CHICAGO – During a rally at Chicago's Kelly High School today, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich took his innovative education plan that will move Illinois forward directly to school administrators, teachers, parents and students. The Governor outlined various ways his plan will save the state and local districts money, how it will limit the bureaucratic burden on schools and most importantly, how it will improve the way Illinois children learn.
During his second State of the State Address, Governor Blagojevich put forth a bold vision for the future of Illinois education. While there is no one single villain, Governor Blagojevich believes the Illinois State Board of Education has failed local school districts, taxpayers and students. He urged the General Assembly to support legislation to transfer the administrative responsibilities from the State Board to a new Department of Education. The State Board, like other unaccountable bureaucracies, has become an organization that exists more for the benefit of its own overpaid administrators than for the benefit of Illinois children. Studies show one-third of the state's third graders cannot read at the third grade level. And, 44% of eighth grade students don't meet eighth grade reading standards.
"The Illinois State Board of Education is defined by mismanagement and misplaced spending," Governor Blagojevich said. "And, Illinois children are paying the biggest price. While the State Board cripples local school districts with thousands of pages of rules and regulations, only 46 cents of every dollar is spent in the classroom."
The new Department of Education will lead the charge to streamline state-level education administration. The new department will work with local educators to cut down the 2,800 pages of rules that govern Illinois education. The department will create a "statewide educator benefits purchasing center" to decrease the cost of heath care coverage for school districts and employees. The department will also create a state center where school districts can purchase products at state-negotiated rates. The Governor estimates the new department will do all of this for less than 80% of the current State Board's funding and 60% of its headcount.
"By taking these steps, we believe the state can save $1 billion over the course of four years to reinvest in the classroom," Governor Blagojevich said. "The time to act is now. I ask you, the citizens of Illinois, to get involved."
In addition to the new Department of Education, Governor Blagojevich announced other initiatives to improve Illinois Education. The Governor wants to revive a state program called Project Success, providing a link for families to various state services necessary for children to succeed in school. To improve health and nutrition in schools, Governor Blagojevich proposed to ban soda and junk food from schools. To help struggling children learn to read, he proposed an additional $12 million to the Reading Improvement Block Grant, to fund reading specialists. Governor Blagojevich proposed Illinois' own book-of-the-month-club. By partnering with the Dollywood Foundation of Tennessee and the Illinois Hospital Association, the Imagination Libraries program will send up to 60 books, free of charge, to every single Illinois child, ages 0-5. Governor Blagojevich also introduced GRADS. "Getting Results Achieving Dreams and Success" will implement a statewide anti-dropout program, by coordinating more than dozen current state programs aimed at reducing the dropout rate.
"The choice here is very simple. If you're satisfied with the state of education in Illinois, then leave the system the way it is," Governor Blagojevich said. "But, if you're sick and tired of hearing about how Illinois children are falling behind, failing tests or dropping out of school, then join us. We have the power to make real change. The hour is now."
To allow public participation in the process of recreating Illinois education, Governor Blagojevich set up a toll free hotline. Citizens can leave messages of support or concern by calling 1-800-750-6042.