CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today visited Little Village Academy in Chicago to outline his funding plan to aid struggling schools in the City and throughout the state.
On Wednesday in Springfield the governor delivered his first budget address to a joint session of the Illinois House of Representatives and State Senate. His new spending plan for the state provides $209 million in additional funding for education while reducing overall spending by $345 million and closing the $5 billion deficit.
“This year’s unprecedented financial crisis gave us an opportunity to look more closely than ever at how the state has been spending taxpayers’ money,” Blagojevich said. “We found places to cut and consolidate so we could balance the budget, pay our unpaid bills and still fulfill our commitment to help our schools.”
The governor proposed increasing the state’s education funding foundation level by $250 to $4,810 per student. Chicago Public Schools will see a $42.7 million increase in general state aid.
“With the budget he announced yesterday, Gov. Blagojevich proved that he will not allow a slow economy or historic deficit to stop the state from fulfilling one of its most basic and important duties – educating our youth,” said Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.
Frederic Arana, principal of Little Village Academy, was encouraged by the governor’s decision to increase spending on bilingual education by $2.6 million. Ninety-nine percent of the school’s students are Hispanic, and 97% are low-income.
“Our students come from hard-working, but low wage-earning families. Many speak Spanish as the primary language at home. The governor’s new education plan will help us provide the language skills and learning tools that will enable our students to build on their parents’ legacy of hard work to become tomorrow’s leaders,” said Arana.
The new budget also includes a major funding increase for early childhood education. The nearly $30 million increase will enable more than 8,200 at-risk children to attend preschool. Over the next three years, Blagojevich plans to expand access to preschool to all 25,000 at-risk three and four-year olds in the state.
“We know that kids who have the benefit of attending preschool are much more likely to succeed in school later,” the governor said. “We should make sure every Illinois child has a chance to get an early start.”
In addition to the funding increases, the governor is giving schools more flexibility in setting priorities and deciding how to spend state funds. He is consolidating 24 programs under the Illinois State Board of Education, together worth $210 million, and dropping strict limitations on how the funds can be used so that schools can direct resources to areas with the most need.
The governor also proposed a reduction in the number of funds – from nine to four – that individual schools are required maintain. The move will give schools more flexibility in managing their resources.
The governor’s budget continues to fully fund the School Construction Grant Program, which provides $500 million a year to help schools pay to update older buildings and build expansions to accommodate growing student populations.
“In a year with the greatest challenges we’ve faced in several decades, we are moving our schools forward. We are making good on our promise to give our kids a chance at a bright future. And we are restoring fiscal discipline to our state government so we can continue to make strides for years to come,” said Blagojevich.