Teachers, administrators and parents testify on behalf of Governor
SPRINGFIELD – Further demonstrating his commitment and resolve to education reform, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today urged members of the Illinois Senate to approve his proposal to bring accountability to Illinois’ system of education. Becoming only the second governor to testify before a rare Senate Committee of the Whole, Governor Blagojevich challenged lawmakers to embrace the unique opportunity to make sweeping change and improve Illinois schools.
“No matter what you think of our proposal to create accountability and reform the system, I think everyone here can agree that our children deserve the best schools we can give them,” Governor Blagojevich said. “As you consider our proposal, ask yourself one simple question. Are you satisfied with the state of education in the State of Illinois? If you are, then leave things the way they are. But, when it comes down to it, I think most of you aren’t.”
Senate Bill 3000 shifts responsibility for managing the state’s schools away from the Illinois State Board of Education to a new Department of Education. The legislation creates a department that will be directly accountable to the governor, to lawmakers and to the taxpayers of Illinois.
“The state is supposed to lead, provide guidance, establish rules, and distribute resources,” Governor Blagojevich said. “And when the system is designed in a way in which no one is accountable, no ones’ feet are held to the fire, and no one is compelled to try new things. Our current system faces that problem.”
Governor Blagojevich testified in the state Senate that there are two ways to fundamentally
reform education - improve the way the state manages schools and change the way the state funds education. The Governor stressed money alone won’t solve the state’s education problems. First, it takes accountability and better management.
“Even if you think it’s only about money, let me tell you something that’s become abundantly
clear to me,” the Governor said, “If we can’t show the taxpayers that we’re willing to step up and
be held accountable, that we’re willing to make changes, that we’re willing to do things differently, they will never support paying higher income taxes to change the way we fund our schools.”
During his State of the State Address in January, Governor Blagojevich outlined a comprehensive plan to reform Illinois education. The cornerstone of his plan, the Department of Education, comes in response to growing aggravation from local school districts and educators saddled by bureaucratic burdens from the Illinois State Board of Education, the lack of ideas for reform coming out of the state’s current education authority and the fact that only 46 cents of every education dollar is spent on classroom instruction. Measures of student achievement in Illinois illustrate the dire need to direct more resources to the classroom; one-third of the state's third graders cannot read at the third grade level, 44 percent of eighth graders can’t write at the eighth grade level and one in seven Illinois students fails to graduate from high school.
The new Department of Education will 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.
More than a dozen educators, administrators and parents from around Illinois traveled to Springfield to testify in support of Governor Blagojevich’s proposal for a Department of Education. They include former Illinois state senator and Chicago Public Schools Legislative Advisor Art Berman, Wilmette School District #39 Superintendent and former state Superintendent Max McGee, Edwardsville Community Unit School District #7 Superintendent Ed Hightower, Regional Superintendent from Hamilton/Jefferson Counties PE Cross, Governmental Affairs Director of the Illinois Education Association Dan Bulkhalter, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers James Dougherty, former Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education Lou Mervis, Chicago Public Schools Bi-Lingual Teacher Nicole Pacholski, Mendota High School’s National Board Certified Guidance Counselor Mitch Landgraf, LaGrange Elementary School Special Education Teacher Vickie Abbinante, Ardmore Elementary Special Education Teacher Laurie Driscoll, Jefferson Middle School Life Skills/Home Economics Teacher Judy Bretl and Clare Sipe, a Plainfield parent of a special education student.
Senators from both political parties, representing schools from all corners of the state are sponsoring the legislation to create the new Department of Education. Chief sponsor in the state Senate is Sen. Vince Demuzio (D-Carlinville), member of the Senate Education Committee.
Other lead sponsors include Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont) Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago), Sen. George Shadid (D-Pekin) and Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).
Governor Blagojevich thanked the men and women of the Illinois Senate for the opportunity to testify and encouraged an open debate on education reform. The Governor acknowledged making sweeping change comes with some risk, but he believes members of the legislature recognize the current system of education in Illinois simply isn’t working.
“Making our schools better means supporting fundamental change and fundamental reform,” Governor Blagojevich said “In this case, that change starts at the top. It starts with accountability. It starts with innovation. It starts with leadership. If you want to make our schools better, when this bill comes before you – vote yes.”