News release from the governor's office]


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