ROCKFORD – Hundreds of elected officials, school administrators, teachers, parents and students rallied today with Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, as he urged the public to support his sweeping plan to reform Illinois education. At Belvidere High School near Rockford, the Governor explained ways his innovative plan to create a new Department of Education will save the state and local districts money, limit the bureaucratic burden on schools and most importantly, improve the way Illinois children learn.
During his second State of the State Address, Governor Blagojevich unveiled his bold vision for the future of Illinois education. While there is no one single cause for the state’s education shortcomings, Governor Blagojevich believes the Illinois State Board of Education has failed local school districts, taxpayers and students. And because of the Board’s failures, 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.
"No matter how good our local schools are or how dedicated their principals and teachers are, the lack of leadership and accountability at the Illinois State Board of Education shortchanges our children, “Governor Blagojevich said. “While the State Board constantly interferes with local districts and crushes them with paperwork, they only spend 46 cents of every dollar 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 health 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 the steps, it’s estimated the Governor’s plan will save the state $1 billion over four years.
"Those savings can be reinvested directly in the classroom," Governor Blagojevich said. "But, the time to act is now. It’s time we all take responsibility for our schools."
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 encourage 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.