SPRINGFIELD – Two of Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s education initiatives to help schools operate more efficiently and better meet students’ needs won approval today in the Illinois Senate. Senators unanimously passed Senate Bill 2795, which would make it easier for school districts to merge with each other to improve operations and Senate Bill 2829, known as the “Less Red Tape” bill, which eliminates unnecessary state bureaucracy burdening teachers and school administrators.
“Our proposals will give school districts more flexibility to consolidate and reduce administrative burdens on school districts and teachers,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “These are important ways to help schools and teachers meet their students’ needs, and I commend our senators for passing them.”
Senate Bill 2795, sponsored by Sen. George Shadid (D-Peoria), would streamline the reorganization process and could help districts save administrative costs, provide increased educational opportunities and create a more unified curriculum between middle and high schools. The legislation requires that any reorganization be approved by voters in each affected district. The bill standardizes the multiple different reorganization processes, and makes them more efficient. Most dramatically, the legislation creates entirely new types of school district reorganizations, to give greater local control. Under current law, sometimes one school district can block a merger that would affect multiple districts; this bill makes it possible for those districts that want to merge to do so, while allowing districts that want to remain independent to stay independent. The current school code also prohibits some types of districts from merging with each other, and SB 2795 removes many of those restrictions to provide for even greater local choice.
School district reorganization, which is strictly a matter of local choice, can be used by local voters to improve the ability of school districts to develop and implement quality programs for students, offset student enrollment declines, and provide a more cost-efficient and stable school district.
“This bill will help move school consolidation along without the roadblocks of the ‘all or nothing’ approach. There is additional language that will protect school districts who don’t want to consolidate while allowing those districts that do want to consolidate the go ahead to do so. This is not written to force school districts to consolidate. This is permissive legislation that allows school districts to do so or not do so if they wish, without reprisal. This is a true example of local control,” said Sen. Shadid.
The “Less Red Tape” bill, Senate Bill 2829, is sponsored by Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester). When Governor Blagojevich appointed new members to the State Board of Education in September of 2004, he called on the Board to reduce red tape and bureaucracy creating unnecessary burdens on school administrators and teachers, thereby diverting focus from the classroom. The State Board immediately launched the “Less Red Tape” initiative, soliciting extensive feedback from educators and parents about how state requirements could be changed to allow districts to focus on their core mission. As part of this effort, the State Board has eliminated approximately 500 pages of rules and numerous unnecessary regulatory burdens. The “Less Red Tape” legislation builds on these efforts to ease the bureaucratic burdens on teachers, administrators, schools and districts.
“We have to get rid of requirements that do nothing to help kids learn and only cause administrative headaches for school districts and teachers,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “This legislation will give the State Board of Education the ability to eliminate even more of these unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to clear the way for local districts to focus on serving students.”
"SB 2829 is a continuance of what we have been working towards over the past several years, which is helping the Illinois State Board of Education run more efficiently,” said Sen. Lightford. “This legislation will remove some unneeded regulations and cut down on unnecessary paperwork for ISBE."
“The Less Red Tape Legislation and School District Reorganization are changes that are necessary and will be very helpful to students, teachers, administrators and school districts. These new laws are another important step in the process of improving the quality of education in schools and districts in Illinois,” said Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Senate Bill 2829 includes:
· School/District improvement plans: School districts across Illinois are struggling to comply with the federal mandates set out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). SB 2829 eliminates several state-imposed planning burdens and allows ISBE to better support districts’ efforts to implement NCLB. It also eliminates duplicative requirements associated with the school and district improvement planning processes.
· Reporting, Fiscal and Administrative Requirements. The state should not mandate reporting from school districts and teachers unless the benefits of receiving the information outweigh the burdens on districts to provide it. Some statutory reporting requirements fail this test. A number of other statutory requirements can be revised to reduce the administrative and financial burdens on school districts associated with publishing financial information in newspapers, administering building code requirements, obtaining criminal background checks, and obtaining waivers and modifications of School Code mandates.
Both bills move to the Illinois House of Representatives for consideration.