“This legislation is the most significant and substantive school consolidation reform in more than 20 years,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “It will give local school districts much greater flexibility to consolidate, and voters, who know their schools best, will have much greater control over how their school districts are run. I want to thank Sen. Shadid and Rep. Smith for all their hard work, and I am happy to be able to sign this bill.”
The new law requires that voters in each affected district approve any reorganization. It also standardizes the multiple different reorganization processes, and makes them more efficient. Most dramatically, the law creates entirely new types of school district reorganizations, to give greater local control.
“This law will help move school consolidation along without the roadblocks of the ‘all or nothing’ approach. There is additional language that will protect school districts that don’t want to consolidate while giving those districts that do want to consolidate the go ahead. This is not meant 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.
“I am very pleased with this legislation that we will be able to address some of the issues that have made consolidation difficult if not impossible in the past,” said Rep. Smith. “This is a win-win for our schools and the children they educate.”
“This law removes obstacles that got in the way of district consolidation,” said Randy Dunn, State Superintendent of Education. “It expands the options available to communities as they come together to decide what’s best for their students.”
Under current law, sometimes one school district can block a merger that would affect multiple districts; this law 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 the new law 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.
The new law goes into effect immediately.
In addition to school reorganization, Gov. Blagojevich moved forward a number of other education initiatives in 2006, including:
· Providing preschool for all children: Preschool for All makes Illinois the only state in the nation to begin the process of providing access to high-quality pre-school for every three-year-old and four-year-old child in Illinois. The program, which guarantees that in the end approximately 190,000 Illinois children will have the chance to attend preschool, will reach working families who are not able to afford the high cost of private preschool. Funding for pre-school programs will increase by $45 million this year, allowing 10,000 more children to get an early start on their education. The Preschool for All legislation, Senate Bill 1497, was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago).
· Helping middle class families pay for college: With a new investment of $34.4 million, Illinois will create the MAP Plus program to help middle class families who don’t qualify for the traditional MAP program, and struggle to afford rising college tuition costs. MAP Plus will provide a $500 per student grant for sophomores, juniors and seniors from families with incomes less than $200,000 who attend college in Illinois. An additional increase of $34.4 million will boost MAP grants to their statutory maximum of up to $4,968, which will help more students and their parents afford college. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP. Senate Bill 2225 was sponsored by Sen. Edward Maloney (D – Chicago) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park).
· Reducing class sizes: In order to provide the more individualized attention that students need to succeed, the Governor signed Senate Bill 2882 in June, which will make grants available schools statewide to reduce class sizes for students in kindergarten through third grade. Research shows that class size reduction has a number of positive benefits for both students and teachers, including more engaged students and fewer disciplinary problems. The FY07 budget includes $10 million for the program, which will be divided into $50,000 grants that would go to schools to pay for teacher salaries and benefits. SB 2882 was sponsored by Rep. Michael Smith (D-Canton) and Sen. Terry Link (D-Lake Bluff).
Increase for Higher Education: This year’s budget includes a $48 million increase for higher education. Universities will receive more than $26 million to help attract and retain the best faculty and increase other school programs, and community college grants will increase by almost $7 million.