CHICAGO – Because schools teach students values as well as math and science, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced today he’s proposing legislation requiring all high school students to complete 40 hours of community service in order to graduate.
“Activities could range from working at a local library, volunteering at a senior center or picking up trash in a local park,” Governor Blagojevich said. “The more involved you are with your community, the better citizen you become.”
The National Center for Education Statistics Nationwide reports that in 1984, 27% of high schools offered community service opportunities to their students, and by 1999, over 80% of public high schools were doing so. Chicago Public Schools already require students to complete a 40-hour community service requirement to graduate. And, if Illinois makes community service mandatory, it will become only the second state to do so. Maryland was the first.
“Even if some students don’t like performing community service, we cannot ignore the values that are learned by serving others. Values give us guidance, they give us direction, they teach us how to live our lives,” Governor Blagojevich said.
Governor Blagojevich first announced in October, 2003 plans to propose legislation to add a community service requirement to the eligibility standards for the Illinois Merit Recognition Scholarship. He also announced at that time, he would study the idea of requiring community service for all high school students. During the months following, Governor Blagojevich and his staff spoke with officials in Maryland and the Chicago Public Schools about the benefits of a community service requirement. Among the positive results, Chicago Public Schools report higher attendance rates for students who fulfill the requirement. Furthermore, studies in a National education journal show 80% of students required to perform community service feel they made a positive contribution to the community. And, 83% of schools with community service requirements report higher grade point averages for participating students.
The proposed legislation sets the parameters for how much time each individual student must devote to service. Because every community is unique, however, the Governor’s proposal allows each local school district to define what qualifies as service and where service is needed most. To allow maximum flexibility for the school districts, the Governor’s proposal allows school officials to set the schedule in order for students to complete the 40-hour requirement over the course of four years.
Governor Blagojevich’s legislation creates a foundation to assist schools in implementing the requirement and will insure adequate funding is available for schools to implement the requirement. It’s estimated the community service initiative will require $6 million in fiscal year 2005 for block grants to schools. Of the $6 million, each Illinois high school will receive $10,000 to fund two coordinators to implement the community service requirement. In addition, $1.1 million may be used from the Federal Learn and Service Program for Service Learning Grants. In the proposed legislation, the requirement would begin for the 2006 incoming class.
Governor Blagojevich will outline the community service requirement and other innovative education initiatives during his State of the State address, at the State Capitol, on Thursday, January 15, at 12 Noon.