SPRINGFIELD – During his second annual State of the State address, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today called for sweeping changes to the Illinois education system, starting with transferring the administrative responsibilities of overly bureaucratic Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to a new Illinois Department of Education.
In a joint session of the General Assembly, the Governor urged legislators to join him in supporting ways to streamline the enormous education bureaucracy, improve students’ reading skills, link vital state services to families, improve health and nutrition in schools, continually educate Illinois teachers, further prepare students for college and the job market, and send more at-risk children to pre-school.
“I’m not satisfied with the state of education in the state of Illinois,” Governor Blagojevich said. “The children deserve better. The parents deserve better. The taxpayers deserve better. If we are really serious about fixing our schools, then we have to be serious about change and reform.”
Because the Illinois State Board of Education has failed in its responsibility to lead education in Illinois, Governor Blagojevich is proposing legislation that would remove all administrative powers and responsibilities from ISBE and place them in the new Department of Education under the Governor. The Department of Education will lead the charge to streamline state-level education administration and reduce non-instructional costs to school districts. It’s estimated this change will result in savings of more than $1 billion over four years, which will be reinvested in Illinois classrooms. Mismanagement and misplaced spending have defined the Illinois State Board of Education. At the same time, the ISBE has failed to produce results, demonstrated by Illinois students’ under-performance on 2003 National Testing. Instead of being a resource for local school districts in the classroom, ISBE has saddled them with complicated administrative rules and thousands of pages of paperwork. Furthermore, the ISBE only spends 46% of education funding on direct instruction. In fact, Illinois is among the lowest ranked states in the nation in terms of education spending in the classrooms.
“Like many unaccountable bureaucracies, the Illinois State Board of Education turned into an organization that exists more for the benefit of its own administrators than for the benefit of the children of this state,” said Governor Blagojevich.
For these reasons, Governor Blagojevich is proposing a seven-part plan, creating the new Department of Education.
1. The Department will work with local educators to streamline the 2,800 pages of rules governing education in Illinois
2. The Department will partner with the Regional Offices of Education and local districts to provide schools with better administrative services, at a fraction of current costs.
3. The Department will create a “statewide educator benefits purchasing center” to decrease the cost of health care coverage for school districts and their employees.
4. The Department will create a “state center” for school districts to purchase products at state-negotiated prices.
5. The Department will work with the Capital Development Board to reduce the costs of school construction.
6. The Department will streamline applications for state funding by rewriting programs to cut bureaucracy and simplifying the process by which school districts request state assistance.
7. The Department will deliver all the services outlined above, for less than 80% of ISBE funding and with 60% of ISBE’s current headcount.
“By creating a Department of Education, that’s accountable to the legislature, accountable to the governor and most importantly, accountable to the parents and to the children of this state,” Governor Blagojevich said, “This will solve more of our problems, answer more of our questions and free up more money, more time and more resources for the classroom, so that children can learn, test scores can improve and the education system in Illinois gets better.”
In addition to the proposed Department of Education, Governor Blagojevich highlighted other new and innovative ways to improve education in the State of Illinois, including:
This initiative will provide free books for all Illinois children from birth until age 5. The State of Illinois will partner with the Dollywood Foundation of Tennessee and the Illinois Hospital Assocation to send, free of charge, 12 age appropriate books a year to children. Parents will receive the first book in maternity wards at hospitals, and register to receive future books. If every single Illinois child participates, totaling to about one million children, Imagination Libraries is expected to cost around $26 million. However, the program costs for its first year are
expected to be about one-third of that amount. Funding for Imagination Libraries will begin July 1, 2004.
Governor Blagojevich is proposing to revive Project Success. This initiative will provide a link for families to various state services necessary for their children to succeed in school. Former Governor Jim Edgar created Project Success in 1991, but former Governor George Ryan later eliminated it. The initiative will provide a comprehensive, systematic delivery system that responds to various needs of children and families, using the school as a hub of delivery. Services include basic preventative health care for children, proper nutrition and education, mental services for children and families, services promoting the stability of families, substance abuse prevention and intervention and social activities to bolster parental and community involvement in a child’s education. The Governor’s initiative will create local governing boards to identify needs of children and develop specific plans to meet those needs. Local coordinators will ensure Project Success is reaching the maximum number of children. Project Success is estimated to cost $5 million dollars and would begin July 1, 2004.
Governor Blagojevich is proposing to put reading specialists in Illinois elementary schools that are failing to meet reading achievement standards. An additional $15 million will be added to the Reading Improvement Block Grant in fiscal year 2004, to hire the specialists for schools on the Early Academic Warning list and have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards for two consecutive years on the state ISAT tests in reading. In 2003, only 62% of third graders and 60.4% of fifth graders met or exceeding Illinois Learning Standards for reading. Reading specialists utilize up-to-date reading techniques and strategies to diagnose students’ reading weakness. They also provide one-on-one instruction to students that elementary school teachers often do not have the time or the resources to provide.
Governor Blagojevich wants to require all Illinois high school students to perform 40 hours of community service in order to graduate. Because every community is unique, the Governor’s proposal allows each local school district to define what qualifies as community service. Research in a national education journal found 83% of schools with community service requirements report higher grade point averages for participating students. It’s estimated the community service requirement will require $6 million in fiscal year 2005. Of the $6 million, each local high school will receive $10,000 to fund two coordinators to implement the requirement. The proposed legislation calls for the requirement to begin for the 2006 incoming class.
Junk Food/Soda Ban
Because overweight and unhealthy children are an epidemic in America, Governor Blagojevich proposes to ban soda and junk food from school vending machines by January 1, 2005. Studies show more than three times as many children now are considered overweight, compared to 20 years ago. Additionally, a study in Arkansas found that Type II diabetes, a condition once found almost exclusively in adults, is up 800% among children compared to the past decade. Banning junk food and soda is not expected to financially burden local school districts. In fact, some schools with junk food bans already in place are making money. New York schools, for example, earned $166 million as a result of a contract with Snapple to provide vending machines
that offer only water and fruit juices. Legislation to ban junk food and soda has already been filed. Governor Blagojevich urges the General Assembly to pass the bill during the Spring Legislative Session.
Illinois Hunger Relief Act
Governor Blagojevich is supporting Senate Bill 1400, which creates the Hunger Relief Act. The proposed legislation requires schools with 40% of the student population eligible for free or reduced lunches to also offer breakfast. Last year, Illinois school cafeterias served more than 99 million free lunches, but less than 30 million free breakfasts. Numerous studies conclusively link proper nutrition to cognitive ability. The Illinois Hunger Coalition reports students who are properly nourished at the start of the day, perform academically higher in class. The proposed legislation applies to more than 300 Illinois schools in more than 100 districts. This type of legislation is largely supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, and is anticipated to cost the state $1 million, once it becomes effective.
Teacher Certification and Preparation
Governor Blagojevich is proposing three different initiatives aimed at better preparing and continually educating Illinois teachers. First, the Governor will create a statewide task force to study the issue of alternative routes to teacher certification. Members of the task force will include representatives from the K-12 community, teacher unions, university teacher educators, the General Assembly, the Governor’s office and the business Community. Second, Governor Blagojevich is proposing legislation to require all Kindergarten through 8th grade teachers with a standard or master certificate to complete 50% of their certificate renewal requirements by taking courses in reading strategies at universities, or by participating in various professional development opportunities. This initiative will not create additional burdens for teachers, as they are already required to take coursework or to participate in professional development activities to be re-certified. Third, Governor Blagojevich is proposing to create a Professional Teacher Standards Board. The board will administer the certification of teachers and other school personnel. All certification and program approval processes currently handled by the Illinois State Board of Education and the State Teacher Certification Board will be transferred to the new Professional Teacher Standards Board. Governor Blagojevich stresses the importance of the new board because ISBE has not fulfilled its responsibilities to certify teachers in a timely fashion or to provide much needed assistance to teachers regarding re-certification.
Preparing Students for Careers
Governor Blagojevich is proposing to expand the Illinois Tech Prep Program to prepare those students who are not planning to attend a four-year university for vocational careers. Technology preparation programs begin in high school and lead to two-year apprenticeship, associate of applied science degree programs or two-year certificate programs. This program gives young people a clear path toward employment and boosts the graduation rate among participants. In fact, a study of the Illinois Tech Prep Program found 93% of participants in the program graduate from high school. Currently, $5 million in state funding and an equal number of federal dollars support the Illinois Tech Prep Program.
Early Childhood Education Funding Commitment
In order to send 25,000 more at-risk children to pre-school over a three-year period, Governor Blagojevich proposes to increase funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant. The Chicago Longitudinal Study found at-risk children who receive high-quality education are more likely to
complete high school, less likely to be arrested as a juvenile for a violent offense, less likely to be neglected or abused and less likely to be placed in special education. Last year, the Governor increased the block grant by about $29 million, sending 8,330 more at-risk children to pre-school. He will continue that commitment over the next two years, to reach his goal of sending 25,000 more at-risk children to pre-school.
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Governor Blagojevich firmly believes these initiatives, starting with the new Department of Education, are critical to move Illinois forward. Governor Blagojevich urges members of the General Assembly and the citizens of Illinois to join him in this fight. To provide citizens more of a voice in the process, the Governor created a toll-free education hotline for the public to leave messages of support and concern related to his education plan. The phone number is 1-800-750-6042.
“We cannot continue to make the mistakes of the past. We cannot continue to allow the bureaucracy to stand in the way of educating our children,” the Governor said. “At this time, at this moment, we share a unique opportunity, an opportunity to change things, to challenge the status quo, to move forward.”