BLOOMINGTON – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today found overwhelming support for his sweeping plan to reform Illinois education. At Bloomington’s Adlai Stevenson Elementary School, the Governor was joined by state Senator Bill Brady; state Representative Dan Brady; Vickie Slagell, principal at Adlai Stevenson Elementary; Dr. Bob Nielsen, superintendent of Bloomington District #87, and Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association.
Similar rallies were hosted by elected officials and educators today in Anna-Jonesboro, Chicago, the Metro East, Rock Island, Quincy, Rockford and Champaign.
Blagojevich unveiled his bold vision for the future of Illinois education during his second State of the State Address on January 15. He explained the system’s shortcomings begin at the top, with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), which has grown too bureaucratic and out of touch with the needs of students, parents and teachers.
Blagojevich pointed to the fact that, although Illinois ranks 16th in the nation when it comes to total spending on education, it ranks a dismal 40th in spending on classroom instruction. He added that the need to direct more resources to the classroom is clear when one considers student achievement in Illinois: one-third of the state's third graders cannot read at the third grade level and 44 percent of eighth grade students don't meet eighth grade reading standards.
“The State Board has spent the last few weeks telling you the problem isn’t them. It’s the legislature for passing too many laws. It’s teachers for not re-certifying correctly. It’s school administrators for not spending their money wisely. It’s the state for not spending enough money,” Blagojevich said. “Enough with the excuses. We need to be able to hold someone accountable for helping our schools put more resources into our classrooms.”
The Governor has proposed creating a new Department of Education that will lead the charge to make sure education funding finds its way into classrooms. The new department would work with local educators to cut down the 2,800 pages of rules that govern Illinois education, freeing up time and resources to commit to classroom instruction. 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.
The new department would also help school districts pool resources to achieve better savings and more efficiency. Blagojevich proposes creating a "statewide educator benefits purchasing center" to decrease the cost of heath care coverage for school districts and employees, establishing regional service centers to provide all schools in a particular region with basic administrative functions like auditing and accounting, and creating a statewide purchasing center through which school districts can purchase products at discounted rates negotiated by the state. These steps are estimated to save school districts a combined $1 billion over four years.
Blagojevich thanked the legislators gathered today for joining his effort and asked for their help in convincing their colleagues to approve his plan for education reform. The General Assembly resumes the spring session this week.
"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 like me, 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."