ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – January 30 – February 6, 2004

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

1    Locals disagree with Governor's stance on State Board of Education / Eagle Publications
2    Whatever happens to state school board, let's fix education / Sun Times
3    Lobbyists push for change in classrooms / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
4    Events put God's role in schools in spotlight / Belleville News-Democrat
5    On-site day care a plus at school / Chicago Tribune
6    Common issues concern state Senate President Emil Jones / Decatur Herald & Review
7    Governor: State board is a failure / Pantagraph
8    Governor: Education fix in state needs two party effort / Peoria Journal Star
9    Funds hike for schools is sought / Chicago Tribune
10  Lawmakers warily eye education takeover / Daily Herald
11  League presses for school funding shift / Oak Park Oak Leaves
12  State superintendent: We do a 'superb' job / Pioneer Press
13  Local educators wary of education reforms / Pioneer Press
14  Blagojevich looks for help from lobbyists / Quad-City Times
15  Illinois educators blast No Child Left Behind act / Quad-City Times
16  State school office fires salvo / Chicago Tribune
 
17  Blagojevich introduces bill to put education under governor's power / Pantograph
18  Governor moves to strip power from state school board / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
19  Governor unveils reform blueprint for Illinois schools / Peoria Journal Star
20  State school superintendent fires back at Gov. Blagojevich / Belleville News-Democrat
21  Senator's bill asks: Is governor driving jobs from Springfield? / Pantagraph
22  Education overhaul plan released / Daily Southtown
23  Social promotions and 'gotcha' school politics / Peoria Journal Star

NATIONAL
24  No Child Left Behind may be ousted from Utah / NewsNet – Brigham Young University (UT)
25  Bill seeks scrutiny of school law expenses / Portland Press Herald (ME)
26 
School official opts to keep `evolution' / Chicago Tribune
27  'No Child' rebellion picking up momentum / Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
28  School plan ties incentives to nutrition / Houston Chronicle

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

Locals disagree with Governor's stance on State Board of Education 

By LAUREN FRANCZYK, Eagle Staff Writer

Gov. Rod Blagojevich let the cat out of the bag when he gave his less-than-friendly State of the State Address Jan. 15. Though opinions varied about as much as there are colors in the rainbow, those involved with education seem to agree that the governor was a bit mean-spirited.

“I believe the role of a leader is to make appropriate changes in an appropriate time and lead people, not beat them dead,” said Macomb Superintendent Frances Karanovich. “There are people who are hurting, and it bothers me to see that kind of hurt.”

“I was surprised at how harsh he came out against the State Board of Education,” said Sen. John Sullivan. “We may very well need some drastic changes, but we only heard one side of that argument, and I think that we need to get all the facts together if that agency is not accountable and not operating efficiently.”

In his address, Blagojevich said he wasn’t satisfied with the state of education in Illinois.

“Instead of being an independent body that could regulate and support our schools, the Illinois State Board of Education is like – an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy – it’s clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money, it dictates policy and it isn’t accountable to anyone for anything,” he said.

He is proposing legislation that would eliminate the State Board of Education and put a Department of Education in its place, which would, in turn, be under the control of the governor.

“What he wants to do is not all bad,” said Karanovich. “How he did it has not earned him a great deal of respect among professionals.

Terry Scandrett, West Prairie Superintendent, said that though he’s not entirely sure where he stands on this issue, he doesn’t think putting the Department of Education under the governor's control is necessarily the best thing to do.

Sullivan is concerned that if the State Board of Education is eliminated and a Department of Education is put in its place, “are we swapping one bureaucracy for another bureaucracy?”

“He wants to put it under his thumb,” said Robert Baumann, regional superintendent for McDonough and Hancock counties. “I suppose when the smoke clears there’s still going to be a bureaucracy to deal with education.”

On the other hand, Ross Foley, Industry superintendent, said he likes the idea of the governor having control, however, he’d prefer it if the State Board of Education stay intact, as well as Illinois Superintendent of Education Dr. Robert Schiller.

“There are good people at the State Board of Education and they work very hard; I think they’re just bogged down with certain things that aren’t as important to the local schools, “he said.

Roseville Superintendent Mike Kirby said “until they deal with the funding, nothing good is going to come about from this or cause a dramatic change.”

“I think there has to be some changes, but those could certainly come internally

TOP OF PAGE

Whatever happens to state school board, let's fix education 

OPINION BY RALPH MARTIRE, Sun Times, January 31, 2004

Almost everyone, from business leaders to farmers and community activists, agrees Illinois ought to provide a high-quality public education to every child. That's because good schools produce good results, accomplishing everything from reducing crime and poverty to promoting economic development. Yet Illinois fails to deliver a quality education to thousands of children.

Gov. Blagojevich recently lashed out at this failure and offered numerous potential reforms. Focusing much of his attention on the Illinois State Board of Education, he noted that according to ISBE data, only 46 cents of every dollar spent on education went into the classroom. The governor then suggested reforms he said would save about $250 million a year over the next four years, by changing how school districts purchase supplies and offer benefits such as health insurance and pensions. He said the whole education system would be more accountable if ISBE, an independent board, were reduced to the status of a think tank, while its main functions are assumed by a Department of Education accountable to the governor.

Some wholeheartedly supported Blagojevich's proposals. Others found both good and bad. In this latter group is Ron Gidwitz, an ISBE member and founder of Students First, a grass-roots school reform coalition. A lifelong Republican, Gidwitz served three different Democratic Chicago mayors as head of economic development. He took issue with some of the governor's suggestions.

''I have no problem with the governor recommending ways to improve things,'' Gidwitz said, ''as long as folks don't get the impression education professionals -- whether teachers, principals or administrators -- are doing anything to shortchange children.'' Gidwitz thought people may get such an impression from the statement that only 46 cents of each dollar goes to the classroom. ''That figure does not include many things essential to teaching, such as the cost of textbooks, transportation, school libraries, meals, counseling, social work and heat.'' Gidwitz noted that, using different data, the National Center for Education Statistics, which translates information on school spending reported by all states into a uniform system, showed Illinois spends 59.7 cents of every dollar on education -- better than what the governor cited but still below the national average of 61.5 cents.

As for other reforms, Gidwitz felt that anything that saved money without hurting education should be considered, but said the governor's suggestions primarily dealt with local school districts, not ISBE. Gidwitz said that ISBE itself is working to eliminate waste, and has reduced head count from more than 800 employees in 1999 to only 495 today. Gidwitz wants to focus squarely on the big problem of how we fund schools. ''We cannot afford to sacrifice the future any longer,'' he said.

Becky Carroll, of the governor's Office of Management and the Budget, issued a measured response. ''The governor's focus is on improving the way education is delivered to children,'' she said. ''The governor's point is not enough money ends up in the classroom. Let's scrutinize costs, consider new ideas and maximize what goes to teaching kids. ISBE has been unwilling to do that.''

Of course, many folks outside the tussle between the governor and ISBE are concerned with school funding. The organization I work for has focused on the problem for its full, four-year existence. We are now part of growing coalitions including the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Urban League, Voices for Illinois Children-- all focused on the same goal: fixing a school funding system so badly broken that it fails children.

Jerry Stermer of Voices summarized the feelings of many: ''Illinois doesn't have the resources to provide a quality education to every child, or protect vital services that are crucial to a child's development. It's time all options for fixing things receive honest consideration, including tax increases that could make our system fairer and work better for kids, families and communities.''

TOP OF PAGE

Lobbyists push for change in classrooms 

By Jake Wagman of the Post-Dispatch, 1/31/2004

JEFFERSON CITY — Steve Carroll had been stalking the halls of the capital all day, waiting for face time with Rep. Danie Moore.

Carroll is a lobbyist for the St. Louis Public Schools. He knew Moore, a former teacher, would be sympathetic to his pitch: a law that would increase the fines against violent offenders and put the money toward after-school programs.

"I would like for you to file this bill," Carroll said, looking at the lawmaker across her desk. "I can't see us having any opposition on this — it's hard to argue against a $20 payment by someone who has been convicted of beating their wife."

Carroll knows his audience. He assured Moore, a Republican from Callaway County, that the state commissioner of education had said the plan would cost the state no extra money.

"Because that won't fly," Moore said.

Such is the art of the deal.

Education lobbyists like Carroll are the behind-the-scenes players who help determine which bills become law. In Missouri and Illinois, such lobbyists are few in number — maybe two dozen — with a wide range of influence. They sometimes represent competing interests, such as school boards and teachers unions. They push — and even write — the laws that affect classroom learning. A well-placed effort also can land a school district millions of dollars.

Their mettle will be tested this year as education becomes the focal point of legislative sessions in Jefferson City and Springfield.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Missouri Gov. Bob Holden set the tone last month when they issued antagonistic State of the State addresses. Blagojevich compared the State Board of Education to a Soviet-era bureaucracy. Holden accused Republican lawmakers of an "abdication of duty" for the education budget they approved last year.

"If you were in London, say in 1942, you would probably have a pretty good idea" of what this session is like, said Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association. "Bombs falling around all the time."

Capitol diplomacy

Perhaps no enterprise has more at stake in state legislatures than public education. Proposals in Missouri would regulate everything from school emergency sirens and strip searches by teachers to schoolyard bullies and district financing. Bills pending in the Illinois Legislature range from creating a new department of education to prohibiting the sale of soda or candy in school vending machines. One bill in the Illinois House would require all districts to employ a receptionist to answer phones during business hours at their central office. Machines or voice mail could not be used on the main phone line during those hours.

Education lobbyists also monitor election law, vehicle emissions standards, bonding statutes and building codes. "We have bills in every committee," said Deanna Sullivan, government-relations director for the Illinois Association of School Boards. "There are so few other industries that touch virtually everything."

The chief goal of education lobbyists in Illinois and Missouri, and in most statehouses in the nation, is to get more funding for school districts.

In Illinois, education interests are facing a conundrum in Blagojevich, who took office last year. The governor has vowed to veto any tax increases, but also pledged to raise per-pupil spending by $250. Sullivan said she likely will work to ensure the governor keeps his funding promises, while attempting to keep the Legislature from proposing costly new programs or mandates.

The situation in Missouri is a bit more complicated. About half of the state's school districts have filed a lawsuit over the state's education funding formula. Eventually, lobbyists say, the suit could force the Legislature to act.

Meanwhile, both parties are in an election-year stalemate. The Republican-controlled Legislature will be firm in its opposition to raising taxes, Carroll said, and Democrats, including the governor, will continue to insist the state needs more revenue.

"Both sides think they are right," Carroll says outside the committee room. "You have to be very diplomatic."

So, Carroll focuses his energy on measures that don't require extra dollars from the state. One is a bill that, in the city of St. Louis only, would raise to 17 from 16 the age at which students could drop out. Not only would the bill keep more students in school, but it could help the district attain full state accreditation.

"You can't smoke a cigarette until you're 18, but you can drop out when you're 16 — where is the logic in that?" Carroll said.

Carroll takes his cues from the St. Louis School Board but has significant control over the agenda he pursues. He visits schools for input and drafts bills that are part of a platform voted on by the board.

Carroll is a lawyer by training and gets about $72,000 to represent the district. He is the only representative of the city School Board whom most lawmakers ever meet.

Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, said that without a tenacious lobbyist, education interests would be lost in the bustle of lawmaking and politics.

"It's like the little boy that keeps tugging at your sleeve — Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," Coleman said during an interview in her office. "There are so many other things taking up our time, if you don't have representation then you are not going to fare well in the Legislature. Especially in such volatile times."

Building alliances and relationships is a must to win over lawmakers, says Sullivan of the Illinois School Board Association.

"You have to know what kind of district that legislator represents. When you are talking about an issue, what is going to speak to a legislator for their community?" he said. "You build coalitions to help to do that. There is a lot of strategy."

Honesty is important

Lawmakers are quick to point out that while they depend on education lobbyists for information, education is still a special interest.

Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, cautions that education lobbyists are paid to represent their members, whose interests may not overlap the best interests of children. She points to a current feud with Fajen's group, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, which represents 32,000 school employees. The group is protesting a bill sponsored by Cunningham that would allow teachers to be certified through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. She says the plan will help solve a teacher shortage.

"The NEA will fight that with everything they have got," said Cunningham, who chairs the House Education Committee. The certification board is supported with heavy funding from the Bush administration and, Fajen says, has a partisan agenda.

Even when lobbyists and lawmakers are on different sides of an issue, Cunningham said, they have to be honest. Cunningham has been burned by education lobbyists and says once they are deceitful "it travels around the capital so fast."

Coleman says that of all the lobbyists at the capital, she only trusts three — and Carroll is one them.

Bull's-eyes, eventually

A former state representative from Hannibal, Carroll sets aside one day a month to visit city schools, asking teachers what legislation they would like to see pass. One suggestion, from an art teacher who was buying her own supplies, was to give teachers a tax credit for spending their own money on classroom items. That idea is making its way through the Legislature.

Carroll said his proudest accomplishment was the successful promotion of a bill allowing retired St. Louis teachers to return to the classroom for up to four years without losing their benefits.

"Forty-two hundred years of experience were put back in the classroom because of that one bill," he said.

Now, Carroll is working with state Sen. Patrick Dougherty, D-St. Louis, on a scholarship program for aspiring teachers and with Coleman on a bond referendum for school construction. The plan is a long shot — it got to the floor last year, but only garnered 11 votes.

Lobbying, Carroll said, is all about perseverance.

"The more darts you throw up," Carroll said, "sooner or later you are going to hit a bull's-eye."

TOP OF PAGE

Events put God's role in schools in spotlight 

BY PATRICK J. POWERS, Belleville News-Democrat

Students can don a Jesus Christ T-shirt, pray before class and even moralize that following the Ten Commandments is the only way to live -- all within the confines of their neighborhood public school.

The only taboo is that a teacher can't publicly endorse them.

When it comes to political hot topics, few generate as much public fervor as religion in public schools. And when it comes to understanding the intricacies of a 41-year-old Supreme Court ruling regarding it, there are pockets of people who just don't understand.

"Oftentimes it's a small group of parents pushing (for it) and a small group of parents pushing against it," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "Most parents just want their kids to go to school, come home and do their homework."

A demand for a 9-year-old to stop reading the Bible on a public school bus raised eyebrows in Collinsville last month. The utterance of "God bless" during a student broadcast brought national attention to Dupo High School.

And the most anticipated Supreme Court case in years -- an argument against the Pledge of Allegiance because of the reference "under God" -- will be heard in March.

All three instances stir passionate public debate about a person's right to religion inside the walls of a school building. They raise questions among parents.

What can my child do or say when it comes to matters of religion?

A fine line to walk

Interpreting the Supreme Court's rulings regarding religion in public schools is an everyday affair for school administrators and teachers. They are the ones who cross the line, or don't when it comes to what they can and cannot say or do.

"We walk the fine line on that all the time," said James Rosborg, superintendent of Belleville School District 118. "You always deal with it, because, despite the preference of some, religion is still a powerful force with the majority of our students."

District 118 allows students to gather before and after school for student-led prayer. However, it doesn't provide or encourage a faculty sponsor for such activities "because we have to be careful that it's not misinterpreted that the schools are supporting the issue."

The school hosts two holiday parties for students each year -- one for Halloween and one for Valentine's Day. It cut the school-sanctioned Christmas party so as not to promote Christianity over any other religion.

An individual teacher still can throw a holiday party in December of his own accord, Rosborg said, just one that doesn't involve the endorsement of a particular religion.

Highland High School boasts one of the 23 active Fellowship of Christian Athletes organizations in the metro-east. It's not a school-sponsored group.

"There are some teachers and community members interested in FCA, but they have all their meetings in private residences," Principal Andy Carmitchel said. "If they ask to use the school (for meeting space), they're treated like every other private group asking to use a room."

In Freeburg, the same organization has met in the public high school and enjoys the same rights as any other student organization. The Freeburg group also meets in its members' homes, said Andrew Lehman, Freeburg Community High School District 77 superintendent.

When it comes to drawing the line between promoting a person's religion and tolerating it, Lehman said common sense is the best guide.

For example, a student can wear a T-shirt espousing any religious message he wants. But when that message becomes a distraction in the classroom and disrupts a student's learning, it's time to ask him to refrain from wearing it, Lehman said.

It's the same logic used when a student wears a T-shirt with obscenities or drug references, he said.

"The law is like any other law -- open to interpretation," said Brent Clark, superintendent for Belleville High School District 201.

Letter of the law

Federal law concerning religion in public schools stems from a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The court prohibited school administrators and faculty from organizing or leading prayers and Bible-study groups in public schools.

Federal guidelines allow a student to pray in school as long as it's not disruptive. He can distribute religious literature in an appropriate manner. He can even try to persuade peers about religious topics.

"In a classroom, it is not inappropriate for students to raise points about their religious beliefs," ACLU spokesman Yohnka said, "but it is inappropriate for a teacher to use that authority of a school to advance a certain viewpoint."

The guidelines prohibit school-organized prayer at graduation, celebration of religious holidays and teaching religious doctrine.

"From a legal standpoint, that's a challenging line to define and even harder to implement," Clark said. "The definition or importance varies from community to community."

In communities where most residents have the same religious beliefs, some schools may be a little more lax with federal guidelines.

"We're kind of lucky out here," said Kelli Lohman of New Baden. Her daughter attends Wesclin Junior High School. "This is kind of a Catholic area, and its just not something that is fought too much."

In other communities, discussions of religion's role in public school appears to surface more often. And in those cases across the country, it's often a case of misunderstanding.

"I think it's such a hot topic because of the misunderstanding about the separation of church and state," said Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute.

"(People are) just not understanding the law, and by not understanding the law, they're tramping on kids' rights. A kid saying 'Jesus' at a graduation ceremony isn't going to cause a constitutional controversy in this country."

A continuing debate

What may cause a constitutional controversy in the near future is a Supreme Court case scheduled for March 24. The case, originating in California, questions the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance because of its reference to God.

Most public schools in the metro-east begin each day with the pledge. A decision to scrap that tradition would send shock waves throughout the country.

In Illinois, some state legislators have proposed more subtle changes. Public schools would be allowed to display the Ten Commandments with other historical documents, under legislation now pending in the Illinois General Assembly.

"It's sort of a back-door attempt to promote religious teachings in the school," said Mary Dixon, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "Our opposition is not about favoring one religion over the other. It's about not favoring religion, period."

The measure -- introduced by state Rep. William Grunloh, D-Effingham -- doesn't require a school to display the Ten Commandments but leaves that decision up to the school board. It also allows the board to determine whether it wants to display other historical documents from other religions.

"I don't file legislation for exercise," Grunloh said. "I'm not trying to legislate religion. I'm just saying that if someone believes in (the Ten Commandments), they should be able to display them.

"The Constitution did not say 'freedom from religion,' it said 'freedom of religion.'"

It's that distinction that school administrators and teachers battle to make every day. In the meantime, Grunloh's bill remains in the House Rules Committee and has yet to be called for a vote.

TOP OF PAGE

On-site day care a plus at school 

Chicago Tribune, February 1, 2004

BARRINGTON -- The competition for top quality teachers and staff has led Barrington Community Unit School District 220 into a new venture--an in-house day-care center.

The Little Broncos Day School opened last week in Barrington High School with a class of six. The school, run as an adjunct to the district's preschool education program, can take as many as 20 children ages 3 to 5.

"It's a perfect scenario," said Jennifer Peterson, a Station Middle School teacher. She and her husband, Perry, who also teaches at the middle school, enrolled their 3-year-old, Kendall. "She's familiar with the building, because we're there all the time for school events, and she's at an age where she would definitely benefit from preschool, which is incorporated into the day."

Supt. Mary Herrmann said the idea came from strategy sessions on how to attract and keep top employees. District spokeswoman Debbie Viller said officials visited similar facilities in Stevenson District 125, Deerfield-Highland Park District 113 and Harper College, which offers day care.

Employees pay the full costs of the service--$35 per day, $25 for a half day.

Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers in Springfield, said on-site facilities for employees are an uncommon but welcome plus--even if the employees are paying the bill.

"There are not many districts doing it," he said. "It's not a movement I've seen through union channels, but certainly, if you have children it's a great resource."

With unionized teachers concentrating more on salaries, class size and benefits, he said, on-site day care is not on the agenda.

Besides, he said, teachers whose children are beyond day-care age dominate the teaching ranks in Illinois now.

"Veteran teachers outnumber younger teachers, but that's beginning to change," Comerford said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see more and more of these types of services in the future."

TOP OF PAGE

Common issues concern state Senate President Emil Jones

By Jennifer Wig and Matt Adrian, Herald & Review Springfield Bureau Writers

SPRINGFIELD -- For Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, the corridors of state government are more than a place where votes are cast and deals made.

The 30-year statehouse veteran considers life under the dome a "great university." It has taught him, he says, that the city dweller and the downstate farmer have more in common than most people suspect.

"When I first came here, I didn't know too much about rural Illinois, so I hung out with downstate legislators just to learn about their communities and the things they were concerned with," he says. One such lesson came as Democrat Jones pushed a proposal aimed at reducing teen pregnancy, a problem in his Chicago district.

"I came into the Senate education committee with that bill, and one senator asked me one simple question. He said, 'What does the bill do?' " Jones recalls. "I told him what the bill does. And he made one statement. He said, 'I wish I had that program in my district. My district has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any district in the state.'

"It was Sen. Glenn Poshard. What I'm trying to say is that you learn from this great university."

Jones believes the important issues that affect the people of Illinois are not partisan or regional. "That child at a rural school who doesn't have access to computer technology is no different than the urban schoolchildren with the same problem. You find there's a commonality between the people."

Jones is a quiet man, not given to the wild flights of oratory or confrontational politics some of his colleagues employ. A widower, he says he likes to read political science books and books on philosophy to keep his mind sharp.

Jones says he's a fan of classic movies, naming "The Godfather," "Casablanca" and "Forrest Gump."

"That's a great movie," he says of "Forrest Gump." "It's great because people tried to judge him, but he's very smart. He became a millionaire."

And Jones admits to a passion for country and western music, particularly Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler."

"You gotta know when to hold, know when to fold, know when to walk away and know when to run," Jones recites, adding, "That's the way life is."

In this "One on One" interview, Jones reflects on his time in the legislature, from his years spent in the shadow of powerful Republican Senate leader James "Pate" Philip to the newfound power Democrats have in shaping Illinois policy.

Q: What led you to a career in politics?

A: I found that to bring about change, government was the means.

Q: Is there anything that frustrates you about government and politics?

A: What frustrates me is that from my first session in the General Assembly in 1973, the issue then was the funding of education and the issue is still with us today. In 30 years, the issue hasn't changed.

Sometimes, the wheels of government turn very slowly.

Q: How has the political culture of Springfield changed since you were first elected to the General Assembly?

A: Back then, the members were more communal. It's changed to become very partisan. It had something to do with the Cutback Amendment, when we reduced the size of the House. As a result, it became very partisan.

Q: You have a knife and a quote from Sun Tzu's "Art of War" in a glass case hanging on the wall in your office. The quote says, "Do not depend on the enemy not coming, depend rather on being ready for him." What's the story behind that?

A: Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, brought that to me. I like that book, and we talked about it. But it's true in life. You must prepare for war in a time of peace. It's like the national government. They are always prepared for the enemy coming.

Q: You've were the Senate minority leader from 1993 until Democrats took control of the chamber this past January. During that time, former Senate President James "Pate" Philip, R-Wood Dale, gained a reputation for running the show with an iron fist. Did you ever get the impression people were underestimating you?

A: I don't know. That's their problem. I learned a long time ago to always give people credit for having more sense than I. That way I don't ever make that mistake.

Q. How has Philip's departure and your move up to Senate president changed things?

A: When you have control of the gavel, you tend to follow your agenda and get needed pieces of legislation that were bottled up when you were in the minority.

You're able to get your agenda across.

 Q: How is your leadership style different than your predecessor?

A: We opened up the process; we try to be inclusive. I include all my staff. I don't make all the decisions myself. We try to sit down and discuss the issues that come up. We try to do it collectively.

Q: What issues are on Senate Democrats' agenda for the spring session?

A: We as a caucus normally come together and put the agenda together and pursue those decisions. We haven't met as a group yet.

Q: What are some issues you personally would like to see addressed as a Democrat and as leader of the Senate?

A: I would like to see, I don't think it can pass, adequate funding for education, getting education off the reliance on property taxes and switching it to a more equitable method, which is income taxes.  I don't believe the will of the General Assembly is there yet.

 Q: Gov. Rod Blagojevich made some strongly negative statements about the Illinois Board of Education in his recent State of the State address. He wants to strip much of the board's power. What are your thoughts on the governor's approach?

A: I prefer the agency to have its independence from the political whims of the governor. Most of the money that goes to the state board of education is a pass-through to local school districts. I wouldn't want that responsibility given to a gubernatorial appointment.  If the governor would like to change the policy of the board, he has the power to appoint members to the state board. I haven't seen the governor's policy, but I'd like to have a little of his opinions.

Q: How would you rate the governor's performance so far? Some members of the Democratic caucus feel the legislators are being unfairly singled out by the governor as contributing to the state's financial problems, and that has created hard feelings. What's your impression?

A: He's still learning. Being chief executive of the state is a lot of responsibility. He learned from last session. In the Senate, most of his budgetary initiatives passed along partisan lines so, therefore, that was indeed cooperation to get his budget out, and we were able to achieve that. So even though you may hear that, we do work together.   It gets down to a lack of communication. He's learning that he has to be more inclusive and communicate with the legislature.

 Q: Speaking of the budget, it looks like the 2005 version is going to have to trim even more state jobs and services. Or will the state find new revenue?

A: I don't know what the governor has in mind. I know he plans to sit down with us, but there's a projection of a $1.5 billion to $2 billion shortfall. So you're going to have to have some revenue initiatives to close that gap.  We'll work it out together and see what we can fashion.

 Q: Are you concerned that some of the revenues this year's budget was predicated upon haven't panned out yet, such as the sale of the 10th riverboat casino license or the sale of the Thompson Center in Chicago?

A: One of the revenue measures brought in more dollars than we anticipated. We budgeted approximately $40 million for the amnesty program on taxes, and when I was out of town, I read in the papers that it brought in $522 million. So those dollars are far more than what we figured in the budget and will make up for the sale of the 10th license.  I don't know where we are on the Thompson Center.

Q: During the veto session, the governor said he would like to see additional legislation prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians. Are you on board with him there?

A: I strongly support that. I'm hoping that's going to come up this session. It would be most difficult to get that passed. It should not pass on partisan lines. That type of legislation needs votes from both sides of the aisle.

Q: Another issue that perennially surfaces in the legislature is gun control in general and a possible ban on assault rifles in specific. Downstaters have a much different view of the Second Amendment than in Chicago, where handguns are already banned. Is there a middle ground?

A: I have mixed emotions about that whole issue. There was an incident in Chicago where this guy shot a burglar in his house, and they charged him with possession of a firearm or handgun.

However, guns have taken so many lives. We're not in the old Wild West where one carried firearms. If you do not have the pistol, tempers would not play up as much, and one would not feel they could resolve the problem by pulling out a gun. And too many kids have been killed because they found a gun in the house. But then you look at that other incident I just told you about and say maybe the guy in Chicago should have a gun. Or maybe he should've shot the burglar with a rifle.  Assault weapons should be banned. I don't see why anyone would have to have an assault weapon to go hunting.

Q: After 30 years in the legislature, have you given any thought to retirement?

A: I've been thinking about that for the last 15 years.

Q: And now that you're Senate president?

A: I still have a lot of things I want to get accomplished.

I would like to resolve the education issue in the state of Illinois. I would like to see every child have equal access to the public dollars we spend on education. In some of the rural areas, the funding is so low, then in the suburbs the funding is almost three times the amount.

You want the same results, but in one child you put all the resources there and to another you give the minimum. So I'll be working to change that. That has a large impact on society in the future. Before I get out of here, I want to see that change.

I would like to see the flagship university, the University of Illinois, ban Chief Illiniwek. Universities should not be teaching stereotyping with the support of taxpayer money.

TOP OF PAGE

 

Governor: State board is a failure

 

BLOOMINGTON -- Calling the Illinois State Board of Education "an albatross around the necks of teachers and principals," Gov. Rod Blagojevich continued his push to replace the agency Monday at Stevenson Elementary School.

"The system is set up in such a way where they are accountable to no one," Blagojevich said. "It is not helping our children learn, and that's why I'm calling for change."

Blagojevich wants to strip the state board of its duties and create a Department of Education to streamline education administration.

The governor says the change, first announced in his State of the State address last month, could save as much as $1 billion over four years.

That could be invested in classrooms, he said.

Handmade signs and student musicians greeted the governor as he walked into the crowded assembly at Stevenson. Similar appearances were scheduled throughout the state.

Blagojevich grabbed the attention of Stevenson students by citing Disney television shows like "That's So Raven," and "Lizzie McGuire." He warned the crowd of kindergarten through fifth-graders that his speech may be "a little bit on the boring side."

"I'm going to try to make it as painless as possible," he said.

Citing test scores and spending figures, Blagojevich said the state board has failed and is a burden to local school districts.

He repeatedly said the system spends only 46 cents of every dollar on direct instruction. The new department, he said, would answer to his office and the legislature.

"What we're trying to do is answer a very glaring need for accountability," he said.

Also speaking at the event in support of Blagojevich's plan were state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, and state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who has advocated dissolving the state board for years.

Illinois Education Association President Anne Davis and Illinois Federation of Teachers President James Dougherty also spoke.

District 87 Superintendent Bob Nielsen said he agrees with the goals of Blagojevich's plan -- accountability and greater achievement -- but wants to see how it will be carried out.

"I'm reserving judgment until I see more details and more specifics of how we get there," Nielsen said after the event.

District 87 has cut $2.5 million for the current school year and plans to cut an additional $1.5 million for next year.

Nielsen said fully funding the grants the district and others receives is necessary. Grants to help students with limited English skills, for example, are prorated to 60 or 65 percent, he said.

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

Governor: Education fix in state needs two party effort

Blagojevich promotes agenda during swing through Illinois

By Dayna R. Brown, The Journal Star

BLOOMINGTON - Reforming the educational system in Illinois will take bipartisan cooperation, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Monday.

Flanked by Republican lawmakers, the Democratic governor vowed to do whatever it takes to improve education for Illinois' students.

"Improving schools is the most important thing any of us in government can do," Blagojevich said to students at Adlai Stevenson Elementary School. He added there is "plenty of room for improvement."

Blagojevich's stop was part of a statewide tour promoting his education agenda. That includes a proposal to eliminate the state's board of education and replace it with a department that would be accountable to the governor.

Disbanding the state board is something state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, has been interested in for years. He said he is eager to work with Blagojevich.

"When it comes to supporting the children of the state of Illinois ... we have to cross party lines," said Brady, who as recently as last spring proposed legislation to create a Department of Education. "The differences between Republicans and Democrats in this state don't hold a candle to the importance of working to provide you with the highest education possible."

State Rep. Dan Brady, also a Republican from Bloomington, said he too will work to improve education in Illinois.

Winning the students over with his knowledge of "Lizzie McGuire" and other favorite kids' shows, the governor said, "It is our responsibility, the grown-ups, to try to make things better so that you can learn better."

Last year, taxpayers spent more than $20 billion on education in Illinois, but only 46 cents on every dollar found its way into the classroom, he said.

Union officials were on hand to support the governor's message.

"You would think that an agency…responsible for providing educational leadership, our Illinois State Board of Education, would work hard to make our schools more efficient for both our students and our teachers," said Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association. "I'm sorry to say to you today, that has not been the case."

During his state of the state address earlier this month, Blagojevich proposed the elimination of the state board. He said that decision came after a year of trying to work with the agency, which he said is accountable to no one.

Earlier Monday, Blagojevich held a similar rally at a Chicago high school auditorium. He was joined by area legislators, former state schools superintendent Michael Bakalis and Chicago School Board president Michael Scott. All endorsed the governor's plan.

The state bureaucracy has "got its fingers wrapped around the neck of education - it cannot breathe," Scott told students during the assembly. "What the governor is attempting to do is take, finger by finger, the hands of bureaucracy off of the neck of education so that it can breathe and that it can live."

A spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education questioned the effectiveness of Blagojevich's message.

"It's my understanding that he's having the pep rallies because he's not finding the support out there," board spokeswoman Karen Craven said.

Craven said education proponents are "anxiously awaiting" Blagojevich's Feb. 18 budget address to lawmakers.

"Then we'll really see whether this is an education governor or not," she said.

TOP OF PAGE

Funds hike for schools is sought

Lawmakers hear state chief's plan

By Tracy Dell'Angela, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Molly Parker contributed to this report from Springfield

Illinois Supt. of Education Robert Schiller made his pitch to state legislators Tuesday for $616 million in new money for state schools, the bulk of which would benefit property-poor districts and those with large populations of bilingual children.

Nearly every district in the state would get new funds under this proposal, according to a detailed breakdown Schiller presented to the House Appropriations Committee and e-mailed to school leaders Tuesday. Chicago schools and some large, struggling districts in the suburbs would stand to gain big money--including schools in Cicero, Carpentersville, Elgin, Aurora, Waukegan and Joliet.

The bulk of the new money would come from a $250-per-student increase in the so-called "formula level," from $4,810 to $5,060 per student.

"Raise the bottom, help to maintain and not hurt and take away from the top. That's what our goal has to be," Schiller told the committee. "We have an obligation to 2.2 million children to provide an adequate, sufficient education and, sir, we're not doing that."

There's also new money in the plan for special education, transportation, bilingual education, early education, safe school grants and the restoration of a $19 million grant for gifted programs, which was eliminated last year.

"[Schiller] is really shifting a lot of his emphasis to the child in the classroom, which is a good thing," said Supt. Edward Aksamit of Cicero District 99, which would get $7 million next year under Schiller's proposal. "Like everyone else out there, we're looking to make cuts, combining classes, cutting programs ... so any increase would be great. If we knew the money was coming we wouldn't make these drastic cuts."

But that is a very big if. The state's dire financial situation and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political battle with Schiller make it unlikely the governor will warmly embrace the superintendent's initiatives. Schiller said after the hearing that he could not predict what the governor would offer schools this month when Blagojevich presents his budget.

The superintendent's proposal would add $413 million in new general state aid, which is given to districts using a sliding scale per student based on enrollment and ability to raise property taxes. Districts with high percentages of low-income pupils also get a greater share of this aid. Thus, districts in areas with growing enrollment but declining property values would reap the most money.

Only six districts in the Chicago area, and 13 statewide, were projected to lose money. They include both school districts in Oak Park and schools in Brookfield and Western Springs--districts that have seen dramatic increases in property values. Those districts lose out not because of the nuances of Schiller's proposal but because of how property tax wealth affects the state aid formula.

The news came as a surprise to Western Springs Supt. Brian Barnhart, who was expecting his state aid to remain unchanged instead of dropping by a projected $382,000. Several factors contribute to the projected decline--a 37 percent increase in property tax values, a 68-cent property tax rate increase overwhelmingly approved by voters, steady enrollment and virtually no low-income students. He said homeowners already cover more than 80 percent of the district's costs, a figure he said would grow if state aid is cut.

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Supt. John Fagan said any state aid cuts would exacerbate a growing deficit in his district, which has seen dramatic increases in home values but was unable to benefit from it much because of tax caps. The district already is cutting $2.5 million in spending this year.

The proposed windfall for Carpentersville-based District 300, while welcome, would stop far short of solving desperate money problems in the 24-school district, which spans 14 communities in the northwest suburbs. The district expects to end this year with a $22 million deficit. Schiller's plan promises an extra $6.5 million in state aid and grants for next year.

"That obviously would help, but we still have serious concerns about the way schools are funded," said Supt. Ken Arndt. The district has cut 102 teachers, leading to class sizes that approach 30 in kindergarten and top 40 in some high school classes. If any new money were to flow to Carpentersville next year, Arndt said, his priority would be to rebuild his teaching staff and decrease class sizes.

TOP OF PAGE

Lawmakers warily eye education takeover

By Sara Hooker, Daily Herald Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD - Treading on political thin ice Tuesday, the state superintendent of schools presented a $7.1 billion education budget plan to lawmakers as the governor continues to tout plans to effectively eliminate his post and agency altogether.

Suburban lawmakers remain skeptical that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to dissect the Illinois State Board of Education to eliminate bureaucracy and government waste will benefit them in the long run. And they have their hands tied as they wait to see how the governor's proposal will affect their schools. His budget won't be unveiled until later this month.

"If some of these go through, we think we're looking at the suburbs losing," said state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican.

She said schools that she represents are concerned most about the proposal to consolidate insurance plans, as most districts self-insure at a higher standard than pooling resources would allow.

State Rep. Tim Schmitz, a Batavia Republican, said without seeing any of the plans, it looks as if swiping the board's powers and filing them under a new department headed by the governor is just another layer of bureaucracy - the governor's main reason for eliminating the board in the first place.

"It could actually increase it," Schmitz said. "If the Constitution calls for the state board of education and if he has that (department of education), in my mind I think we're increasing bureaucracy."

State Rep. Linda Chapa-LaVia, an Aurora Democrat, said teachers in her district would like a reprieve from the headaches that go along with excessive paperwork stipulated by the board, which has 1,094 pages of guidelines for personnel certification alone.

Woodstock Democrat Rep. Jack Franks also concentrated on the education uncertainty Tuesday, delivering thousands of signatures from McHenry County to the governor in hopes of scheduling a special emergency session of the General Assembly to address education funding.

The governor's press office did not return calls, but he has previously not been receptive to the idea.

Mulligan said Blagojevich's plan had better be more than just a distraction from the bigger problem.

"I hope this isn't a smokescreen," Mulligan said. "You take one of the No. 1 issues in polling of people across the state, which is children's education, and you make it be the fall guy for everything that's happening in a year and then you overlook the fact that the budget doesn't balance.

"I think it's up to him now to prove there's substance, and it's up to us to weigh each proposal and make sure it benefits the districts we represent and the whole of the state."

TOP OF PAGE

League presses for school funding shift

By Chris Lafortune, Oak Park Oak Leaves

Local public school officials shared their views on Illinois' education funding Thursday at an Oak Park-River Forest League of Women Voters lunch forum.

The state's League of Women Voters has made school funding its action focus for the next two years, and is holding similar forums across the state, said Katherine Nesburg, league specialist in school funding and fiscal policy.

The non-partisan group advocates shifting local schools' dependency from property taxes to the state income and sales taxes, and broadening the sales tax to include more services, Nesburg said.

"Income is a growing area of the economy," Nesburg said following Thursday's forum. "If you're not taxing growing areas of the economy, you have a stagnant tax collection system."

Members of the District 200, 97 and 90 school boards were panelists at the forum, telling league members how they deal with the state's education funding system.

District 200 School Board Vice President Carlotta Lucchesi said the state's tax caps require school districts to periodically seek voter approved tax increases, in order to bring in more money.

State officials have talked for 25 years about getting away from the property tax and changing education funding to better assist poor districts, Lucchesi told audience members, but have not taken action.

Although the state has increased its per-pupil funding, Lucchesi said, it has decreased grant funding, otherwise known as called categorical aid. District 200 is penalized under the change because it has a valuable tax base, she said following the forum.

"That's one of the reasons we're getting less this year," she said.

When a district's property assessments increase, District 97 Board President Adekunle Onayemi said, the state's per-pupil funding drops.

District 97 has been cutting its spending in anticipation of seeking a tax hike referendum, he said, even as its per-pupil expenses continue to rise.

"We project expenditures overall in our education fund to have a 3.5 percent increase annually," Onayemi said. But the state's property tax cap prevents districts from increasing levies by more than the consumer price index, set at 1.9 percent this year, Onayemi said.

While residents have seen home tax bills climb by as much as 50 percent in a reassessment year, that doesn't mean the schools are getting 50 percent more, he said. The reassessment hikes represent a shift of the tax burden from commercial properties to homes. Commercial property owners increasingly use assessments appeals to lower their tax bills. Homeowners have to make up the difference, he said

"A 50-percent increase to you does not mean a 50-percent increase to us," Onayemi said.

District 90 also is running a deficit in its education fund, said School Trustee Nora Anzinger, but its projected enrollment calls for fewer students in the next few years. As enrollment drops, the district will reduce staff through attrition. District 90 continues to try to offer the best education it can with the money it has, Anzinger said following Thursday's forum.

"If we're having trouble, I can only imagine how everyone else - people not in our communities and with the testing resources and finances we have - how bad it is for them," Anzinger said.

TOP OF PAGE

State superintendent: We do a 'superb' job

By Cristel Mohrman, Pioneer Press

During a visit to Barrington last week, State Superintendent Robert Schiller refuted the governor's stinging rebuke of him and the work of his office.

Schiller, who spent the day talking with Community Unit School District 220 administrators, touring schools and meeting students, said the State Board of Education is doing a "superb job" of managing education in Illinois.

But Gov. Rod Blagojevich, during his 86-minute State of the State address Jan. 15, assailed the State Board of Education as an "unwieldy monolith" and a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in need of reform.

He called on lawmakers to shift the board's administrative powers and duties to a cabinet-level department under his control.

"The Constitution of the State of Illinois established the State Board of Education. In my judgment, the governor is trying to circumvent what's required by the constitution," Schiller said.

The governor highlighted during his speech a state partnership with Tennessee's Dollywood Foundation and the Illinois Hospital Association, which would send 12 free books each year to Illinois children the first five years of their lives. The program is expected to cost about $26 million.

Schiller said he would rather see that money used for necessary, state-required programs first.

"Send the money to our schools. We have students who don't have textbooks," he said.

Despite the challenges, Schiller cited high graduation rates, SAT scores and record numbers of students taking Advanced Placement exams as proof that Illinois' education system is succeeding.

"The governor has some very good ideas, but they can't supersede what the State Board is committed to doing," he said. "All of this is about politics and power. It's not about addressing the needs of the schools."

In recent weeks, area legislators and education leaders offered varied perspectives on the governor's ideas.

"Many of the things (Blagojevich) said about the bureaucracy at the Illinois State Board of Education are true," said state Sen. Wendell Jones, R-27th. "The paperwork just to get a grant for your school is unbelievable."

Jones, who spent 24 years in the education field, said some of the governor's proposals -- banning junk food at schools and requiring 40 hours of community service from high school students -- seemed too ambitious.

"These issues should be decided at the local level by school administrators working with parents and students," Jones said. "The state does not need to micromanage local schools. Period."

Barrington resident Joyce Karon, who serves on the State Board of Education, said she has a number of concerns about the governor's plans.

"The education system should be free from the politics of whoever is in power," she said. "The schools would have a difficult time. If it's tied politically, they're going to be controlled by whatever their political agenda is."

Locally, Karon said, school officials know what their districts' needs are and have a sense of what the community wants.

Blagojevich's suggestion for a statewide health insurance plan for educators would prove harmful to school districts, she said, because competitive benefit packages help attract staff.

"School districts across the state need to have some bargaining chips to attract teachers," she said.

Karon also took exception to the governor's claim that the State Board spends only 46 cents per dollar on instruction. When the costs of guidance counselors, speech pathologists, library books, technology and teacher aides are factored, between 86 and 90 cents per dollar are spent on instruction, she said.

District 220 Superintendent Mary Herrmann declined to comment on the governor's proposals.

With her focus on the local level, she said she has limited interaction with the State Board.

State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-9th, called Schiller an "unwanted heirloom" that the Blagojevich administration inherited from his predecessor, George Ryan. The State Board, under Ryan's direction, appointed Schiller during the final months of the administration rather than work with an interim superintendent and defer the appointment to the next governor.

"People often feel more comfortable with their own hand-selected team in place," Schoenberg said.

Staff Writers Karen Berkowitz, Patrick Corcoran, Nicholas Wiselogel and Karen Shoffner contributed to this report.

TOP OF PAGE

Local educators wary of education reforms

By Korrina Grom And Angela D. Sykora, Pioneer Press

Local school officials say it's difficult to speculate what impact Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposed education reforms, including an overhaul of the Illinois State Board of Education, would have on their school districts.

During his State of the State speech, Blagojevich called on legislators to shift the administrative powers and duties of the State Board of Education to a cabinet-level department under his control. He said the plan would channel $1 billion dollars over four years from administration into classrooms.

"It was basically a pretty strong attack on the Illinois State Board of Education," said John Hunt, superintendent of Antioch District 34.

Local impact

Local educators don't yet know what these reforms would mean for their districts.

"I'm definitely concerned," said Lake Villa District 41 Superintendent Mike Anderson. "But I haven't seen the whole proposal. On the surface, if they're going to dissolve one entity and add another, that doesn't make sense," he added.

"The state board is charged with the responsibility of developing rules to enforce legislation," said Ben Martindale, superintendent of Gurnee Grade School District 56. "If there is going to be a transfer of the development of those rules, so be it. "I don't know whether that has the potential to simplify our life (though)," he said.

Anne Swanson, director of curriculum and instruction for Woodland School District 50, said "There has to be some organization in place to implement legislation."

Hunt fears that taxpayers will assume Blagojevich's proposals will bring more state money to his district.

The money that could be offered to schools, Hunt said, will be tied to specific programs rather than to the general education fund budgets of local districts.

"Won't the programs outlined by the governor in his State of the State address resolve the financial difficulties being faced by District 34? (Antioch District 34 is asking residents to approve an education fund tax rate increase in March)" Hunt wrote in a message to parents posted on the district's Internet site. "The basic answer is that the governor's proposals will do little, if anything, to address the education fund crisis being faced by the district."

Grayslake Community High School District 127 Board President Chris McClain said he would favor any plan that could provide more dollars for students in the area of instruction. He said his only concern regarding a state board overhaul is how independent a new agency would be.

"When I think of the state board, I think of an independent agency, an advocate for educational programs. Hopefully the governor will be able to achieve the same level of independence in the agency he wants to form."

Early childhood focus

Hunt and others questioned a number of the governor's proposals. Hunt said the governor's plan to increase the early childhood grant over a three-year-period would help District 34, but it wouldn't solve all of the district's financial woes.

"This voluntary grant program targets preschool children. District 34 currently participates in this program and increased dollars to serve our preschool children would be fine," he said. "However, these tax dollars would do nothing to relieve our funding in grades (kindergarten through eight)."

District administration officials are also concerned about Blagojevich's ideas on teacher certification.

Swanson said District 50 takes issue with the methods proposed for moving new teachers from their initial certification to standard certification. "The problem is there are only certain ways to do this," she said. "It's completely impractical."

New teachers can move standard certification three ways, Swanson said. The first is through a mentoring program, which Swanson said the district cannot support. "We don't have enough tenured teachers to mentor new teachers."

The second way is for teachers to earn master's degrees, which not everyone can afford. The third and most common, Swanson said, has been earning credits through the professional development unit. However, she said, teachers are now expected to earn what is called an "X-type" certification. As of yet, the state has no mechanism in place for achieving this certification.

"These are the kinds of things the state has dropped the ball on," Swanson said. "These are things that are really problematic."

More funding needed

Local educators hope something good will come of Blagojevich's proposals.

If removing or reforming the state board would put local control back in the hands of the local boards of education, said District 50 Superintendent Dennis Conti, "I'm all for it."

Former State Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee, who now serves as a superintendent for Wilmette District 39, said when he left office, his recommendation was that a department of education should be formed.

That change would not only create better accountability, it would give the state's top school administrator a place at the table in the governor's cabinet and critical access to decision-making in other areas that affects education, McGee said.

McGee disagrees, however, with one of the governor's plans to trim school expenses by mass buying of benefits such as health insurance.

The details of the governor's reform plan remain to be seen. Eliminating the State Board outright would require a constitutional amendment. McGee said the governor could accomplish many of the same goals through legislation, shifting most of the board's current responsibilities to an agency under the governor's control.

Staff Writers Karen Berkowitz and Ken Goze contributed to this article.

TOP OF PAGE

Blagojevich looks for help from lobbyists

By Matt Adrian, Quad City Times

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he wants to hire lobbyists to preserve Illinois military installations, including the Rock Island Arsenal, only weeks after he blasted the State Board of education for using lobbyists to squeeze more money out of the federal government.

In bid selections posted during the last week of January, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said it needs two lobbying firms to help navigate the U.S. Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closing review.

One advertisement seeks a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who could route more business to Arsenal Island as well as protect the interests of National Guard bases in Springfield and Peoria. The other contract specifically calls for a firm to help keep Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County near St. Louis from closing.

While Blagojevich sees hiring lobbyists as a necessary tool to save Illinois jobs, he has publicly savaged the State Board of education for hiring lobbyists to secure extra education dollars from the federal government.

Blagojevich spokesman Andrew Ross said the lobbyist contracts are part of the administration’s Opportunity Returns program to help save or retain jobs across Illinois.

“These are important economic components,” Ross said. “These people are well-versed in these issues. You need a point person to represent these military institutions that play a very important part in these economies.”

Ross pointed out that the Arsenal is the Quad Cities’ second-largest employer with 6,700 workers. Scott Air Force Base pumps more than $1 billion into its local economy and employs more than 12,000 people, he said.

News of the lobbying contracts was met with interest by the State Board of education, which is still stinging from Blagojevich’s State of the State address in which he compared the agency with a “Soviet-style bureaucracy” and called for its dissolution.

“This is particularly interesting since last year the governor gave all agencies instructions to revoke lobbyist contracts, specifically those in Washington, D.C.,” said Karen Craven, an ISBE spokeswoman. “The governor chose to eliminate those contracts. Now, for some reason, things have changed.”

In the past, Blagojevich has said state government should work with the Illinois congressional delegation, not high-powered lobbyists, to get things done inside the Beltway.

Most recently, he attacked the State Board of education for choosing to pay $240,000 for the lobbying services of the Washington, D.C.based Barbour, Griffith and Rodgers firm.

“As schools struggle to make ends meet, as kids struggle to read, as we confront the issue of teacher shortages, the State Board of education spends the people’s money on things like high-priced contracts with consulting firms, lobbying firms and public relations firms.” Blagojevich said during his January speech. “They chose lawyers and consultants and public relations experts over teachers, students and schools. What kind of priorities are those?”

Craven said the state board chose to continue working with Barbour, Griffith and Rodgers because the firm helped secure $50 million in federal funds for only a $288,000 contract in 2003.

The Illinois Board of Higher education and the Illinois Community College Board had similar contracts with the firm, but it complied with Blagojevich’s demands to end the practice.

In February 2003, Blagojevich terminated $500,000 in contracts with Washington, D.C., lobbyists for the Illinois Department of Transportation. The administration also canceled a contract with a law firm that was working for the Illinois Department of Public Aid.

TOP OF PAGE

Illinois educators blast No Child Left Behind act

By Ann McGlynn, Quad City Times

A resolution blasting the No Child Left Behind act, or NCLB,  hopefully will help encourage changes in the law, say leaders from some Illinois Quad-City area schools that have adopted the measure.

The resolution, drafted by the Illinois Association of School Administrators, calls the legislation “rhetoric, not reform.”

School districts, the resolution states, supported the act’s ideals of higher test scores, school accountability, the need for  highly qualified teachers, good attendance and graduation rates and education in a safe environment.

TOP OF PAGE

State school office fires salvo 

Blagojevich sought jobs in agency, Schiller charges

By Stephanie Banchero and Ray Long, Tribune staff reporters

Launching a vigorous counterattack on Gov. Rod Blagojevich, top state school officials said his high-profile campaign to strip them of authority was retribution for their refusal to hire job-seekers he backed and for their lobbying on behalf of increased school spending despite a budget crisis.

"It's about power. It's about politics. It's about putting people into positions," State Supt. of Education Robert Schiller charged during a meeting with the Tribune editorial board. "I am very suspect as to what is driving this."

The statements came hours after Blagojevich announced the introduction of legislation that would dismantle the quasi-independent Illinois State Board of Education and shift its duties to a new Cabinet-level Department of Education under his control. The move would largely relegate the board to a think tank.

Blagojevich lobbied about 30 legislators as he made a rare appearance in Springfield to work for passage of his takeover legislation. Flanked by the sponsors of the bill and several other lawmakers, Blagojevich resumed a theme he first sounded last month during his State of the State message when he lambasted the education agency as a "big, monolithic, unaccountable, almost arrogant entity that ignores the will of the people."

"You've got a fiefdom out there called the Illinois State Board of Education that acts as independently as the Duchy of Brandenburg did during the 30 Years War," the governor said.

Until Thursday, state board officials had attempted to fend off the governor's plan by pointing out what they said were misstatements he made in pressing the case for the agency's demise. On Thursday, however, they came out swinging.

Schiller charged that Blagojevich aides last year began mailing and faxing him more than two dozen resumes of job candidates they wanted the agency to hire even as the governor, with great fanfare, was proclaiming a state hiring freeze. Most of the resumes arrived on March 18, 2003, accompanied by a memo to Schiller from Joe Cini, director of intergovernmental affairs for the governor.

"Attached are resumes of individuals that may be interested in positions with your agency," the memo said. Twenty resumes were attached, including one for Glenn "Max" McGee, the former state superintendent of education who vacated the job in 2001 under pressure from board members.

The last resume was faxed to Schiller on Jan. 14, the day before Blagojevich ripped into the board as a bloated, wasteful "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in his State of the State speech. Schiller said the board has not hired any job candidates proposed by the Blagojevich administration.

"We are not going to hire someone who is not qualified simply because the governor's staff sent us the name," Schiller said.

But Blagojevich spokeswoman, Cheryle Jackson, said the charge was unfounded. She said the agency posted 30 positions it was looking to fill and asked Cini to send resumes.

"We sent over 20 resumes at their request," Jackson said. "For them to portray this as anything different than that is a lie."

Board spokeswoman Karen Craven said Jackson's charge was untrue.

Schiller and board member Ron Gidwitz also charged that the governor's office was incensed when the board proposed increased spending on schools both this year and last.

In January 2003, the board called on the state to spend $6.78 billion on education in the current school year, a $500 million increase from the previous year. The request came as the new Blagojevich administration scrambled to plug a multibillion dollar budget gap.

The increase Blagojevich ultimately sought amounted to about $200 million.

Last August, Schiller said, he got a hostile reception from Blagojevich budget chief John Filan when the two met to talk over more education spending issues.

"He was mad and he told me the board was arrogant to publish a budget in January, before the governor did," Schiller said, reading from notes he said he took during the meeting. "He said `You personally are responsible for making us spend more on education.'"

That rendition of events was denied by Becky Carroll, Filan's spokeswoman. She said Filan told her that "it's not like Schiller and I didn't have a few confrontations from time to time, but I never said that."

Carroll said it is a "natural part of the budget process to have a give and take and to have disagreements about funding priorities."

Schiller also charged that Filan's office asked the board to refrain from making a budget recommendation this year, but the request was ignored. The agency last month proposed $610 million in new spending on schools and was quickly attacked by Blagojevich who said the board needed to curtail its spending habits.

Board members argued that the state needs an independent board of education that can lobby on behalf of the state's schoolchildren-- a panel that is not beholden to the governor and not afraid to stand up to him.

"Does this state want a voice of advocacy that might not be politically correct, a voice that can stand up and say `this is what's in the best interest of students,' and not worry about the politics?" Schiller asked.

TOP OF PAGE

Blagojevich introduces bill to put education under governor's power 

By Kurt Erickson, Bloomington Pantagraph

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich says his plan to take control of the state's education bureaucracy eventually will produce higher test scores and fairer school funding.

But he and legislators supporting his plan acknowledged Thursday they don't know how long it will take for either of those goals to be met.

"You're asking me to start speculating on when those kinds of results can occur. It's like asking me, do I think the Cubs will sign Greg Maddux and, if so, are they going to win the division next year? I can speculate and guess, but it wouldn't be based on anything other than a lot of conjecture," said Blagojevich.

Despite the unknowns surrounding his plan, Blagojevich offered reporters the first glimpse of legislation that would shift control of education in Illinois away from the state Board of Education to a Cabinet-level agency under his direct control.

"Sooner or later, things will improve," he said. "More kids will read. Less kids will drop out of school and we'll have a better state."

State schools Superintendent Robert Schiller has said previously the plan doesn't address the biggest problem facing schools, namely the disparity in funding.

Blagojevich said the state cannot address the current funding system until his plan proves to taxpayers that schools are operating in a financially responsible manner. His plan will improve efficiency, however, he said.

"We have to get the confidence of the people back," he said. "Then, only then, are we in a position credibly to go to the taxpayers and say let's have this big, broad discussion" about changing the ways schools are funded.

The 18-page proposal, which will be introduced and debated in the General Assembly this spring, would trigger the transfer of employees from the state board to Blagojevich's department beginning July 1, 2005.

The state board would become little more than a think tank, stripped of any of its current policymaking power.

State Sen. Bill Brady is the lone Republican in the Senate co-sponsoring the Democratic governor's plan. The Bloomington real estate developer says he'd rather abolish the state Board of Education altogether, but Blagojevich's plan is a good start.

"We've got a completely dysfunctional system," said Brady, who stood by the governor as the plan was unveiled to reporters Thursday. "This is the most important issue to the state of Illinois."

State Sen. Vince Demuzio, D-Carlinville, is the primary sponsor of the legislation. He said he jumped on board the plan because its been talked about for four decades.

"This governor has thrown the gauntlet down," said Demuzio.

Blagojevich said he plans to make education more accountable to taxpayers. He also said he hopes to streamline the purchasing process to save schools money on bulk purchasing.

He estimates the change could save $1 billion over four years. The savings could be reinvested back into classrooms.

"The whole purpose of this is to reduce the bureaucracy, reduce the burden on the local school districts -- on the principals and school teachers -- to free up resources that can be better invested into the classroom," said Blagojevich.

TOP OF PAGE

Governor moves to strip power from state school board 

By Kevin McDermott, St. Louis Post Dispatch-Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched the first official assault in his battle with the Illinois State Board of Education on Thursday, announcing the filing of legislation to take away the board's oversight of Illinois schools and give it to the governor's office.

"The only way to improve education in Illinois is to bring accountability to a . . . system that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't have it," Blagojevich told reporters in his Springfield office as he reprised key points of his attack last month on the quasi-independent board as a lumbering bureaucratic "fiefdom."

"The children of Illinois are not getting the education they deserve," he said.

The board quickly fired back with a written response that accused Blagojevich of skewing data, of blaming the board for bureaucratic problems that are partly caused by the Legislature and of failing to address the real problem of lack of funding.

Blagojevich wants to create a new state Department of Education to take over the administrative and regulatory duties of the Illinois State Board of Education. Unlike the board, the new Department of Education would answer to the governor and Legislature, as other state agencies do.

Blagojevich's critics say the move is a bald attempt to grab power from the board, which was set up three decades ago as an independent entity for the express purpose of keeping politics out of education.

But the governor's supporters say the board's independence has spawned bureaucratic arrogance and inefficiency that has failed to provide quality education in Illinois' public schools.

"This guy has thrown the gauntlet down and put the force of the governor's office . . . behind this proposal," said state Sen. Vince Demuzio, D-Carlinville, who co-sponsored the bill filed Thursday.

Demuzio, a longtime critic of the board, predicted the legislation will spark "the biggest debate on public education since the 1970 (Illinois) Constitution."

Demuzio, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, and other legislators joined Blagojevich in his office to announce the legislation, expected to be filed by this morning. It is the first of a series of bills which, if approved, will create the new department and put it in charge of most of the duties currently conducted by the State Board.

Blagojevich last month stunned Illinois' political and educational communities by dedicating his entire annual State of the State speech to a searing attack on the board for its alleged educational and financial failures. Comparing the board to "a Soviet-style bureaucracy" and "the Berlin Wall," Blagojevich, a Democrat, called on lawmakers to gut the entity and give its powers to a new state agency that would answer to him and the Legislature.

The board was created by the 1970 Illinois Constitution to oversee funding and regulation of public school districts. Originally envisioned as an elected body, it evolved into a system of appointed board members - with terms that straddle those of governors, meaning a governor generally will spend most of his time in office dealing with state school board members that were appointed by his predecessor.

Critics have long alleged the board is a wasteful layer of bureaucracy that doesn't answer directly to any elected body, even though it spends state tax funds. Blagojevich has predicted the new education department could function on 80 percent of the current board's budget, and with 60 percent of the staff, for an annual saving of about $1 billion.

Board members aren't paid. But state Education Superintedent Robert Schiller - who was appointed by the board members - makes $225,000 annually, about $75,000 more than Blagojevich's $150,691 salary as governor. And the State Board's nine highest-paid employees earn an average of $122,000 each.

As Blagojevich has stumped around the state in the past few weeks whipping up public support for his proposal, leaders of the State Board have been fighting back with claims of misleading information from the governor's office.

TOP OF PAGE

Governor unveils reform blueprint for Illinois schools 

'Greater accountability needed'

By Adriana Colindres, Copley News Service, Peoria Journal-Star

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday formally presented the proposal that he says would spur greater accountability in the state's educational system, but he would not speculate on when it could start yielding results.

The legislation, House Bill 5001, would largely gut the State Board of Education, transferring its administrative duties to a new state Department of Education under the governor's control.

Blagojevich initially discussed the plan in his State of the State speech last month. If enacted into law, most of its provisions would take effect July 1, 2005.

"The only way to really improve our schools is to take responsibility for our schools," the governor said Thursday at a Statehouse news conference, where he was joined by 10 lawmakers who support the legislation. "We believe this is necessary, and we're going to fight hard to get this done.

"The ultimate goal here is to build a system that ultimately will teach our kids better, which will ultimately lead to better test scores," Blagojevich said.

But he said he could not predict when those results might become evident.

"It's like asking me, do I think the Cubs are going to sign (free agent baseball pitcher) Greg Maddux, and if so, are they going to win their division next year," Blagojevich added. "I can speculate and guess, but it wouldn't really be based on anything other than a lot of conjecture.

"If we're given the opportunity to bring these changes, I'm not promising overnight miracles when it comes to reading scores and dropout rates and other performance measures," he said. "What I am promising is that we're going to reduce bureaucracy, we're going to be more efficient with the taxpayer money, we're going to build accountability into the system."

"Sooner or later," he said, the result will be "a better state" with fewer high school dropouts and better readers.

But in a written statement, state school Superintendent Robert Schiller said Blagojevich's proposal "does not address the day-to-day demands of educating Illinois' more than 2 million students in our 4,000 schools."

Blagojevich said that restructuring the educational system is meant to direct more tax dollars to where they are most needed, which is classroom instruction.

He repeated an earlier assertion that only about 46 cents of every education dollar goes toward classroom instruction. Blagojevich said if his proposal becomes law, he hopes that figure will rise at least to the national average of 53 cents for every dollar spent on education.

"Frankly, we'd like to do the best we can possibly (do)," he said. "There is no single number. But we know that 46 cents on the dollar ... is not nearly enough, and it's a result of inefficiency."

Before dealing with the statewide problem of school funding disparity, state government must prove to taxpayers that it can be responsible with existing education dollars, Blagojevich said.

"Only then are we in a position, credibly, to go to the taxpayers and say: Let's have this big broad discussion," he said, declining to specify when that might happen.

Among the lawmakers who appeared with Blagojevich were Sens. Vince Demuzion, D-Carlinville, Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, Pat Welch, D-Perue, and Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton.

Legislation on Blagojevich's other education-related initiatives is expected to surface in the next several days. Those proposals include mandatory community service for high school students and a ban on selling junk food in schools.

TOP OF PAGE

State school superintendent fires back at Gov. Blagojevich 

Associated Press, Belleville News-Democrat

CHICAGO - The head of the state's Board of Education has launched an aggressive defense of his agency, saying Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to strip the board of its power because it did not hire jobseekers he backed and asked for more money during a budget crisis.

"It's about power. It's about politics. It's about putting people into positions," Supt. Robert Schiller said during a meeting with the Chicago Tribune editorial board. "I am very suspect as to what is driving this."

Schiller commented hours after a high-profile sales pitch Thursday by Blagojevich in Springfield. The governor wants to replace the board with a Department of Education that would report directly to his office.

Blagojevich aides last year began sending more than two dozen resumes of job candidates they wanted the agency to hire at the same time the state proclaimed a hiring freeze, Schiller said.

Schiller said the board has not hired any of the job candidates recommended by the Blagojevich administration.

"We are not going to hire someone who is not qualified simply because the governor's staff sent us the name," Schiller said.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Cheryle Jackson said the administration simply responded to a posting of 30 positions by the agency.

"We sent over 20 resumes at their request," Jackson said. "For them to portray this as anything different than that is a lie."

The board also angered the governor's office when it proposed spending more money on schools despite a multibillion dollar budget gap, said Schiller and board member Ron Gidwitz.

Schiller said he and Budget Director John Filan had a contentious meeting last August over education spending.

"He (Filan) was mad and he told me the board was arrogant to publish a budget in January, before the governor did," Schiller said. "He said, 'You personally are responsible for making us spend more on education.'"

The legislation Blagojevich offered would strip the current board of all its current duties except one - the constitutionally mandated job of choosing the state's chief educational officer. But the board and that education chief would become a "think tank" to advise the governor's Education Department and the person he appoints to run it.

Blagojevich rejected the idea of letting the public vote this fall on a constitutional amendment to eliminate the board. He said it is urgent that lawmakers act this spring on his proposal so a new Education Department can be created quickly.

TOP OF PAGE

Senator's bill asks: Is governor driving jobs from Springfield? 

By Kurt Erickson, Pantagraph

SPRINGFIELD -- A Republican state senator from Springfield has introduced legislation aimed at answering whether Gov. Rod Blagojevich truly has triggered an exodus of state jobs from the capital city.

State Sen. Larry Bomke said Wednesday he fears the governor has been shifting more state jobs to Chicago, which could result in a economic downturn in the city he represents.

"There is a definite public perception that state government is moving to Chicago," said Bomke. "I constantly get questions from constituents about the empty governor's mansion, the loss of state jobs and the new power base in Chicago."

Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, does not live in Springfield and uses Chicago as his base of operations.

A Blagojevich spokeswoman said the governor had not reviewed the legislation and had not taken a position on the issue.

Bomke's legislation, if approved, could result in a more concise list of where state workers live and work. Currently, those records are spread across nearly two dozen state agencies.

"My constituents have a right to know if they are losing jobs to the Chicago area," Bomke said.

A preliminary count by Bomke found about 70 state jobs have been moved out of Springfield to Chicago since the governor took office.

The senator acknowledged Wednesday that his plan has little chance of being approved in the Democrat-controlled Senate and House.

Blagojevich said Thursday that he does not intend to shift jobs away from Springfield if his plan to abolish the Illinois State Board of Education is approved this spring.

Rather, the hundreds of workers at the state board would remain in Springfield and merely be shifted into a department under the governor.

Bomke's legislation is Senate Bill 2450.

TOP OF PAGE

Education overhaul plan released

Blagojevich introduces legislation to create department to take place of ed board

By Linda Lutton, Daily Southtown Staff Writer, February 6, 2004

Flanked by lawmakers from both parties, Gov. Rod Blagojevich unveiled legislation Thursday that would dismantle the Illinois State Board of Education and create a department of education under his direct control.

Blagojevich promised that creating the department would raise student test scores, lower dropout rates and increase the percentage of education dollars directed toward classroom instruction.

But he refused to say when those things would happen.

"The children in Illinois are not getting the education they deserve," Blagojevich said. "Fundamental change is needed if we really want to improve our schools."

Blagojevich has said streamlining the state's education administration will free money for instruction.

If passed, beginning July 1, 2005, the legislation would move all duties of the state board of education and the state superintendent to a new Department of Education headed by a gubernatorial appointee.

Starting this summer, the state board and the state superintendent would have to consult with a "transition team" designated by the governor before doing almost anything. Later, they would become a "think tank," researching educating practices and reporting their findings to the new department.

Blagojevich said reforming the system was too urgent to try to affect the change through a constitutional amendment.

Rep. Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox), minority spokeswoman for the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and the bill's only south suburban sponsor thus far, said the bill taps into a deep frustration lawmakers have with the state board.

Kosel cited teacher certification legislation state lawmakers passed that the state board translated into "over 100 pages of forms (teachers) fill out."

Blagojevich will introduce eight additional pieces of legislation to round out the education plan he laid out in his State of the State address. Those bills will likely create dropout prevention programs, put reading specialists in struggling schools and send one book per month to every child in the state until they are 5 years old, among other things.

Blagojevich said funding reform, while needed, would have to wait.

"I don't believe we are in a position to … start having this big discussion about how we fund schools before we first show (taxpayers) that we can be responsible for the money they're already paying."

In a statement, state schools Supt. Robert Schiller said Blagojevich's proposal "does not address the day-to-day demands of educating Illinois' more than 2 million students in our 4,000 schools."

Dawn Clark Netsch, a member of the 1970 constitutional convention that created the state board of education, said there were pros and cons to the governor's proposal.

"You don't want education to become part of politics in the ugly partisan sense. But you certainly want elected officials to be accountable for education," she said.

Netsch said she doubts that changing the governance structure will make much of a difference for the state's schoolchildren.

"Whether there's a state department of education or a state board of education, that is not going to make a difference in the world in terms of whether kids can read, whether they write or whether they stay in school."

TOP OF PAGE

Social promotions and 'gotcha' school politics

Peoria Journal Star, February 6, 2004

On the face of it, Peoria School District 150's one-year, 91 percent drop in the number of children who repeat a grade is reason enough for the regional superintendent to investigate whether social promotion is being practiced locally.

State law and School Board policy are quite clear: passing a child along to the next grade even if he hasn't made satisfactory academic progress is a no-no. We are not presuming guilt or innocence here. But when 552 students are held back a grade in 2001-02 and just 47 the following year, it's obvious there has been a change in policy, or at least a change in the implementation of it. Maybe 552 students was high. Maybe 47 is just about right. District 150 should welcome Regional Superintendent Gerald Brookhart's clarification of the matter.

More intriguing, and in some ways more disturbing, is the backdrop to all this.

School Board member Sean Matheson used Monday's board meeting to say he's acquired evidence that shows students are being promoted who shouldn't be - 20 of them at Manual High School alone who he says skipped eighth grade entirely. Some didn't finish seventh grade, either, he claims.

Superintendent Kay Royster denied that any laws are being violated, suggested they were before she arrived, and asked to see Matheson's documentation before he went to Brookhart with it.

As the district's CEO, Royster is entitled to that information. Matheson could have and perhaps should have provided her with such prior to going public with it. Problem is, a lot of mistrust - bad blood, if you will - has been built up between Royster and some members of the School Board. That has led to some of the "gotcha" politics that other board members allege we're seeing now.

To be sure, Royster & Co. have earned some of that. Their performance on the 2004 budget was abysmal, their communications with the board and public often quite misleading. They do themselves no favors here, either, when they pretend "there's no way for the students to be tracked" regarding these allegations. Come now, a simple call to principals would reveal who, how many and what the circumstances of these kids are. We've been hearing anecdotal allegations of social promotion in District 150 for more than a year now.

That said, we also think "gotcha" politics, while perhaps a reflection of frustration with Royster's administration, are counterproductive to everyone's goals. Ultimately, Peorians should want the grown-ups here to act like grown-ups, to play fair with one another, in the best interest of the kids all of them profess to serve. It will end badly for all involved if they don't.

Ultimately, no matter the straightforwardness of state law regarding social promotion, this is a very gray area. On the one hand, no one should like the idea of passing students who don't deserve it. Once kids realize they don't have to do any work to be promoted, trust us, they'll exploit that. On the other hand, no one should want a 15-year-old sitting in a fifth grade class, either. It's good to hear board members talking about a "transitional center," or alternative setting for students caught in between academic failure and the temptation to move them along with their peers.

Beyond that, with the personalities involved, it's easy to overlook the central issue: there are still way too many Peoria youngsters not getting the job done in the classroom, and that imperils not only their tomorrows but the future of this community, as well. We all must work together to address that.

TOP OF PAGE

===========================================================================

NATIONAL

No Child Left Behind may be ousted from Utah

By Chris Diggins, BYU NewsNet Staff Writer

In a move that could cost Utah schools $103 million in federal funding, the Utah House Public Education Committee voted unanimously Thursday, Jan. 29, to exempt Utah from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The bill now moves to the full legislature for a vote to decide if Utah will reject the program.

The No Child Left Behind Act, a national education program supported by President George W. Bush, emphasizes testing and accountability for schools based on student performance. Those who oppose the program say implementing the programs' standards will punish entire schools for the poor performance of a few students.

"Our biggest frustration with No Child Left Behind is that it is full of negative reinforcement," said Patti Harrington, an associate state superintendent in charge of student achievement, in an interview with the Associated Press. "It seems like it is looking for students to fail, like a vulture circling for prey."

Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the program isn't about punishment, but about accountability and properly educating each child.

"That's why we spend millions and millions of dollars on public education," Webb said. "Because we want to be sure a child can read and do math on grade level. When states and school districts and schools don't want to be held accountable, what does that say to a kid? 'We don't think you can do it.'"

As part of No Child Left Behind, students in grades three through eight are tested each year for their proficiency in reading and math. Schools are then evaluated based on those tests and the results are given to parents as a "report card" of the school.

In this evaluation parents can see how their child's school compares to other local schools. Schools that perform poorly will be asked to use federal funds to fix their deficiencies. Parents will also have the option to transfer their children away from schools with a history of poor performance.

"The act itself is good; the devil is in the details," said Randy Ripplinger, director of Public Communications for the Granite School District in Salt Lake County. "We find that the [No Child Left Behind] implementation is very intrusive to a lot of schools and districts."

If a state chooses to opt out of the program, it will no longer receive any education funding from the federal government, Webb said.

Utah legislators haven't figured out exactly how much withdrawing from the federal program would cost, but legislative analysts estimate the figure to be $103 million or more.

"If it [No Child Left Behind] goes away, we are afraid that they [the federal government] will say, 'If you're not going to live up to our mandates, you're not going to get any federal dollars for your schools,'" Ripplinger said. "The problem with that attitude is that it will hurt the students we're trying to help the most."

However, implementing the program could prove to be even more costly. The No Child Left Behind program requires additional after-school programs, tutoring and remedial classes to help under-achieving students meet the standard. The program also requires comprehensive testing for both students and schools. Putting this program in place could cost Utah $200 to $600 million.

Gov. Olene Walker voiced some of her concerns about No Child Left Behind in her monthly televised news conference.

"Right at this point there's been a suggestion that if we opted out that we would lose all of our Title 1 funds, which would be $103 million," Walker said. "We cannot afford to lose that amount of money in our public education system. But I am willing to work with them to make certain that the requirements are something that the state of Utah can live with, and we will do everything we can to see that that happens."

TOP OF PAGE

Bill seeks scrutiny of school law expenses

Sen. Michael Brennan speaks in support of his bill to have Maine examine the cost of dropping out of the No Child Left Behind program. 

By Tom Bell, Portland Press Herald Writer

AUGUSTAThe cost of complying with the No Child Left Behind Act may eventually outpace the flow of federal education money to Maine, leaving taxpayers to pay the cost, Education Commissioner Sue Gendron said Tuesday.

Gendron appeared at a legislative hearing to support a bill that would require her department to study the cost and benefits if Maine were to opt out of President Bush's sweeping education-reform legislation. She said the state should also study the initiative's long-term cost, which is expected to increase over time as more schools are identified as needing help.

"There are significant costs, I believe, in staying in the program," Gendron said.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, also would prohibit the state Education Department from using state funds to implement the policies of the federal law.

Brennan said the bill would supply the facts the state would need to sue the federal government on grounds that No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate. He said the law is an intrusion into state and local control of education.

"I think the law is unnecessary for the state of Maine," he said.

But it appears No Child Left Behind has become a partisan issue in this election year. Brennan's bill has no Republican co-sponsors, and the questions posed Tuesday by several Republicans on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee indicated they would not support it.

Rep. Tom Murphy, R-Kennebunk, said in an interview that Maine should implement No Child Left Behind and work with the state's congressional delegation to fix any flaws.

"It is the law of the land," he said, "and we have to do the best we can with it."

Among New England states, Maine has taken the most aggressive stance in opposition to the law, said Michael Sentance, the region's top federal education official. If the Legislature approves Brennan's bill, Maine will join a small group of states that have called for similar studies, including Ohio and Utah.

If Maine does not implement the law, Sentance said, it will lose $93 million in federal funds this year.

He said Congress has given Maine enough money to implement No Child Left Behind. It's unclear, he said, what the law's financial impact will be in the future. He described Gendron's desire to get a handle on those costs as a "fair question."

Congress has substantially boosted federal funds to Maine in recent years. Title 1 grants, for example, increased from $25 million in 1996 to $48 million in 2003. Special education funds increased from $13 million in 1996 to $43 million in 2003.

Although Gendron said she supports the intent of the federal legislation, which is to improve the performance of the nation's poor and minority children, the law is interfering with Maine's own standards-based initiative, Learning Results.

The two initiatives are fundamentally different, she said. As a result, the public has become confused and many teachers are discouraged.

Sentance said the federal law and Learning Results are compatible because they both work to establish standards-based education.

Rory Holland, an African-American resident of Biddeford, said the federal law attempts to reform a system that for generations benefited teachers unions while it allowed poor children and minorities to fail.

"Because nobody tested, nobody checked," he told the committee, "and nobody cared."

Maine Education Association President Rob Walker said federal lawmakers created a system in which a large number of schools are guaranteed to fail.

"The strings attached to No Child Left Behind are like chains that are dragging us down," he said.

TOP OF PAGE

School official opts to keep `evolution' 

Items compiled from Tribune news services, February 6, 2004

ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- The thinking of Georgia's top school official apparently has evolved.

School Supt. Kathy Cox dropped plans Thursday to remove the word "evolution" from Georgia's high school science curriculum, six days after the idea became public and drew criticism and ridicule.

"I want you to know today that I will recommend to the teacher teams that the word `evolution' be put back in the curriculum," she said.

Cox, a Republican elected in 2002, said she originally wanted to replace "evolution" with the phrase "biological changes over time" to avoid controversy. "Instead, a greater controversy ensued," she said.

Among those who had criticized the idea were former President Jimmy Carter and Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Cox did not return calls seeking further comment.

TOP OF PAGE

'No Child' rebellion picking up momentum  

By Ronnie Lynn, Salt Lake Tribune

Opposition to President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law is gaining traction, and Republicans -- even in GOP strongholds such as Utah -- are among those digging in deepest.

The schism sets the stage for an unusual confrontation between administration officials and Utah legislators, who have taken the strongest action to date against the education-reform law that the president touts as one of his top domestic accomplishments.

A Utah House committee last week unanimously advanced a bill sponsored by Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, to opt out of the law and forfeit at least $103 million it provides for programs and services that target disadvantaged students. House Bill 43 probably won't be debated on the floor until after a meeting Friday between lawmakers and officials from the U.S. Department of Education.

Utah isn't alone.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Indiana, Virginia, Wisconsin and Vermont have joined Democratic counterparts in a handful of other states in launching measures that oppose provisions of the 2-year-old law.

Some observers say the bipartisan backlash could spell trouble for Bush this November.

"The president thought this bill would help him with his re-election, but I believe he gained maximum credit on this bill on the day he signed it," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank. "Now that we're into implementing a lofty law with difficult provisions, he will not get the credit he hoped to get, and, in fact, he might be tarnished by the controversies."

Beltway Republicans, meanwhile, say the rebellion in the states is directed at the U.S. Department of Education, not Bush. Department officials interpreted the law too narrowly when they developed guidelines for state implementation, said U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.

"The department has the flexibility to take care of states like Utah. We need the bureaucrats to figure out Utah does a pretty good job and we want to do it our way," he said. "It's also clear the White House does not want the state that had [one of] the largest margins for Bush [in the 2000 election] backing out on a program."

A Utah political scientist says the state measures do target Bush -- at least partly.

"This is one of those issues where there's a tension between what a party would like to do and what its ideological roots are," said Kelly Patterson, an associate professor and head of Brigham Young University's political science department. "Local control. That's the rub. He had to show national leadership, and that means treading on states."

Dayton and Utah Republican leaders have taken the unusual step of refusing to discuss HB43 publicly until after their meeting Friday with federal officials. Dayton has said the law's federal intrusion, unrealistic expectations and potential drain on state school funds prompted her to sponsor the legislation.

Congress passed the law with bipartisan support in 2001, but many Democrats -- including presidential candidates John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina -- have softened their endorsements after seeing how the law has affected schools. Both say schools need more federal funding to carry out the mandates.

A Kerry spokesman said Wednesday that the Democratic front-runner would reform the law to include more money and "assure schools focus on teaching to high standards and not drill-and-kill test prep."

States, districts and schools have been complaining about the law's strict testing requirements since the Education Department began issuing its guidelines. Even so, the Bush administration has resisted pleas to amend the law or its guidelines.

"Some want to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards and accountability," said Bush in last month's State of the Union speech. "Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense. We expect third-graders to read and do math at the third-grade level, and that's not asking too much."

McKell Withers, superintendent of Salt Lake City schools, likened HB43 to a game of chicken, and he had some advice for Utah lawmakers: Swerve -- because Washington won't.

"There is a legend [at the Legislature] that if you time this just right you can opt out but not lose any funding," Withers said. "But I doubt [the federal government] is going to say, 'We thank you for making this a huge political issue, we accept your apology and here's your money.' "

TOP OF PAGE

School plan ties incentives to nutrition 

Agriculture secretary will ask for funds to fight youth obesity

Associated Press

AUSTIN -- With the Legislature possibly convening soon to address education funding, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs is looking to get schools that battle childhood obesity a slice of the money pie.

Combs says she is working on a plan that would reward schools up to $30 per pupil if the school meets certain nutrition and physical education standards. Details are being worked out, but Combs said she is talking with legislative leaders and the governor to get input and hopes to have a proposal together by March 1.

Gov. Rick Perry is expected to call a special legislative session, perhaps in April, to change the state's share-the-wealth school finance system. Perry has said he wants to see a legislative consensus emerge over how to replace the existing funding system before ordering a special session.

Perry, a Republican like Combs, has been traveling the state talking up his proposed academic achievement-based financial incentives for schools. Part of his $500 million plan, for instance, would give schools $100 more per student for each year he or she advances in high school if the student passes the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS test.

Combs' idea is to provide similar money incentives but to connect them with verifiable nutrition and physical fitness standards. The additional money per student might go to schools where a cafeteria works on nutrition education or where students show an average improvement in a physical activity such as running a quarter-mile, she said.

Tentatively, Combs is talking about $30 more per high school student, $25 per middle school student and $20 per elementary school student. The total cost could be $12 million, she said.

"It's a very preliminary set of numbers," Combs said. "This is meant to be a very positive incentive for schools."

Texas' per-pupil school funding rate was $6,913 in 2002, according to the Texas Education Agency.

For more than a year now, Combs has been speaking out against childhood obesity and in favor of good nutrition. Last summer, the Texas Department of Agriculture she oversees took over administering the federally funded child school nutrition program from the Texas Education Agency.

Then she issued a new policy banning the sale or distribution of "foods of minimal nutritional value" like sodas, candy and gum during the school day at elementary schools. The ban includes middle school lunches but doesn't apply to high schools.

TOP OF PAGE

 

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777