ROCKFORD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today visited Lincoln Middle School in Rockford to outline his funding plan to aid struggling school districts in Rockford and throughout the state.
On Wednesday in Springfield, the governor delivered his first budget address to a joint session of the House and Senate. His new spending plan for the state provides $209 million in additional funding for education while closing the $5 billion deficit without an increase in the state sales or income tax.
“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.”
“As a former legislator and, now, a mayor, I can appreciate the huge obstacles Gov. Blagojevich and his budget team were up against,” said Mayor Doug Scott. “But I think the final product of their hard work shows that just because the state has to climb out of a deficit, this administration will not set aside its promise to provide every child with a quality education.”
The governor proposed increasing the state’s education funding foundation level by $250 to $4,810 per student. As a result, Rockford public schools will see an $8.3 million increase in general state aid.
“Many of us in the education community worried that the state’s dire financial problems would be handed down to us and end up intensifying the strain our schools are already under,” said Peter Paris, principal of Lincoln Middle School. “I am relieved and grateful that governor Blagojevich found creative ways to address the budget problem without hurting schools. In fact, he’s addressed the problems and still pulled together resources to give our schools a much needed boost.”
Paris was especially encouraged by the governor’s decision to increase spending on bilingual education by $2.6 million. Nearly 15 percent of Lincoln Middle School students participate in bilingual education classes.
The new budget also includes a nearly $30 million increase for early childhood programs to 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 3- and 4-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.
Blagojevich 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.