ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – February 13 - 20, 2004



Blagojevich, school leaders in tug of wills / Sun Times
Funding of 'No Child' law a big concern / Pantagraph
40 service hours too much, schools say / Daily Southtown
Real issue for schools is money / Daily Southtown
Keep politics out of education / Belleville News-Democrat
Referendums near record level / Joliet Herald News
Report: Latino students founder / Chicago Tribune
No Child Left Behind law gets mixed reviews from Illinois educators / Fox News
Teachers answer the call to duty / Chicago Tribune
Blagojevich Reinvents the Wheel / Washington Dispatch
Netsch plan may catch on yet / Sun Times
Governor wants lawmakers to help decide school spending / Belleville News-Democrat
School officials doubt soda ban would improve students' health / Olney Daily Mail
School board to vote on extracurriculars ban for home-schoolers / Journal Gazette & Times-Courier  
Officials wary of budget plan / Champaign News-Gazette
Kewanee School Board has no use for No Child Left Behind / Kewanee Star Courier
Blagojevich digging deep into bag of budget tricks / Pantagraph
Bright spots tough to find in budget / Quincy Herald-Whig
What to cheer, jeer in budget speech / Daily Herald
Educators mixed on Blagojevich speech / Courier News
Budget's promises greeted with doubt / Northwest Herald
Better state government starts with education finance reform / Courier News
What does a school board actually do? / Sun Pulications
Education chief defends 'No Child Left Behind' / Newhouse News Service
No Child Left Behind: Leaving States Cold / Time Magazine
Teachers crucial, first lady says / Chicago Tribune
Parents support theory, not practice of leaving no child behind / Times & Democrat (MA)
Republicans Praise NCLB Policy Giving Schools Flexibility on Students with Language Barriers / U.S. Newswire
NCTAF News Digest for February 19, 2004

Blagojevich, school leaders in tug of wills
Battle for authority over Illinois' education system a year in the making
By Stephanie Banchero and Ray Long, Tribune staff reporters, February 16, 2004

In the year since Rod Blagojevich took office, the Illinois governor had not had a meaningful conversation with state Supt. of Education Robert Schiller. The governor never responded when Schiller asked to talk, and a miffed Schiller avoided Blagojevich's designated education czar.

So Schiller should hardly have been surprised last month when Blagojevich used his State of the State address to lob a grenade at the state's education bureaucracy. Even so, the school chief was stunned by Blagojevich's unbridled contempt.

The board, Blagojevich charged in an attack that consumed more than half of his 84-minute speech, was a bloated, inefficient "Soviet-style bureaucracy" that undermined educational progress and deserved evisceration.

And so was born a caustic turf battle over control of the state's multibillion dollar education machinery that will consume the legislature in coming months. And it will figure prominently in Blagojevich's annual budget speech Wednesday as he lays out spending priorities for the next year, of which education consumes the most state tax dollars.

Blagojevich says his request to take direct control of schools is motivated by a desire to improve accountability and efficiency in education and redirect more money to classroom spending. But there is far more to the story than that.

Interviews with dozens of officials from the State Board of Education and the administration, as well as key lawmakers, reveals a collision course in the making for more than a year that was driven by petty slights, personal animosities and competing egos.

Blagojevich cut the board's budget; the board did an end run around the governor and got the legislature to restore some of the money. The board prodded Blagojevich to spend more on education than he was prepared to spend in the midst of a budget crisis. The governor hired a fired board lobbyist to be his top education aide and demoted the board's Republican chairman by sending him a fax.

Instead of working together to fix a long list of problems in public education, the governor and school bureaucrats acted like spoiled members of rival playground cliques, charged Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

"They all should be sent to the principal's office," del Valle said.

Some of the tension between the governor and the board is by design. Illinois governors appoint the board's nine members, but the panel was established in the state constitution as an independent agency that does not answer to the governor. The purpose was to insulate the administration of education from politics.

The arrangement creates a predicament for Blagojevich just as it has for many of his predecessors, several of whom also contemplated gutting the board. Governors have to come up with billions of dollars a year in school spending, but then the board oversees the money.

All of the board's current members were in place when Blagojevich took office. One slot has been open for months, and he has failed to fill it. In addition to overseeing an $8 billion annual budget, the board sets broad educational policies on student testing, teacher certification and curriculum matters. It also hires the superintendent.

The relationship between the board and the administration got off to a bad start when board members hired Schiller in 2002 even though Blagojevich, then a candidate for governor, suggested they should wait until after the election to allow the winner some input.

Last February, only one month after Blagojevich took office, the education agency openly defied him by refusing his demand to cancel a $240,000 contract with a Washington lobbying firm run by a prominent Republican. The governor said it was a waste of money. The board said it brought back $5 million for schools.

"The easy thing would have been to simply roll over and do what the governor told us to do," said board member Greg Kazarian. "But we weren't about to do that ... and we took heavy political heat because of it."

In March, Blagojevich made public a list of state workers he claimed had "gamed the system" by accumulating thousands of dollars in unused vacation and sick days, including a much-admired board employee who had recently died of cancer. Asked at a news conference whether that might seem disrespectful, Blagojevich responded with a flip comment about how she should have taken more vacation days.

`Band-Aid on bullet wounds'

Tensions were further strained in April when the governor presented his budget, which called for boosting elementary and secondary education spending by about $200 million. Blagojevich sought praise for increasing school spending in tough economic times. But Republican Ronald Gidwitz, then the board's chairman, called the proposal "a Band-Aid on bullet wounds."

Gidwitz's comments incensed the administration.

"What is irritating about Schiller and Gidwitz is all they talk about is funding, saying, `Oh, poor schools, we need more money,'" said Brenda Holmes, Blagojevich's deputy governor for education. "Well, fine, get out there and tell us how we are going to find this money."

A week later, the governor's office faxed Gidwitz a letter replacing him as chairman. Janet Steiner, a board member and a Democrat, was elevated to the position. She said she found out about her promotion by reading it in a newspaper.

As the budget battles raged, the board and the administration butted heads over personnel. The governor instituted a hiring freeze across all state agencies and asked the board to abide by it. Even so, his staff sent Schiller more than two dozen resumes of "individuals that may be interested in a position" with the agency. The board declined to hire any of them.

With tensions running high, the governor's staff launched a series of internal meetings in June to develop a major education policy initiative. Quarterbacked by Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk, the meetings included Blagojevich allies, Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) and a variety of Cabinet officials, including budget chief John Filan.

Absent from the discussions was Schiller or any member of the board.

"We wanted to do something that was fundamental and meaningful, something that could improve education and went beyond single issues," Tusk said.

In August, Blagojevich hired Holmes, who worked for the board for 13 years before being fired in 2000. Neither side would say what led to her termination, but Holmes had tangled with Gidwitz in her role as an agency lobbyist.

Holmes met with board officials a few times during the summer, but both sides acknowledge a strained relationship.

When Schiller had major education issues to discuss, he wanted to talk to the governor, not Holmes. Holmes, on the other hand, rarely spoke to board officials and did not attend board meetings, where critical education decisions were being made.

"The bottom line is this man [Schiller] has not called me," Holmes said. "If he had been willing to discuss things with me, he might have had a better chance getting to the governor."

Schiller counters that if Blagojevich truly cared about public education, he would have made time to meet with the agency that oversees schools.

"On behalf of the state board, I am their spokesman, and I should have access and be able to communicate with whomever I need to communicate with, whether it's Filan, Tusk or the governor," Schiller said. "You can't be on the team if you are not in the dugout."

As the two sides spent the summer freezing each other out, Blagojevich used his veto pen to slash $21 million from the state board budget.

In response, the board eliminated a program that oversees private business and vocational schools and one that monitors some non-public schools. The board also doubled fees for high school equivalency tests and closed a teacher certification office in Chicago.

Board members publicly blamed the governor for forcing their actions, triggering an angry response from the administration.

"They could have shifted their priorities and made cuts that were less harmful to students, but they refused to make the tough decisions that every other agency was making," said Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the governor's budget office. "They made it clear to us in the beginning that they were not going to play ball."

As relations continued to splinter, the agency was barraged with bad press. Release of the annual School Report Cards, which analyze test scores and spending by districts, were repeatedly delayed after a board contractor failed to deliver the data on time. When released, the report cards were riddled with errors.

In October, the board was blasted by teachers and lawmakers after the agency disclosed that it had not approved training and mentoring programs that educators need to continue teaching, leaving 7,000 in the lurch.

Such problems helped convince the governor's education task force that just pouring more money into schools would not improve education as long as the board controlled it.

"As we look at it further, all points led to the State Board of Education," said Hoffman. "What's driving it is the abysmal failure of the state board. ... It's like a bad movie."

Prodding the governor to seek dramatic change were the state's teachers unions, who gave his campaign more than $1.2 million--the largest amount from any special interest bloc.

The Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers have had a prickly relationship with the board for years. But the bitterness deepened further as the board began ratcheting up teacher licensing requirements.

The two sides also have been at loggerheads over control of the Illinois Teacher Certification Board, the 19-member panel that advises the board on teacher licensing issues. The unions want an independent board, something the governor proposed last month during his attack on the education agency.

Another source of tension between the agency and the board was what board leaders contend was Filan's attempt to steer leaders of the state teacher pension fund toward more conservative investment strategies. The Teachers' Retirement System, whose president is Schiller, stuck with its own strategy.

An analysis by the retirement system showed it pulled in $507 million during the first six months of this fiscal year, an 11.7 percent return on investment.

The retirement system estimated that following what it interpreted as Filan's more conservative investment strategy would have yielded about $53 million, a 1.2 percent return.

The animosity reached a crescendo during a November meeting between Holmes, Schiller and Steiner.

Holmes was irritated about a flood of complaints her office received over the board's decision to cut programs and hike fees in response to the governor's budget reductions. Holmes told board leaders she could save the programs by transferring them to other state agencies.

But Schiller and Steiner declined. A few days later they persuaded lawmakers to restore the funding.

"We gave the state board some time to come around to our point of view, and we were a bit surprised they rejected our suggestions," Holmes said. "It was becoming clear to us that they were not going to cooperate with us on anything."

Loophole to squelch panel

Blagojevich's inner circle considered seeking a constitutional amendment, a cumbersome and less than surefire process. Then, on a Saturday morning in December, Hoffman was surfing the Internet in his Collinsville office when he called up the state constitution and determined it contained a loophole that would let the governor seek legislation to strip the board of virtually all its powers.

Hoffman contacted Tusk, and the move to usurp the board gained momentum. "In mid- to late December, Rod decided to pull the trigger," Tusk said.

A few weeks later, Holmes met with union officials to go over the plan.

"They were part of the governor's campaign, and we wanted some feedback," Holmes said.

At about the same time, Schiller said he was repeatedly trying to schedule a meeting with Blagojevich.

"There was nothing but silence on the other end," Schiller said. "In hindsight, I guess he didn't want to meet with me because he didn't want to tell me to my face what he was planning to do with the board."


Funding of 'No Child' law a big concern
By John O'Connor, Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Drop a new federal law with sweeping mandates into a state already struggling with a budget shortfall and an ongoing debate over school funding and you have a surefire recipe for uncertainty.

The federal No Child Left Behind law, signed in 2002, requires all public school students to perform at least at grade level in math and reading by 2014. It also beefs up educational requirements for teachers and aides, and penalizes schools that do not perform well enough on standardized math and reading tests.

At least 36 states have studied what financial effect the federal act will have on them. Illinois is not one of them. It's too difficult to forecast what schools will need to do to implement the law, said State Board of Education spokeswoman Karen Craven.

The federal government insists it is providing enough money to the states to pay for whatever needs to be done to meet the requirements of the law.

Local school districts aren't so sure.

"In order to beef up programs and do the things you need to do, everybody's scrambling, trying to figure out what will work and what won't work," said Judy Lane, educational services director in Ball-Chatham School District 5, just south of Springfield.

Lawmakers for years have struggled over ending a school-finance system that many consider relies too much on local property taxes, creating a fiscal gulf between property-rich suburban areas and landlocked urban and poorer downstate areas.

Add to that the economic downturn and the budget crisis that continues to haunt Illinois and its schools, and it's no wonder school districts are apprehensive about what the law might cost.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich boasted "new money" for schools last year, but Effingham School District 40 Superintendent Donald Roberts said, "They took it from other places. We actually lost. ... Some of the grants we received were no longer funded. Some of those were for after-school programs and mentoring programs to help our low-income kids."

Those are the children, along with special education students, who will have the toughest time meeting the standards, especially without sufficient money for remedial programs, educators fear.

Federal funding for the program is up 11 percent for Illinois from 2002 to the current budget year, according to federal figures -- slightly more than the increase nationally during the same period. Although Bush proposed a new budget for fiscal 2005 earlier this month, numbers for Illinois are not yet available.

The biggest state grant -- Title I -- for remedial math and reading programs for poor children, totaled $462 million in grants to schools this year, a 32 percent increase over two years ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of Illinois State Board of Education figures.

But Title I money doesn't reach every eligible low-income child. The National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher's union, says Illinois' federal grant would have to increase 150 percent -- to $1.25 billion -- to reach all eligible students and prepare them for the law's benchmarks.

"You're asking the states to do all these additional things when you have economic problems, budget problems, but you're not providing enough additional funding for that," said NEA spokesman Dan Kaufman.

William Mathis, a local school superintendent and education finance professor in Vermont, has reviewed cost estimates drawn up by 18 states for preparing their students to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind.

The states claim they need, on average, 28 percent more a year to meet the requirements, Mathis said. That would be a $118 billion increase over the $422.7 billion spent by local, state and federal governments on education nationally in 2001-2002.


40 service hours too much, schools say
By Mema Ayi, Daily Southtown Correspondent, February 15, 2004

Not all area school district officials are on board with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to make community service a graduation requirement.

Some districts, especially those with service programs already in place, believe Springfield is wielding too much control.

A 40-hour requirement, they say, would interfere with extracurricular activities and jobs.

At Reavis High School in Burbank, seniors are required to attend either five governmental meetings or perform 12 hours of service as a part of a semester-long government class.

Senior Rick Lange, who works part time doing custodial work, said it would have been nearly impossible for him to work and complete 40 hours of service.

"Forty hours would have been tough to get done," Lange said. "Almost all of my friends need to work. You could get 10 hours done in a year, that's pretty simple, but it would take away from other school activities."

A spokesman for Blagojevich's office said that 40 hours is not that much to ask.

Many students already perform community service for National Honor Society and student council, reminded Rebecca Rausch.

Chicago Public Schools, for example, is six years into its service-learning program, also a 40-hour requirement. Besides, Blagojevich believes high school is a time when students begin to understand why volunteering is important, Rausch said.

"And no community in the state has a shortage of community service projects," said Rausch, adding that such projects can increase self-esteem and grade-point averages.

But Katy Cunningham, government teacher and community service liaison at Reavis, said 12 hours is all her students could squeeze in between sports, clubs and schoolwork.

She fears more hours might make students resentful of community service.

"Forty hours is almost punitive," Cunningham said. "The way we do it doesn't overburden the school or the students. These kids are in every club under the sun," she said.

Cunningham coordinates the community service for more than 300 seniors taking government courses each year.

If the governor's bill is approved, Reavis would have to hire a full-time community service liaison to coordinate the school's 1,700 students, she said.

The proposed legislation sets the parameters for how much time each student must devote to service. The governor's proposal allows each school district to define what qualifies as service and where service is most needed.

Blagojevich's legislation would assist schools in implementing the requirement. It is estimated the community service initiative will require $6 million in fiscal year 2005 for block grants to schools.

Of the $6 million, each high school will receive $10,000 to fund two coordinators to implement the community service requirement. In the proposed legislation, the requirement would begin for students starting high school in 2006.

Reavis Supt. Larry Daker said his high school's system serves its students' needs. "We feel very satisfied with our program. We've looked at what other school districts are doing, and we like ours better," Daker said.

Tinley Park High School does not require its 1,100 students to perform community.

Principal John McGraw said a strategic planning survey several years ago showed that most students were not interested in forced service. "The majority of our students felt that forced serving is not serving," McGraw said.

His students, he said, decide where their interests lie. "You will make time for things you're interested in," he added.

At Reavis, a 40-hour service requirement would increase the number of hours of supervision and seems excessive, given that many students go beyond the 12 hours required by the district, Daker said.

"You couldn't expect seniors to do it in one semester without losing the intensity and focus."

Chicago Public Schools service learning manager Jon Schmidt said to keep seniors from scrambling to complete the 40 hours, the district, effective next year, will require students to complete at least 20 hours by the end of their sophomore year.

At Reavis, senior Pat Hartigan, said 40 hours over four years is hardly excessive and could be done easily as long as kids are smart about it.

"A lot of kids are in sports, but you could easily get 10 hours done a year. I waited until the last month (of the semester) to do mine and it was like nothing,"

In order to complete his required 12 hours for his government class, Hartigan, who also works part time at a drug store, helped a Girl Scout troop create a haunted house and volunteered at the Burbank Park District's Winter Wonderfest for his project.

Learning first-hand what service is makes students feel more responsible for their communities, said Schmidt, adding that young people want to make contributions to their communities.

"Service learning helps fulfill one of the tenets of public education by teaching students to be active citizens in a democracy. It is as important to learn how to read, as it is to have a democracy. If we don't have active citizens, we don't have an active democracy. We've got to get them to think critically; we want them to act on good principles," he said.

Among the positive results, Chicago Public Schools report higher attendance rates for students who fulfill the requirement.

And, 83 percent of schools with community service requirements report higher grade-point averages for participating students.


Real issue for schools is money 
Letters to the Editor by Supt. J. Kay Giles, Prairie-Hills School District 144, Markham, 2/26/04, Daily Southtown

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan for education, outlined forcefully in his State of the State address to the General Assembly in January, falls well short of what's needed to address the issue of educational equity for financially strapped school districts such as mine.

The governor spoke about education for an hour, but it's clear that he doesn't understand the dilemma we face in the public schools. Instead, his speech was about power, not equality, and not at all about what children and their schools need to succeed in today's schooling environment.

A few facts about my school district may help readers understand my point of view. Prairie-Hills School District 144 is an elementary school district based in Markham. We serve 3,000 students in grades pre-K to eight in eight buildings. About 77 percent of our students are from low-income families, compared with 38 percent statewide. Our instructional spending per student runs less than $3,700 a year. The statewide per-pupil expenditure rate is more than $4,800.

Mindful of these disparities, I served as an ex-officio member of the Illinois Education Funding Advisory Board, charged with recommending state funding levels and supplemental aid and grants for districts with high concentrations of poor children. After exhaustive study, it recommended that the foundation level for per pupil spending should be $5,665, or $2,000 more per pupil per year than what we have available in our district now.

How does all this bad financial news impact the quality of education in District 144? Here's one example. The average teacher in District 144 is paid $42,400 a year, or about $10,000 a year less than the average teacher statewide. You better believe that when I'm competing for high-quality teachers, my schools are at a significant disadvantage.

The combination of noncompetitive salaries for teachers and staff and a high proportion of children at risk of academic failure has consequences on academic performance. Our money is limited, but we are judged in exactly the same way as resource-rich schools in wealthy communities. The comparison is devastating. In our most recent district report card, just 44.1 percent of our student test scores met or exceeded the Illinois Learning Standards. Statewide, 61 percent of all scores met or exceeded standards.

In other words, we can and should do a lot better for our students in my district. I am very proud of the way that our teachers and staff go about the business of education with tremendous dedication and concern for the well-being of our children. But all of us know that additional resources would provide additional important opportunities for our children.

The governor seems to believe that any dollar spent for something other than a teacher in a classroom is a wasted dollar. But I can tell you that my children must have safe ways to get to school, nutritious meals, counseling and other kinds of assistance to be in those classrooms ready to learn. We have to heat our buildings, repair leaky roofs, train teachers to improve skills and provide essential administrative services or we are not doing our jobs.

The Illinois State Board of Education, the state's education agency, understands all this. ISBE works closely with us to find alternative funding sources, such as grants and foundations. The state board is and always has been a strong advocate for adequate and equitable state funding. ISBE gets it, in other words.

What's more, because ISBE is independent, with no political ax to grind, I find it to be a professional agency focused on ways to help districts do a better job. I am free to comment candidly on agency plans and programs. When we disagree, we do so as educators allied in a common cause, not as officials maneuvering for political advantage.

So why does the governor want to dump ISBE? It looks to me like he wants to avoid the cost of funding schools equitably (estimated by EFAP at another $1.8 billion annually). Perhaps by killing the ISBE messenger he can also kill the message.

I am very concerned that a politicized state education department reporting only to the governor would sometimes, perhaps often, find it difficult to stand up for the needs of children and schools in the face of other political trade-offs and compromises. I believe that the governor truly does feel responsible for helping all children obtain a good education. I don't believe that he really understands yet what that entails.

The best thing that the General Assembly can do for our neediest districts is ignore the governor's window dressing and, instead, make full school funding the priority it deserves to be.


Keep politics out of education 
Belleville News-Democrat Editorial, February 16, 2004

But Flood found out that the state Board of Education doesn't operate like, say, the Secretary of State's office, which is notorious for its political hires. Although the governor's office forwarded 28 resumes to Schiller, none of those applicants was hired.

Schiller said he believes that's one of the reasons for Blagojevich's aggressive push to create his own education department -- for the jobs. "People see this for what it is: power, politics and control," Schiller said.

Shuffling bureaucratic jobs also makes it appear that Blagojevich wants to improve education. But we think that replacing an independent board with a politically controlled department would result in less school accountability, not more.

An education chief who answered to the governor would not be ready to cut off state and federal funding for Venice nor would he have put the East St. Louis schools on probation, two of Schiller's bold actions. A Blagojevich appointee probably would disband the financial oversight panel in East St. Louis, as fellow Democrats Sen. James Clayborne and Rep. Wyvetter Younge want. And an appointee might water down the state board's learning standards to boost students' achievement test results to make his boss, the governor, look better.

Even if you agree with Blagojevich, he is going about this the wrong way. The state constitution set up the independent State Board of Education in the 1970s; Blagojevich is trying to make an end run around it. If the governor wants this change, he should work to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, so the people can decide.


Referendums near record level 
Illinois education: 131 ballot issues reflect need for change, some say
AP, February 14, 2004

A near record number of school referendums will go to Illinois voters next month, continuing a trend that education officials say reflects a mounting financial crisis that has left nearly 80 percent of the state's schools in deep budget holes.

Of the 131 school-related questions on primary ballots, 93 seek tax increases to prop up sagging finances at districts stretching from Calumet City in Cook County to Coulterville in deep southern Illinois, according to the State Board of Elections.

The number of school referendums is just shy of the record 137 on last November's ballots, and is nearly double the state's average over the last eight years, state election records show.

"It's a sign that we have drastic problems. They're all desperate, and they're leaning again on that property tax, and you just can't do that anymore," said Alan Hickrod, a retired Illinois State University professor and longtime proponent of school funding reform.

Robert Schiller, the state education superintendent, said local tax referendums have risen as the state's share of funding for Illinois' 888 public schools dipped from a peak of about 40 percent to just over 36 percent.

"Short of seeing sufficient revenues from the state and running out of options locally to cut back, they have nowhere else to turn but their local communities," Schiller said.

Tax increases have historically faced an uphill battle at the polls, where voters have approved only 37 percent of the 522 proposals that have appeared on ballots since 1996, according to the elections board.

School administrators say they sympathize with taxpayers, even as they lobby them for more money.

"It's a tremendous burden to ask property owners to maintain schools. The state really does need to look at other ways to fund education," said Harvard Superintendent Randy Gross, whose northern Illinois district is seeking a 55-cent tax-rate increase to erase a projected $500,000 deficit.

Gross and other administrators said the Legislature needs to revisit school funding, and he advocated a state income tax hike coupled with guaranteed cuts in property taxes.

"I know no one likes to hear it ... but there's going to have to be another revenue source identified. That means our legislators are going to have to take a hard look at raising the state income tax," said Ralph Grimm, superintendent in Canton, southwest of Peoria.

Grimm said his district is seeking a 55-cent tax-rate increase to cover a $1.2 million deficit that remains after more than $1.8 million in cuts over the last two years that included 25 teaching positions and freshman sports. More sports, music programs, elective courses and other programs could be trimmed if the referendum fails, he said.

Schiller said cuts have boosted class sizes and pared programs, affecting education for the state's 2.2 million students.

"The bottom line is that districts barely have enough money to keep operating and can do very little to improve education," Schiller said.


Report: Latino students founder

Chicago schools fail them, it says

By Ana Beatriz Cholo, Chicago Tribune

From preschoolers trying to get into early childhood programs to students wishing to attend magnet schools, Latino students are being shortchanged in Chicago Public Schools, according to a study released by the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee.

The report, released by Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), states that Latino students are being "pushed backward instead of forward" in the city schools and also around the state.

It details myriad issues facing Latinos, who make up about 36 percent of the students in Chicago's public schools and are considered to be the fastest-growing demographic.

Highlights of the report include how schools in Latino neighborhoods are extremely overcrowded, how Latino students are less likely than white students--who make up less than 10 percent of the student population--to be accepted into the district's coveted magnet schools.

It also talks about the smaller proportion of Latino youngsters enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs and the overrepresentation of Latinos in the half-day programs.

Spots in these early childhood classes are coveted, with thousands on the waiting list. According to the report, Spanish-speaking children make up the majority of children waiting to enroll.

Del Valle said opportunities for very young and gifted native English speakers are available, yet the same options are not afforded to gifted Spanish-speaking youngsters.

The report states that urgent attention must be paid to the Latino population and to their low test scores, high dropout rate, and a shortage of Latino teachers and principals in the schools.

Del Valle is a graduate of Clemente High School in Humboldt Park who said two brothers in his family dropped out of high school years ago because of problems that continue to exist.

"It's getting rougher and rougher out there in our schools," said del Valle Friday, shortly after giving the 46-page report to Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan and meeting with him briefly to discuss its contents.

Del Valle said he will use the findings in the report to "make a case in Springfield" for additional funding for education.

He is calling on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to keep education in the forefront when he delivers his budget address Wednesday.

Duncan, in turn, acknowledges the tremendous growth in the Latino population. He said he has not read the report but has discussed with del Valle some of the district's recent efforts and future plans.

He said he will join the senator during a news conference Monday and both will meet again in several weeks to get a plan in place to improve the situation.

Duncan said Latinos are "a hugely important segment of the students we serve and for many, many years--for the last 20, 30 years--there's been a historic lack of representation in the teaching profession among Latinos."

The district, he said, is partnering with community groups to provide more sites for early childhood education, adding 800 new spots for a total of 4,800. In September, the number is expected to increase to 6,000.

An innovative pilot program called "Pre-K and Kinder Plus" will roll out in the spring and target overcrowded Latino neighborhoods, Duncan said. The school district will subcontract with community organizations to provide free early childhood programs for about 1,000 children by using space in public schools after the regular school students are dismissed for the day.

Duncan also said the district is trying to recruit more Latino teachers and support personnel in the schools.

Currently, he said 21 bilingual psychology students are going through a program at Loyola University. Their tuition is being paid by the school district, and the expectation is that they will go to work in Chicago's schools upon graduation.

The report was written by a group of volunteer educators, most college-level professors, who worked on the study for almost a year.

Andrea Lee, the schools initiative coordinator at the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, said they are particularly concerned about overcrowding in schools on the Southwest and Northwest Sides, where the Latino population is growing rapidly.

"I think it is a real urgent, pressing issue that Chicago needs to address," she said.

"We realize money is tight and we appreciate Sen. del Valle's efforts to propose a $1 billion appropriation for the school construction program. However, with this said, we urge the Chicago Public Schools to also be more accountable with our money--making sure it's going to schools most in need, that there is a short- and long-term plan to relieve our overcrowded schools."

At Davis Elementary School in Brighton Park, one of the most overcrowded schools in the city, street vendors await school dismissal at 2:30 p.m. each day.

One has a large tray full of sweet, sugar-coated churros selling for $1 a piece. A hundred yards away, on the corner of Sacramento Avenue and 39th Place, another has a cart full of chicharrones, sliced pepinos and mango chunks for sale.

Principal Sylvia Rodriquez said it's hard to keep up with the number of children that come into her school each year in droves.

Rodriquez remembers that when she started with the school district more than 30 years ago, Latino students barely made up 10 percent of the population.

Now her elementary school, with three buildings on its spread-out campus, has a population of almost 2,000 pupils, about 97 percent of them Latino. Overcrowding is her biggest concern but she said they are doing the best that they can. Mobility is another issue.

"With people going back to Mexico and Puerto Rico, they transfer in and transfer out," Rodriguez said as planes arriving or departing from Midway flew overhead. "It breaks the continuity of our instruction."

Half of the school's teachers are Latino, but where they encounter the most difficulty is in hiring support personnel. They are lucky to have a bilingual psychologist and a social worker that speaks Spanish, but they have had difficulty in finding a bilingual nurse.

The study by del Valle's committee points out there is only one bilingual psychologist per 6,390 Latino students.

"Now you're hitting a big nerve there," said Eduardo Negron, the school's assistant principal regarding the need for Spanish-speaking staff. "We actively recruit for the bilingual teachers but there are just not enough available."



No Child Left Behind law gets mixed reviews from Illinois educators

By Nicole Ziegler Dizon - Associated Press Writer/Fox News

This is the first in a three-part series on the No Child Left Behind law which has changed the face of education in Illinois and nationwide.A welcome note from Champaign Unit 4 School District proudly proclaims that six of its 17 schools have been singled out for academic excellence by the federal government's elite Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

This year, though, a new federal education law has put five of those six schools in an unwelcome category: failing.

The sweeping act, dubbed No Child Left Behind, is changing the way public schools operate across Illinois. Teachers are focusing more on standardized test preparation, parents are considering whether to transfer their children to better-performing schools and principals are revamping their schools' curricula - all because of the law's strict guidelines and goals.

"This legislation is impacting every part of our professional life in and out of the classroom," said Tom Donausky, principal of Streamwood High School in suburban Chicago. "There isn't a part of our lives that isn't touched by No Child Left Behind."

The impact on Illinois schools became clear with the release of this year's state report cards, judging each school on standardized test performance. Schools once considered academically outstanding are now listed as struggling, setting them on the road to sanctions. And the country's largest teachers union, which supported the basic tenets of No Child Left Behind, estimates that federal funding in Illinois would have to nearly triple for schools to meet its goals over the next decade.

The law, signed in 2002, will require all public school students to perform at least at grade level in math and reading by 2014. It also raises educational requirements for teachers and aides and penalizes schools that do not perform well enough on standardized math and reading tests.

The toughest of the law's requirements didn't kick in until this year. Now schools are required to report not just overall test scores, but scores broken down by race, gender, special education and other categories. A failure by just one of those groups to meet the test benchmarks - in 2003, having 40 percent of students pass state standardized tests - labels an entire school as not making adequate progress.

In Illinois, the percentage of students required to meet the benchmarks will jump to 47.5 percent next year and rise incrementally to 100 percent by 2014.

Schools that receive federal Title I money for low-income students and fail to meet the standards two years in a row must offer students the chance to transfer to other, better-performing public schools and could be forced to close if they fail for six years. A majority of Illinois schools receive such funding. As a result, some districts are shuffling their Title I money away from failing schools to others in the district so the failing schools don't have to offer transfers or face other sanctions.

In Champaign, as in many other districts, the new requirements mean several schools will appear for the first time on the state's annual list of those that need academic improvement.

While fewer than 600 schools have been on the list in the past, this year the number is expected to be well over 1,000 of the state's 3,900 schools.

Champaign Superinten-dent Arthur R. Culver agrees with the law's bottom line, that all students, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status, can learn when the bar is set high. He said the requirement to break down scores by groups identifies vulnerable students - such as those from low-income families - that may have fallen through the cracks in the past, and it gives schools a focus to help those groups.

But Culver also said the law should delineate between schools whose students fail in almost every category and those where just one or two groups are struggling. And he said local educators should have more flexibility in determining whether certain students, such as the mentally disabled, should be tested at all.

"I like setting a high goal," Culver said. "I just don't like setting up a school as failing."

Because of that stigma - as well as a potential cost crunch if schools are forced to offer transfers or spend money on private tutoring - schools are doing whatever they can to improve test scores. They're drilling students to make sure they know how to take standardized tests and trying to get kids interested in an exam that doesn't affect their grades.

At Moulton Middle School in Shelbyville, Principal She-ila Greenwood organized a pep rally to hype the state tests last spring. She promised and delivered a balloon launch if the school's test scores improved and brought in Butch Lockley from the TV series "Survivor" to congratulate students on their achievement.

Greenwood also worked with teachers to make sure they were spending enough time on the core subjects the state tests - reading, math, social science and science. The drills squeezed out some hands-on activities, including some field trips, she said.

"There's some important things, I think, that we're not spending enough time on, but our hands are forced," Greenwood said.

At Streamwood High School, teachers begin familiarizing students with the format and language of the ACT college entrance exam beginning their freshman year. In Illinois, the ACT is part of the standardized high school test, administered to juniors, that is used to assess progress.

"I can't spend as much time teaching a novel because I have to go back and teach test-taking strategy," said Matt Shachter, who teaches junior and senior English.

Some of Shachter's colleagues said they spend so much effort getting students just to understand the directions to the ACT and drilling vocabulary that they have lost time they had in the past to improve their critical thinking skills through, for example, looking for symbolism in a play.

Streamwood students be-gin preparing for the test during their freshman and sophomore years, and juniors take at least three practice ACT tests before the real thing in the spring. The school's language arts department recently broke down the practice English tests by the most-missed questions and began drilling those concepts.

"Are we teaching to the test? Yes, we are," said David Hines, who teaches sophomore and senior English. "It seems to me that's what they want us to do."

That's not a bad thing, as long as the test is tied to state standards and accurately measures a student's progress in core subjects, said Ronald Tomalis, counselor to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige.

"What they're basically saying is the test scores are coming back and saying children are not reading on grade level," Tomalis said. "So they're going back and making sure students can read on grade level. That's the crisis?"

Some teachers and principals also worry that the federal law's intense focus on reading and math may force them to cut back on instruction in other subjects, such as social studies or art. But Tomalis said No Child Left Behind was meant to complement state standards in other subjects, not eliminate them.

"You cannot do social studies if don't know how to read. You can't do physics or economics without understanding math," he said. "Those two are building blocks of all other subjects. That's why this attention on math and reading and language arts is so strong."

Some administrators lament that No Child Left Behind's goal of getting 100 percent of students at grade level in reading and math by the 2013-2014 school year means that eventually all public schools will be listed as failing, since some groups of students - particularly special education - may never be able to reach grade level standards.

But Tomalis called that a defeatist attitude and said that even if schools now at 40 percent achievement eventually reach 85 percent, the law will have been a success.

"These are our children," Tomalis said. "We shouldn't expect to say we are going to write off these millions of children."


Teachers answer the call to duty

Some Chicago public schools face voids as their teachers/reservists are called to serve in Iraq

By Ana Beatriz Cholo, Chicago Tribune

Amaris Britton, an 8th grader at Tanner Elementary School, says she cannot lie. Since Mr. Carter has been gone, her classmates have been acting up and haven't been given much homework.

It's been almost a month since Launder Carter, a major in the Army Reserves, left to train with his unit in Wisconsin and await orders for the Middle East.

"You could hear a pin drop when he was here," said Amaris, a quiet girl who said that she has been struggling to keep up with her studies while substitutes try to fill big shoes.

One substitute, she said, "Let us do whatever. Eat, holler."

Increasing numbers of teachers, who belong to reserve units, have been called to active duty to serve in continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Chicago, 15 public school teachers and aides have been called for duty since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Most of the instructors remain out of the classroom, leaving a void in their schools.

At Beethoven Elementary School on the South Side, special education teacher Aaron Rucker has not been forgotten.

Last year, he was hit in the foot with shrapnel during combat. While recovering in a military hospital in Europe, the teacher has called his school several times and talked to fellow teachers and pupils.

They have given him encouragement and done their best to keep his spirits up. The incident, said Principal Dyrice Garner, "shook him up."

It was not enough to hire just one replacement for Carlos Ruiz, an art and theater instructor at Taft High School on the Northwest Side, who is in Iraq.

The school had to hire two teachers--one for art and one for theater. He was also the girls and boys volleyball coach.

Ruiz, who left shortly after Christmas, is a weapons specialist in the Army.

His departure made an overseas conflict more real.

"The kids really understood how close the war was when they saw someone leave, especially someone they were close to," said Nilda Pauley, the fine arts department chairwoman. "They were very afraid that he was not going to come back. There were a lot of tears."

Maynard Favila, a teacher at Columbia Explorers Academy on the Southwest Side, retired from the Army as a captain. He began teaching 7th grade in September 2002 and was recalled to duty two months later.

Even in that short period of time, Favila made an impact, said Principal Jose Barrera. He sent the school an American flag from Kuwait and visited with his former pupils briefly in December.

"We are waiting for him to come back so we can give him a big party," Barrera said.

When Carter ran his 8th-grade class, test scores improved, Tanner Principal Aaron Barnes said. But when he started teaching at the school eight years ago, pupils had to get used to Carter's drill-sergeant style.

Up to the last hour of his last school day, Jan. 23, Carter was still working out algebra problems with his class.

The teacher exemplified, "military bearing."

He examined a pupil's answer on the overhead projector.

"The solution is right but is that the way I showed you?" he said in a booming voice.

"No," the class said in unison.

"But that's all right. It's just not the way I showed you," he said.

Even with former pupils coming in to bid him goodbye, he kept the class on track--almost to the end.

At 2:09 p.m., his other class of 8th graders streamed in for a last goodbye. For once, he let his pupils climb over him.

Some, however, could not stop crying.

Two weeks later, he talked to his pupils on the telephone and was able to quiet them down--from Wisconsin.

As usual, it was in a no-nonsense manner.

"When I come back, I don't want to see none of y'all's face in here," he told the prospective high school freshmen.

Barnes said it has been difficult finding a replacement for Carter. He came in early and stayed late to tutor pupils, Barnes said.

"It's hard to find people who are able to come in and teach 8th-grade students in the middle of a school year," Barnes said. "Most would struggle. It's hard material."

Barnes said national defense is a priority but for a group of pupils on the South Side "it certainly is a disruption."


Blagojevich Reinvents The Wheel

Exclusive commentary by Nancy Salvato, Washington Dispatch

In IL Governor Blagojevich’s 2004 State of the State he expressed his discontent with how the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has handled money. He also blamed the ISBE for Illinois students’ under-performance on 2003 National Testing. Our governor would like to resolve these problems. His first suggestion is to remove all the ISBE administrative powers and responsibilities and place them in a new Department of Education under his administration. The new ISBE role would be to study long-term education policy

The former president of the ISBE, Ronald Gidwitz, said spending decisions are made by local school districts. According to him, it would seem that Gov. Blagojevich is picking the wrong target. The problem, according to Gidwitz, is not the state school bureaucracy; it's a lack of funding for education. Robert Schiller, the state education superintendent, accused Blagojevich of distorting facts and misleading the public. “What we’ve seen here is a focus being placed on politics and power and not … how we provide equity of funding for 4,000 schools.”

Governor Blagojevich is not going to increase taxes. He is of the opinion that a reduction in school bureaucracies will free up more than $1 billion for Illinois classrooms. In order to achieve this goal, he needs to be in charge of the system, rather than the ISBE. Because our local union suggested that I, being a teacher, should write my legislators in support of Governor Blagojevich’s suggestion, I worry that the union is somehow going to wield even greater control over our local school districts and that cannot be good.

As part of his restructuring, he wants to create a Teacher Certification Board (TCB) to help teachers become certified and help to eliminate lengthy paperwork filing for certificate renewal requirements. What the average person wouldn’t be aware of is that teachers getting initial certification simply apply for certification upon completion of their course of study at a college or university. This, of course, includes meeting the required hours of observation and student teaching and passing the general and subject tests required for their particular credentials. This is a pretty straight forward process. Having enrolled in an educational certification program at the undergraduate or graduate level assures the student that if requirements for the state change during their course of study, they will be unaffected because they have already begun their degree program.

Certificate renewal has become a little more cumbersome because now teachers have to account for additional educational training by providing CPDUs or graduate credit hours. This isn’t all that difficult though. Schools issue CPDUs for nearly every bit of training their teachers receive. Workshops issue CPDUs to those teachers in attendance. I completed my CPDUs in less than two years and teachers usually have 4 years to compile their credits.

Governor Blagojevich wants to pass legislation which requires elementary school teachers to complete half their education hours based on best practices on how to teach children to read. Although I understand how important it is to learn to read, it is the goal of most schools that their students learn how to decode by the end of first grade. Children hone their reading skills as they go through the educational system. Good readers read at home as well as at school. That is why it is so important that families of young readers model reading rather than spending time in front of the T.V. Parents need to place a high priority on reading in the home. These children should be required to read books as part of their daily routine. If students don’t read on their own, they do not become good readers. No amount of educational training on the part of the teacher will change that fact.

If the above such legislation was actually implemented, subjects such as science, social studies, and math would suffer since the upper elementary teachers would earn half of their education hours in reading methods. Reading is important and many teachers choose to earn a reading endorsement. However, schools need teachers that specialize in different subject areas so that students can be the beneficiaries of their expertise.

The governor contradicts himself when he suggests that more educational training in reading methods classes are necessary to improve our teachers’ potential to reach their students, yet in the same breath suggests creating a teaching task force which would study the issue of alternative routes to teacher certification. If educational training in reading is so important to becoming a good teacher, then I don’t understand why he doesn’t put his resources into studying why current educational practices aren’t working, rather than recruiting people from other fields with no educational experience, as it were.

The governor endorses a Childhood Hunger Relief Act which would require schools to provide breakfast to poor children. In addition, he wants to reinstate Project Success, which would use the school as a hub of delivery for basic preventative health care services for children; proper nutrition and education; mental services for children and families; services promoting the stability of families; substance abuse prevention; and intervention and social activities to bolster parental and community involvement in a child’s education. While the goal may be admirable, it should be pointed out that many schools simply do not have the facilities to carry out these kinds of responsibilities. Where I work, we don’t even have a separate cafeteria. Our kids eat lunch in the gym and it is a constant rush to get them outside so the janitors can clean up for PE.

Besides, it should be the parents’ responsibility of getting their kids health care, feeding them, and getting involved in their education. If parents can’t manage this, the community can choose to provide these types of services but not necessarily by putting the additional burden on the schools. Teachers and administrators are strapped for time and resources as it is. The rest of the community can step up and “be the village.” Public schooling was put in place to ensure an educated citizenry. It seems forgotten that this is the schools primary mission. While his intentions may be good, unless Gov. Blagojevich wants to create these hubs in separate buildings attached to the schools, I just don’t see this as being feasible.

I agree with the governor’s suggestion that soda and junk food be banned and that there should be legislation eliminating unhealthy snacks from school vending machines and replacing them with juice, water and milk. I’m amazed at the amount of garbage the students at my school consume. Candy is sold at school to create additional revenue for various extracurricular programs. Aside from the litter generated from wrappers strewn about, many of the healthier choices from their subsidized school lunches are pitched when Snickers and Sour Punch Straws are made available for purchase.

In addition to healthier food choices, there should be an end to physical education waivers. Keep in mind that there needs to be an alternative way to accommodate students who can’t participate in the regular PE curriculum for legitimate reasons.

Achieving success in today’s society begins with earning a high school diploma. The key word here is “earning”. Too many students that graduate from high school do not deserve their diplomas. A GRADS program to help students, particularly Latino and African American students, stay in school and earn their high school diplomas needs to take the reality of this fact into consideration and act accordingly.

I applaud the idea of an Illinois Tech Prep program to expand existing class curricula so to allow high school students to move into vocational programs. Technology preparation programs should begin in high school and lead to apprenticeships, associate degree programs or two-year certificate programs. This would boost the graduation rate among participants and, most of all, a non traditional course of study will be offered that will lead to employment.

Governor Blagojevich wants to spend $15 million on 143 reading specialists to work downstate and an undetermined number to work in Chicago at schools that aren't meeting state standards.

Any parent whose child is the recipient of reading recovery services has to sign a contract agreeing to work on the books at home with their child. Parents who break the contract have the services dropped. Think about it, if classroom teachers could have the same type of contract signed with regard to regular educational services, we wouldn’t need so many specialists. By requiring all parents to meet the responsibility of helping their children with homework, the amount of remediation in school would not go up proportionately with how many years a child has spent in the system. Homework is nothing more than reinforcing what is done during school. Practice is the key. Bottom line: the one on one attention that a reading specialist gives would be ineffective if parents and students weren’t required to do their part at home. Lack of parental involvement with their children’s education is often the reason the classroom teacher can’t assure a child’s progress in any given subject area.

The governor wants to spend $6 million to implement a new requirement that students perform 40 hours of community service before graduating. As much as I would like to see all U.S. citizens perform community service within their lifetime, by forcing students to do so our government would be treading on their rights. Rather than insisting on 40 hours of community service before graduation, students should be educated in civic responsibility beginning in the early elementary grades; to aspire to make positive changes in their local communities, to learn that along with the rights afforded to them as citizens comes civic responsibility, and that they can affect change by working as part of their communities and local government. As a result of their moral education, students would be more intrinsically motivated to perform community service without being required to do so because of external consequences that have nothing to do with the act itself. Public service would be a more positive experience and more meaningful to the student and the recipient of this service if it is done because the student wanted to do it.

Finally, he wants to spend $5 million to resurrect a program that delivers social services through schools and $26 million to give every child 5 and under one free book a month. Governor Blagojevich wants to take 26 million out of our taxpayer money to give away books? What happened to libraries? The last I heard, libraries were free. Of course, the people who check out the books have to be responsible about it. They must take care of them and return them. Is that asking too much? By sending a free book to the home there is no guarantee that it will be read. It could end up being used to line the litter box. There is a much greater guarantee that a trip to the library would inspire kids to read. The local library has a plethora of services to involve their local communities in reading. Not to mention, there is a larger selection of books from which to choose.

I haven’t heard much discussion about IL Governor Blagojevich’s State of the State speech in educational circles or anywhere else. I wonder how many people tuned in or if anyone was listening.

 Nancy Salvato is a middle school teacher in Illinois and an independent contractor for Prism Educational Consulting. She is the Educational Liaison to IL Sen. Ray Soden and she works with national and local organizations furthering the cause of Civic Education.


Netsch plan may catch on yet

Cindy Richards, Chicago Sun-Times

It's been 10 years since Dawn Clark Netsch's campaign for governor went up in flames fueled by her plan to fix the way the state funds public education.

Four years later, Jim Edgar, who beat her to become governor of Illinois, adopted Netsch's groundbreaking plan to swap higher state income taxes for lower property taxes. That plan was roadblocked by his fellow Republicans, led by former Senate President James ''Pate'' Philip (R-Wood Dale).

Now, we are reaping what the state's lack of political will has sown over the last decade. Nearly 80 percent of the state's 891 school districts are running at a budget deficit even as rising property taxes threaten to drive some people from their homes.

For our trouble, we get a state where the poorest districts spend less than $5,000 per year on each student while the wealthiest districts spend more than $18,000 per student. And, despite a constitutional requirement that says the state ''has the primary responsibility'' for financing the system of public education, Illinois pays only 36 percent of school expenses.

Now, a coalition of policy groups, unions, children's organizations, education groups and tax reform advocates suggests there ought to be a better way. In fact, their way reflects much of what Netsch suggested 10 years ago.

''They're doing precisely what I wanted to do,'' Netsch said in an interview. ''I am delighted.''

The group calls itself A+ Illinois, and Netsch is a supporter. She said she believes this group might succeed where she failed. The difference this time is the coalition includes a broader base of supporters -- there are even a few business interests represented -- and the schools' financial woes have reached crisis proportions.

On the downside, there's one other big difference: The state's financial woes have reached crisis proportions as well.

''I think that's a legitimate question: How do you do this when the state is stone broke and deeply in debt? Maybe it's the only time to do it,'' Netsch said.

MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a founding member of A+ Illinois, said she believes the group's comprehensive agenda will be the key to success this time.

The group wants to ''bring the bottom up'' by making sure that state aid gets to the most severely underfunded districts without harming the higher-performing, better funded schools. It wants the state to pay at least 51 percent of the cost of educating students, and it wants to pay for it on a statewide level, either through higher income taxes or sales taxes, while providing tax relief to property owners.

Equally important, A+ Illinois wants sweeping fiscal changes that will increase the state's ability to "protect education, human services and community programs that are vital to the well-being of children and families, particularly those Illinoisans most in need."

Barrett pointed to the findings of voter polls and statewide focus groups that asked residents about their attitudes toward education funding. Two-thirds said they believe the state needs "comprehensive school funding reform in order to increase revenues for education and reduce the over-reliance on property taxes to fund schools.''

A+ Plus Illinois wants to raise $1 million to get out its message through print and radio ads and to "support the hundreds of parents organizations that are ready to talk" about the importance of adequately funding public education, Barrett said.

Gov. Blagojevich will unveil his budget proposal today. It is expected to propose another increase in education funding, despite his need to close a $1.7 billion budget gap. Education supporters, however, were hoping he would pledge to add $250 per pupil again this year, just as he did in last year's budget. But, they now say they expect only about $100 per pupil.

Barrett said this may not be the year that comprehensive education funding reform makes its way through the Illinois Legislature, but next year might. If it isn't, it won't be for lack of effort on the coalition's part, she said.

"This is not just a 'let's coordinate our efforts.'" We're saying 'we ought to go to the mats on this.'''


Governor wants lawmakers to help decide school spending

John O'Connor, Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who says he can run Illinois schools better than the "clunky and inefficient" education bureaucracy, proposed a $396 million boost in school funding Wednesday but said he wants legislators to help decide how to spend it.

In an unusual move, the Democratic governor sidestepped difficult decisions in divvying up the pot of money by suggesting that the General Assembly should be at the bargaining table from the beginning.

"We need to invest more money in our schools - and we need to make sure that the money we invest in our schools goes into the classroom where it belongs," Blagojevich said in the prepared text of his noon speech.

"I've asked you to make sweeping changes in the way we manage our schools," he told lawmakers. "It's only right that we work together to decide how this money should be spent."

The move might be an olive branch to lawmakers, whom Blagojevich derided in November as "drunken sailors" on a spending binge for adding money to the budget he had vetoed.

Typically, governors spell out in their budget blueprints how much they want spent per pupil, for instance, or how much they want spent on other initiatives. The independent State Board of Education carries them out. But Blagojevich left those questions unanswered just a month after slamming the state board, likening it to a "Soviet-style bureaucracy."

He wants to create an Education Department answerable to him, saying he can do a better job running schools.

Blagojevich's budget director, John Filan, said the governor's strategy is not to use the pooled money to bargain over the education revamp, but he said the Legislature should decide whether it agrees on creating a new department before plunging into finance questions.

Blagojevich proposed an elementary and secondary education budget of $5.7 billion, a 6.5 percent increase over the current year. While general funding would increase $396 million, he would cut $45.7 million from programs funded with other state dollars - mostly from a $50 million school technology loan fund from which schools borrowed only $7 million this year.

He's also suggesting $33 million in new education programs, including $15 million for school specialists to raise reading scores. Another $10 million would go to set up a program that provides a book a month to every child from birth to age five.

Higher education would see a decrease of $165 million - 6.6 percent. Filan said colleges and universities will cut administrative costs by $25 million with an eye toward reducing such costs by 25 percent over three years.

Even if he is not specifying them, Filan said Blagojevich has his own ideas about elementary and secondary school spending. He lists raising per pupil spending to $5,060 as a priority, along with increasing funding for early childhood education and programs such as special education and transportation.

But spending more in any of the areas quickly eats up the new money. Increasing per-pupil funding by $250, from $4,810, as a task force recommended be done every year in a steady climb to provide a sufficient "foundation" funding level, would engulf nearly the entire increase - about $390 million, Filan said.

To keep pace with costs associated with special education, transportation and other "categorical" programs, the state would have to increase funding by $139 million, according to the State Board of Education.

Downstate, less affluent school districts favor hikes in per-pupil spending. Richer suburban districts, whose local property wealth allows them to spend much more than the foundation level, prefer spending more money on "categorical" costs.


School officials doubt soda ban would improve students' health

By Jennifer Ramseyer, Olney Daily Mail

A governor-proposed ban on soda and junk food in schools will have little impact, except the loss of revenue from vending machines, local school officials say.

Like many schools in Illinois, East Richland and West Richland schools allow students to purchase sodas and snacks from vending machines.

Under a plan proposed by Governor Rod Blagojevich, soft drinks and junk food would be banned from the school.

Some, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, believe soft drinks and junk food should be banned to help slow the nation's obesity problem.

Officials at East and West Richland high schools, which both have open lunch policies allowing students to leave the campus, believe it would not curb the intake of soda and candy.

"I know it sounds good. Get rid of vending machines and kids won't get chubby. The thing is, our kids leave campus. They are going to get it somewhere," West Richland Superintendent Don Carlyle said.

The ban would also create a loss of revenue for the schools.

According to the Illinois Principals Association, at least one vending machine is present in most Illinois high schools and middle schools.

A recent AP story cited an estimate from IPA Executive Director David Turner, who said a school's vending machine revenue typically ranges from $500 to several thousand dollars a year.

West Richland School District has a contract with Coca-Cola, which has vending machines at the high school.

Soft-drink contracts to schools usually come with a generous up-front payment to the schools for exclusive rights to use the company's products plus the schools receive a percentage of the sales.

The school also has a snack machine and another which sells juice in the cafeteria.

Students can purchase from vending machines before and after school and at lunch.

West Richland High School Principal Dick Steinman said the ban would not be much of a detriment but would cut into the funds, much of which are used for student functions.

"We spend the money back on the kids," Steinman said.

The money, about $3,000-$4,000 per year, has gone for things such as an outside billboard, charter buses for the senior trip, dances, special speakers and prom.

"It does help, otherwise we would have to have more fundraisers. I think we need to preach more nutrition. But at this age, they are going to have a choice," Steinman said, adding that the students would bring in junk food irregardless.

West Richland also has a high percentage of students who eat in the cafeteria.

East Richland School District is in the fifth year of a 10-year contract with Coca-Cola.

"The importance of the contracts is an extra source of revenue of the schools," East Richland High School Principal Larry Bussard said.

The school has eight Coca-Cola machines and three snack machines. Whether the snacks or drinks are allowed in a certain classroom is up to the individual teacher.

The money from the machines is used to benefit the department in which the machine is located.

For instance, a Coca-Cola machine close to the gymnasium is used within the athletic department, providing equipment.

The Coca-Cola contract also provided new school scoreboards in all the athletic venues.

"It's a financial supplement to the schools," Bussard said. "At all times, now, when revenue is much tighter, losing it would put us in a more difficult situation."

Though nutrition is a concern at the school, Bussard noted that if soda is not available on campus, students will get it at fast-food restaurants and other stores in town.

East Richland High School also has a school store, run by the JROTC as a fundraiser.

The store is open for two ten-minute breaks during the day when students can buy soda and candy but healthier alternatives such as fruit and water are available.

According to Blagojevich, his plan shouldn't saddle extra financial weight on schools because other drink revenues would increase.

But when given the healthy alternative, will students spend money there or go elsewhere?


School board to vote on extracurriculars ban for home-schoolers

Dave Fopay, Journal Gazette & Times Courier

 CHARLESTON -- School district Superintendent Gary Niehaus says he'll likely adopt the recommendation of a committee that said home-schooled students shouldn't be allowed to participate in district extracurricular activities.

Niehaus' recommendation would be added to the committee's for the school board, which is scheduled to vote at its meeting tonight on a parent request to allow the participation. The committee recommended turning down the request, largely because members felt it would be too difficult to monitor home-schooled students' academic progress.

Keith and Ellen Wolcott made the request to the board. Their children, Jane, 14, and Scott, 16, have taken band classes through the district since grade school, but are otherwise home-schooled, and their daughter wants to participate in soccer and track at Charleston High School.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m. in the district administration building, 410 W. Polk Ave.


Officials wary of budget plan

Kate Clements, The News-Gazette

 SPRINGFIELD – Area lawmakers reacted warily to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget address Wednesday, in which he outlined plans to fill an estimated $1.7 billion deficit and increase spending by $340 million without raising the income tax or sales tax.

The governor's $43.5 billion operations budget for the year beginning July 1 proposes cutting costs by $840 million and generating $945 million in new revenues on top of $280 million in estimated base revenue growth.

Major cost-cutting initiatives include an early retirement package for up to 2,000 state workers and elimination of another 2,000 unfilled state jobs, consolidating and streamlining some agency functions, and the closure and sale of prison facilities in Vandalia, St. Charles and a mental health center in Tinley Park.

"Frontline" workers, including correctional officers, would not be eligible for the early retirement.

The vast majority of the new revenues, some $400 million, are slated to come from businesses, through new fees and the elimination of a number of tax breaks, prompting concerns from business groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Business concerns

Last year, the governor also increased business fees and taxes to help balance the budget, and area lawmakers said they don't want to see that again.

"I am not going to support any tax or fee increases on local residents or businesses," said state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. "We have already seen how the fee increases last year that I opposed have negatively affected business growth in our community."

State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, said the state is becoming increasingly unfriendly to business and driving out jobs. The elimination of additional tax breaks the governor proposed Wednesday is "just one more negative factor that is thrown into Illinois' business climate," he said.

Blagojevich said he is only trying to "level the playing field" for small businesses by closing loopholes that the largest corporations have been exploiting for too long and helping individual taxpayers who currently shoulder the largest part of the state's tax burden.

"How we can justify keeping corporate loopholes on the books, when the people are paying more and more of the tab every single year is way beyond me," Blagojevich said.

He said the loopholes he wants to close "don't help benefit the economy, don't help the taxpayers, don't create jobs, don't keep companies from moving out of state, in short, don't make this a better state."

Increased spending

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the governor would not have to look at so many tax increases if he would put a stop to new state spending.

The governor is proposing a 6 percent increase in spending over this year's operations budget, and he increased general fund spending last year as well.

 "This budget sacrifices jobs and economic development to pay for state government," Righter said. "We lost 16,000 jobs in Illinois last year, and our unemployment ratio is more than 20 percent higher than the average in our neighboring states. This budget places an even further strain on jobs and increases the tax burden on the people of Illinois at a time when they can least afford it."

Winkel expressed similar concerns.

"I don't see how we spend ourselves into a balanced budget," he said. "I'm very concerned about the increased spending in the face of a growing deficit. I find that very disturbing."

The governor's proposed new spending will be spread among his stated priorities of K-12 education, health care, public safety and job creation.

About $50 million would go toward the governor's "Opportunity Returns" program, which includes targeted economic development initiatives for each of 10 regions in the state. Blagojevich has not yet unveiled his plan for East Central Illinois.

New money for health care is targeted mainly at insurance programs for the indigent, including SeniorCare, KidCare and the Circuit-breaker prescription drug program for senior citizens.

 New spending planned in public safety includes the addition of 200 new state troopers in the coming year, 100 more parole officers, 20 new fire inspectors, and money to reduce the backlog on processing DNA samples and buy new 425 vehicles and equipment for the Illinois State Police. The governor said he would finish opening the new prison in Lawrence, the Kewanee Youth Center and the Greene County Work Camp. The work camp in Paris will remain closed.

Funding for the Danville prison is slated to decrease from $29.3 million to $28.4 million, and the governor is hoping to centralize some of the administrative staffing functions in the prison system, but the effect on jobs at Danville was not immediately clear.

New money for education

The biggest chunk of new spending is in education, where the governor has proposed $400 million in new money, without saying how it should be spent.

 State schools chief Robert Schiller said the state board will meet soon to discuss how it would like the see the money used.

"We face some tough decisions as we strive to move education forward in Illinois," he said.

Jakobsson applauded the increase, calling it "an investment in the future of our state," but said she was still awaiting an explanation of the governor's plan to reorganize education.

Although the governor has proposed stripping the state school board of its duties and moving them to a new education department under his control, details of that were not included in his budget documents. Blagojevich also proposed more than $50 million in new education programs in his State of the State address, including a new book each month for kids under 5 and more funding for reading specialists and dropout prevention, but did not specify those in his budget book.

The $400 million is not enough to pay for all of his new ideas and to increase per pupil spending by the recommended $250 next school year, Schiller said. There are also needs for increased funding for mandated programs like special education and transportation, he said.

The governor's lack of detail on how the new education money should be spent drew a lot of attention.

"I don't know what he's doing, whether they just couldn't figure out what they wanted to spend it on, or whether maybe making the decision on what we spend the $400 million on is a little too dicey for his comfort level," Righter said. "So I don't know why he did that."

Motives questioned

Blagojevich claims that his decision to offer only the lump sum now and seek input from the General Assembly on how to allocate the $400 million demonstrates a renewed spirit of cooperation, but some state lawmakers fear that it may be, like his decision to delay the capital budget until late March, a form of political blackmail.

"To me that's classic Chicago politics," said Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville. "Here's the money. Now we will divide it up later, and the good boys and girls get their stockings full of nice things, but the bad boys and girls may not get anything."

Budget director John Filan said delaying the capital budget, which lists which construction projects the state plans to fund, was simply an attempt to make sure that that part of the budget gets the attention it deserves, and allow people to focus on one part of the budget at a time.

Winkel's take, however, was more in line with Black's, as lawmakers have been left to wonder what will happen with construction projects in their districts, and whether the $400 million will be targeted in a way that benefits their local school districts.

With those issues up in the air, Winkel said he feels "like there is a gigantic club poised over" the General Assembly.

"All of these things are left unanswered," he said. "Certainly that makes them a part of future negotiations. I think it is very clear that the governor is wanting to be in as strong a bargaining position as he can be as these debates go through the General Assembly."

 Perhaps another example of that maneuvering for bargaining position is the governor's decision to close the Vandalia prison, which just happens to be in Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson's district.

"It's real hard to take that as anything other than political retribution," Righter said. "There are other facilities in the state that the governor could close. He chose to do this one. I don't think the governor taking a slap at Sen. Watson like that is going to help matters at all."

Watson said he would like to think the governor is above that kind of thing, but said if it was intended as a threat, he considered that to be deplorable. More than 500 workers will be affected by the closing, Watson said.

At a news conference after the speech, Blagojevich claimed he did not know that the prison was in Watson's district.

Winkel said he did not know whether it was meant as a threat to Watson or not, but if it was, he doubted that it would work.

"If anyone thinks that Sen. Frank Watson is going to be browbeaten into changing his position or threatened into silence, they are dead wrong," he said.


Kewanee School Board has no use for No Child Left Behind

Mike Berry, Kewanee Star Courier

When it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act, the Kewanee School Board would just as soon leave it behind.

The board Tuesday passed a resolution calling for the act to be amended or repealed, and pledging not to support any elected official who supports the act as it is currently interpreted.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a federal law aimed at improving failing schools and making educators accountable if students perform poorly. Under the law, if students' scores on achievement tests don't meet federal standards, students must be given the option of transferring out of their school.

The resolution passed Monday says Kewanee school officials have "long supported that our school district is accountable for the success of our students. The district supported the NCLB provisions of higher test scores, schools being held accountable, students being taught by highly qualified teachers, the increase of attendance rates, the increase of high school graduation rates and students being taught in a safe environment."

When the NCLB legislation was passed, the resolution says, "The district was excited about the possibilities of education funds flowing to school districts to help students improve."

But the resolution says that while NCLB "was well intended, it has proven to be woefully underfunded and yet another financial burden on the schools."

The resolution says the Kewanee School Board "strongly disagrees with the premise that qualiity and complexity of teaching and learning can be adequately and solely assessed on one achievement test during the school year."

NCLB requires that certain percentages of students in a school get passing scores on the achievement test. It also says a majority of students in a number of "subgroups," such as racial or income groups, must pass the test.

The resolution notes that the U.S. Department of Education treats special education students and students with limited English proficiency as subgroups, and calls for a change in this procedure.

Rather than school choice, the resolution said, "the Kewanee Board of Education believes supplemental services determined by the individual school district should be the first intervention" when test scores don't meet the federal minimums.

Under NCLB, "schools are being judged for their effectiveness without looking into the students' poverty and other environmental problems," the resolution says. It adds that the school board feels the sanctions in NCLB for identifying failing schools aren't "constructive to the educational process."

The resolution also says the board feels NCLB "is rhetoric, not reform," and that "the interpretation of this legislation is setting school districts up for failure."

In the resolution, "The Kewanee Board of Education strongly asserts that there should be extensive research conducted as to what is a good benchmark for student progress. For example, all researchers know that 100 percent of students reaching state standards is not an achievable goal. Research should take place as to what is an achievable goal."

The resolution also says NCLB should not be implemented unless it is fully funded, and that the board "strongly asserts that federal legislators need to modify this legislation and monitor the U.S. Department of Education."

Supt. Robert Lagerblade, who presented the resolution to the board, said, "We're making a very strong statement here." He said he had talked to teachers about the resolution, and they were generally supportive of it.

"It continues to be a burden," said Board President Jeff Johnson. To illustrate that point, Johnson said a school attorney told him that the original NCLB legislation, when printed, filled two boxes that barely fit into the back seat of the attorney's car.


Blagojevich digging deep into bag of budget tricks

Bloomington Panatagraph

Gov. Rod Blagojevich used his bag of budget tricks extensively last year. Now he has turned the bag upside down and is shaking it to see what is left. The answer: Not much.

Employing variations on last year's themes, Blagojevich is counting on selling state property, closing more "loopholes" and streamlining government to balance the Fiscal Year 2005 budget.

But will that yield the $840 million in expense reductions and $945 million in new revenue that Blagojevich is counting on to balance the $43.5 billion operations budget he presented this week? A lot will depend on whether the Legislature goes along with all parts of his plan. But it also depends on how realistic Blagojevich's estimates are.

In his budget address, Blagojevich gave himself and the Legislature pats on the back for closing the $5 billion budget gap faced at the beginning of the fiscal year without increasing income or sales taxes.

"Most of the pundits said it couldn't be done," Blagojevich said. "Thanks to you -- we did it." But did they?

Some revenue projections on which this year's budget is based have not been as lucrative as expected.

In addition, revenue generated from the sale of an unused casino license, originally intended for this year's budget, has been moved into next year's budget. That's a $350 million shift.

Although Blagojevich is anticipating a budget gap of "only" $1.7 billion in the next fiscal year, it could be larger if attempts made to close this year's $5 billion deficit fall short.

And even though sales and income taxes were not raised last year and are unlikely to be raised this year, don't think you are not paying more -- directly or indirectly -- to the state.

The cost of lost "loopholes" and increased business fees are frequently passed to the customer or reflected in a stagnant or shrinking workforce.

There's one thing Blagojevich was right about: the need for the Legislature -- and him -- to budget "in a way that recognizes that the decisions we make today impact our budgets and our plans for tomorrow."

Along those lines, Blagojevich has proposed three pieces of legislation to address how the state manages its fiscal business: the Balanced Budget Act, the Responsible Spending Act and the On--Time Payment Act. They are a step in the right direction, but final judgment should be reserved until full details of their implementation are revealed.

Under the Balanced Budget Act, every spending bill or spending increase would have to include a corresponding revenue increase or spending reduction to pay for it.

That sounds good in theory, but how practical will it be in application? Lawmakers include "revenue notes" in spending bills now, but they frequently fall short of really identifying the cost of a particular piece of legislation.

A more promising proposal is his Responsible Spending Act. That would require:

• An additional $50 million deposit in the Rainy Day Fund for every $1 billion increase in the budget.

• Each state agency setting aside 2 percent of its budget funds for emergencies.

• And, best of all, every agency allocating their budgets on a quarterly basis and following a monthly spending plan.

That third element would make it easier to adjust to changes in economic conditions and missed projections for revenue and expenses. There would be fewer late fiscal year "surprises" -- many of which get pushed off to the following year by putting off paying bills until the following fiscal year.

Speaking of delayed payments, Blagojevich's On Time Bill Payment Act would set up a line of credit so bill payments would never be later than 60 days. Based on state history, this is just another borrowing plan.

The current Prompt Payment Act requires the state to pay a penalty for late bills. That hasn't stopped the delays and it doesn't help providers of goods and services to the state that have cash -- flow problems waiting for state payments.

Blagojevich argues that his plan will ensure bills will be paid on time and interest paid on the line of credit would be less than the penalty under the Prompt Payment Act.

Another promising aspect of Blagojevich's budget address was his greater willingness to work with the Legislature rather than dictate to it. On education spending, he went so far as to say, "it's only right that we work together to decide how this money should be spent."

But his offer to share responsibility with the Legislature in divvying up the $400 million in new education money he proposed may be little more than a bargaining chip to get the Legislature to back his plans to create a Department of Education and strip the Illinois State Board of Education of nearly all its power.

We'll see how long that cooperation lasts when the governor and the Legislature get down to the nitty-gritty.


Bright spots tough to find in budget  

By Doug Wilson, Herald-Whig Senior Writer, February 19, 2004 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — There aren't many bright spots in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget plan, which he says solves a $1.7 billion funding shortfall.

Blagojevich's plan to increase funding for elementary and secondary education by nearly $400 million was one of the few positives in his Wednesday budget speech. School superintendents saw the funding plan as good news. It was seen as either a hopeful sign or as a big question mark by lawmakers.

Blagojevich proposed an elementary and secondary education budget of $5.7 billion, a 6.5 percent increase over the current year. While general funding would increase $396 million, he would cut $45.7 million from programs funded with other state dollars — mostly from a $50 million school technology loan fund from which schools borrowed only $7 million this year.

"I was worried that he wouldn't even mention education funding. I'm glad he did. The next step is to see how much is mandated or categoricals. We need flexibility now," said Tom Leahy, superintendent of Quincy Public Schools.

Leahy said it may be months before it is clear how much money is going to schools and what programs will be funded.

Blagojevich's education budget is about 35 percent smaller than the $611 million requested by the Illinois State Board of Education. However, lawmakers might choose to push for higher funding during an election year.

Rep. Rich Myers, R-Colchester, said it was good to see schools in line for more money. Unfortunately, he and other legislators don't have enough details to say how much schools will be helped.

"It's a small step in the right direction. Is it going to be enough to solve all of our school problems — no it's not going to be enough, but it should help our schools keep up with rising costs," Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said.

Sen. Vince DeMuzio, D-Carlinville, said better funding for schools is absolutely essential.

"Every school district that I know of in Illinois is in trouble," DeMuzio said.

Blagojevich said the funding increase will be enough to assure that spending-per-pupil rises at least $250 this year. Blagojevich said he intentionally left the budget addition vague because he wants the General Assembly to help decide where and how those funds are spent.

Some other budget issues were more specific to Western Illinois.

Rep. Art Tenhouse, R-Liberty, was frustrated to see that the Rushville prison is not funded in the budget while two other new prisons are slated for funding.

"A lot of political gamesmanship is taking place here in terms of how and where they allocate those dollars," Tenhouse said.

He was referring to Blagojevich's announcement that a prison in Vandalia would be closed. That prison is located in the Southern Illinois district of Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville, the Senate minority leader. Watson has been one of Blagojevich's bigger critics.

"Is that (Vandalia prison) in his district? I didn't know that," Blagojevich said when questioned by reporters after his speech.

Sullivan also was disappointed the Rushville juvenile facility was not budgeted for a startup this year.

"I guess the bright spot is they're closing old facilities and looking at new ones. That gives us hope for the future ... because Rushville is a new facility," Sullivan said.

Tenhouse, Sullivan and Myers all were concerned about plans to remove tax exemptions for farm chemicals that are bought by large farms.

"How do you determine what is a large farm?" Tenhouse asked.

Beyond that question, Tenhouse wants to know how much business will be lost across the river into Missouri or Iowa when farmers living near the border want to buy farm chemicals without paying a 7 percent tax.

"That's going to be a significant amount of savings. What's going to happen is it will either send people across the river or it's going to accelerate the move to Internet sales of farm chemicals because the state doesn't tax Internet sales," Tenhouse said.

Myers said vendors will be hurt as badly as farmers. Illinois farm supply businesses near state borders will either lose sales or have to cut into profits to keep customers.

Blagojevich also announced plans to cut the Department of Agriculture's funding by more than $6 million and split up the department, sending Land and Water Resource workers to the Department of Natural Resources and sending the environmental programs to the Illinois EPA.

Sullivan, who is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he would fight to keep the department from losing ground.

"The Ag Department about 20 years ago started losing clout and responsibilities. I think this is another step in that direction. I'm going to fight very hard to keep that from happening," Sullivan said.

Tenhouse added that elimination of the Council for Ag Research also sends a message that agriculture and farm issues are not important to the Blagojevich administration.


What to cheer, jeer in budget speech  

Daily Herald Reports, 2/19/04

Too bad the state budget is not a living, breathing human, like any of those state legislators squirming in their seats during Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget epic. If so, the governor might not have to do anything more to try to balance that budget. Because it would have stood up and shouted, "OK, enough already. I give up. I'll balance myself. Just wrap it up!"

The governor certainly had a lot to say about how to repair the state's budget. He said some things that made sense. And he said some things that just as well could have been left out of the speech. And there were a few things that should have been said, but weren't.

The governor's good ideas on how to close the $1.7 billion deficit include consolidation of state government duties to save money; deferring expenditures that aren't critical to the basic function of government; eliminating more state jobs; sending a message to unions that a new state worker contract should be faithful and fair to beleaguered taxpayers and a deficit-ridden state government; and closing business loopholes that have little or nothing to do with generating jobs or maintaining the health of the business environment.

But while closing tax loopholes is fine, imposing millions of dollars more in new fees on business, as the governor has proposed, is a potential prescription for economic disaster. This budget is being balanced heavily on the backs of businesses, which just might start looking beyond the state's borders for relief. The governor and the legislature have to be very wary of that.

The governor is to be commended for refusing to reach into the classrooms for money to mend the budget. In fact, he proposes that the schools get a $400 million boost. But instead of laying down terms, he takes a unique approach in asking the legislature to help him decide how best to spend that money.

This might help Blagojevich with legislators who dislike the governor's style of distancing himself from them. It is not a bad idea, on the governor's part, to extend such an olive branch. Or, it may be a bargaining chip to get his Illinois State Board of Education revamp through the legislature.

In any event, we can only hope this results in wise education funding policy with accountability, not a politically, parochially driven distribution of dollars that isn't true to need.

A shortcoming in Blagojevich's address is the lack of urgent attention to a state pension system that is dangerously riddled with debt. As of last month, those pension funds were owed some $20 billion.

To his credit, Blagojevich has called for a thorough examination of the pension system. This cannot be a focus group discussion with findings filed away and forgotten. Action must be taken to reform a retirement system that has the state struggling to meet its obligations now. And in the absence of changes today, the future promises to be that much more fiscally frightening.


Educators mixed on Blagojevich speech  

By Liza Roche and Teresa Black, Courier News Staff Writers

While area educators welcomed a proposed $400 million increase in state funding for elementary and secondary schools, Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 2005 budget plan leaves many questions unanswered and could have disappointing implications for community colleges.

"Obviously (Blagojevich) committed money for education, but I'm not sure where and how," said John Prince, chief financial officer in Elgin School District U46.

Prince and other officials said they'll have to watch the budget process firm up before implications on next year's financial picture are clear.

Still, Prince said he would love to see some of the proposed additional education funding go toward addressing the state's funding formula, especially when it comes to growing school districts.

School districts receive a certain amount of funding based on enrollment, but because the enrollment figure lags a year behind the budget year, growing districts suffer, Prince said.

"Certainly more revenue would help us deal with that, but I think it's still a basic weakness in the formula," Prince said.

In fast-growing Community Unit School District 300, interim Business Manager John Markley said an increase in the state's per-pupil spending would provide significant financial help.

But funding for "categorical" programs like special education and transportation also need to be considered, officials said.

Associate Superintendent Robert Hansen said District 300 is expecting shortfalls this year in reimbursements from the state for categorical expenses due to problems with the 2004 state budget. If the district receives less revenue than expected this year, the question may be whether next year's funding should go toward recouping those potential funding gaps, or toward something else.

District 300 school board member Mary Fioretti watched the governor's speech on television and was glad to see an increase in school funding.

"That's really welcomed and we'd like to see it stay there," Fioretti said.

But the question of how increased state dollars could best help District 300 needs to be discussed by the school board in coming weeks, Fioretti said.

One issue to address, she said, is whether to restore funding where cuts previously had been made, such as in gifted programs, or to direct money in other areas.

"I know we want to put teachers back in the classrooms," Fioretti said.

ECC to see less

While the governor and the General Assembly have yet to dictate exactly how increased funding for elementary and secondary schools should be spent, the Illinois Community College Board already has made projections for the upcoming fiscal year.

Carole Robertson, vice president of administration and finance at Elgin Community College, said that although she projected a decrease in funding for the upcoming budget year, the governor's plan still fell below her estimates.

Under the governor's plan, ECC would receive about $5.49 million overall in state funding — about $182,000 less than Robertson anticipated.

ECC is waiting to hear on one last state funding program, but at best, the governor's plan would create a 3.2 percent decrease in funding from last year, Robertson said.

"I did project a decrease, but unfortunately it did decrease more than my estimates," Robertson said.

State funding makes up about 14 percent of all revenues at ECC, but some specific programs and services could be hit hard by the governor's budget proposal.

Work force development grants, which prepare displaced workers for new sources of employment, could drop by nearly 56 percent, Robertson said, noting that the program relies heavily on state money.

While the governor's speech gave few specifics about education, U46's Prince said he was pleased that Blagojevich continually addresses the need for improved education funding.

"I think the proof will be in his ability to take us through the process and in his ability to carry out what he wants with the legislature," he said.


Budget's promises greeted with doubt  

By DERRICK GINGERY, Northwest Herald

Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday proposed several popular ideas in his budget message and said officials could solve the state's $1.7 billion deficit.

But local legislators and others want to wait until the governor's words are put into action before sharing his optimism.

Most legislators did not receive copies of the budget until just before Blagojevich's speech and still needed time to review it late Wednesday afternoon.

State Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, said it appears the new budget once again increases spending while asking for fiscal discipline. Althoff said the state should make spending fit revenue, not look for more revenue to fit spending.

"I am pleased to note that the governor recognizes the crisis we have financially," she said. "I have grave reservations about his tendency to also want to provide new and expanded programs. In my estimation, that seems to be a contradiction in terms."

Included in the governor's budget address to state legislators was a call to increase education spending, consolidate departments, and close several corporate tax loopholes. There was no increase in income or sales taxes.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said the proposal is attainable, but he remained cautious about several provisions.

"I think it is [possible] if we prioritize correctly," he said. "With a $1.7 billion deficit, you do more with less, and I think he's doing that."

Blagojevich asked for $400 million in additional education spending for the second consecutive year, but did not outline where that money would go. Prairie Grove District 46 Superintendent George Steffen said he wants to see the details of the increase.

Steffen said he would prefer more money for general state aid. But he said suburban districts generally receive more categorical money, which is earmarked for specific programs, such as gifted programs or reading improvement.

"General state aid is more for helping lower income and poverty areas," he said. "Categoricals help suburban districts. If there were no categoricals, [suburban districts] would get virtually nothing."

State Rep. Mark Beaubien, R-Barrington Hills, said increasing spending on education is a good idea. But he said that and all of Blagojevich's ideas must be translated into real-world terms.

"How do you not agree [with more education spending]?" he said. "I think you're going to have a hard time getting the Legislature to say it's not a good idea."

Blagojevich also proposed cutting several corporate income-tax loopholes that combined could save the state $172 million to $217 million. That includes a provision allowing businesses to keep income in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes, and a provision that allows companies to shuffle profits between divisions.

Karen Patel, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corp., said small-business owners, who also benefit from some of the tax provisions, could be hurt if the loopholes are repealed. She said the state should not attack a sector that helps to support it.

"Business owners will not be creating new jobs but be forced into further looking at profitability and survival, and will be reducing jobs or eliminating them," Patel said. "And that is not the climate you want to have for economic vitality."


Better state government starts with education finance reform  

Opinion by Victor Darst of West Dundee, Courier News

Is this any way to run a state? This has to be the question after two recent stories about some of the governor's sleight-of-hand efforts to reduce a $2 billion budget deficit; and the budget problems facing almost 80 percent of school districts in the state.

Next month, there will be 93 school referendums seeking tax increases because of the failure of the state to comply with Article X of the state constitution.

The underfunding of education by the state forces many school districts to seek additional funding through referendums that raise property taxes. More than half of these referendums will fail because homeowners are already bearing an oppressive tax burden. This will leave many school districts with serious financial problems. When the governor and legislature seriously begin to talk of eliminating the waste that occurs from pork-barrel projects, unnecessary personnel and departments, duplication of state services, patronage, backroom deals like the one that blew up in their faces in Rosemont and corporate welfare, then we will know they are really serious about the financial problems of the state.

Almost every study of school funding has come to the conclusion that the funding of education through the property tax is seriously flawed. When local governments have the primary responsibility for the funding of education, there will always be significant achievement and spending gaps between the rich and poor school districts. Reform of school funding will mean that the state will have to comply with Article X and assume the primary responsibility for funding. Unless our representatives in Springfield eliminate most of the waste in government (which is extremely doubtful), then reform of school funding will probably mean having to raise the state income tax from 3 percent to 3.75 percent.

Of course, raising the state income tax will also mean that the property tax will be reduced. Reform will result in a much fairer system of school funding. Since a majority of voters continue to re-elect the same representatives responsible for the fiscal mess in Springfield, there is not much hope that state government will soon become more efficient.

Expecting our representatives to reform both school funding and state government is probably too much to hope for. So let's take one thing at a time and insist that the governor and the legislature do something about school funding immediately. The present system of school funding is not only ineffective it is extremely unfair.


What does a school board actually do?  

By Jessica Johnson, member of the Indian Prairie School District 204 Board, Sun Publications

What does a school board actually do? Do you get paid? Why are you on the board if your kids aren't even in school yet? These are the questions people often ask me when they find out that I am a member of the Indian Prairie District 204 school board. Here is what I tell them.

A school board is a unique body of governance, in that, unlike a traditional corporate board, we have a duty not only to our taxpayers (or shareholders) but also to our students. We must provide a quality education for our students today, while ensuring we can afford that same education to our students of tomorrow. All this at an expense to our taxpayers.

As someone that grew up in District 203, I am well aware of the impact a strong education had on my life, and I am committed to helping to shape that educational process for students in District 204 today and in the future.

So what do we do? One of our most critical roles is to employ the superintendent. With more than 26,500 students and an operating budget of more than $180 million, we can't possibly be aware of everything that is happening in the district. We rely on our superintendent and her cabinet to identify emerging issues and provide us with the information we need to make operational and financial decisions. While it seems like a small task, selecting the superintendent and building a balanced relationship of trust and inquiry is critical.

The next major role is to set the strategic direction for the district. We maintain a three-year strategic plan. The board meets with the administration annually to update the plan and to identify goals for the upcoming school year.

The plan encompasses financial goals and academic goals. It also includes operational goals, like improving operational efficiency through the use of technology.

The setting and monitoring of district policy, while it sounds mundane, is the area where our role is the least clear. We strive to identify objectives, or ends we would like to achieve, and allow the administration to identify and implement the means to achieve those objectives.

Easier said than done. Often, we find ourselves advising and questioning how objectives will be accomplished. This of course isn't all bad, it is just part of finding the balance again between trust and inquiry with the administration. We need to rely on their expertise while also knowing the tough questions to ask.

The most difficult role — and most rewarding — is to stay connected with the community. Each of us has friends and neighbors we talk to regarding how things are going. We also build relationships with the Indian Prairie Parents Council and the school parent-teacher associations to further connect.

Finally, through informational items, student reports, public comment, and a weekly delivery of newspaper clippings and school newsletters, we learn about what's happening in our schools.

So what keeps me going Monday night after Monday night? That's simple. It's seeing all the wonderful opportunities our administrators and teachers provide to our students.

Where else are teachers so committed that over 16 passed the elective, rigorous National Board Certification process in one year? Where else are students participating in the human genome project? Every week I am privileged to hear about the exciting opportunities to learn. This is what feeds my commitment to District 204.




Education chief defends 'No Child Left Behind'

Brett Lieberman, Newhouse News Service

Critics of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" plan are driven by ideology and a lack of understanding of the reforms, Education Secretary Rodney Paige said Wednesday.

Complaints alleging insufficient funding levels and overly stringent requirements are unfounded, Paige said in a 30-minute interview in which he touted what is seen by some as one of Bush's biggest accomplishments.

"Much of this is disingenuous," he said. "There are some who mean to distort. They have a different ideology."

The reforms require national testing of schools and allow students to transfer from failing schools.

Criticism of the law and its implementation has been bipartisan. Republican-controlled legislatures in Virginia and Utah have passed resolutions attacking the law and restricting their own spending to implement it.

But Paige defended the law as a rational attempt to improve education after years of federal spending with little success.

"There's nothing unreasonable about this bill," Paige said.

Federal education spending has increased by $11 billion to $53.1 billion since Bush took office, and he has proposed increasing funds for special education by $1 billion in each of the past four years.

No Child Left Behind funds will have increased by 42 percent if Bush's recent budget proposal is adopted.

Complaints about funding levels detract from the debate about how to best improve skills such as reading and math and too often mask schools' underlying problems, Paige said.

Schools that improve performance can expect increased funds and support, he said.

"Show me the money you are using now produces student achievement and that more money is going to produce more student achievement, and I'm going to be your best cheerleader," he said.


No Child Left Behind: Leaving States Cold

Perry Bacon, Time Magazine

James Dillard isn't negotiating anymore. The former teacher and current member of the Virginia house of delegates met repeatedly with Department of Education officials and even visited the White House to complain about No Child Left Behind, the law President Bush signed two years ago that requires states to test students in reading and math every year and penalizes schools that don't meet standards. Dillard wanted more flexibility in administering the policy; he got none. So last month he led the house of delegates in passing a symbolic resolution calling for Congress to exempt Virginia from the law, which it refers to as "the most sweeping intrusion into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."

At least 20 states have joined the revolt. Utah's house of representatives last week passed a bill that forbids the state to spend any of its money to meet the law's requirements. No Child Left Behind has declared more than 6,000 schools failing and, the states say, imposed on them millions in costs to create new tests and accountability systems. Critics are upset about those costs and the difficulty of getting exemptions to the policy, even though many schools argue that they are failing only because a few students with special needs aren't making the bar.

The issue is upending the usual party divide. Republicans have led the fight against Bush's policy in states like Virginia and Utah. Senator Ted Kennedy was a key Democratic supporter of the law — but is now contemplating changes. And Bush's likely opponent in the presidential race has criticized him sharply for the funding shortfalls but has so far indicated no desire to fight him on a central tenet of the law. Says an adviser to John Kerry: "He wouldn't in any way back away from the commitment to accountability."


Teachers crucial, first lady says

Associated Press, Chicago Tribune

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- First Lady Laura Bush promoted teaching as a profession Tuesday, recalling 20 sets of young eyes staring up at her on her first day on the job.

"There are few professions where you can see the impact of your work so vividly, and there aren't many jobs where hero and best friend are part of the job description," Bush told students at Bentonville High School. "There are few careers that have such a big impact on an entire generation and an entire nation."

Bush told of her first day as a teacher in Texas, shortly after she received her teaching degree decades ago.

"At 9 o'clock, we started to work," she said. "We recited the alphabet and numbers. We colored and put together puzzles. We read a few books, and then a few more, and by 9:15 a.m., I had gone through my entire day's lesson plan."

Bentonville, a fast-growing city in northwest Arkansas, was Bush's first stop on a three-day trip of education and campaign fundraising events in California and Nevada as well as Arkansas.

At Bentonville High, Bush visited with students, dropped in on David Chapman's American history class and spoke in an auditorium to help launch "TeachArkansas," a state-sponsored program to recruit teachers. The program is reaching out to bring education graduates, retired teachers, people wanting second careers and others into classrooms across the state.

The first lady said the need for teaching talent is not Arkansas' alone. "We'll need more than 2million new teachers in America's classrooms in the next decade," she said.

"I understand that a lot of states have budget problems. Money is tight," Bush said. "But I also know how crucial really good teachers are to the whole future of our country."

Bush urged school districts and state legislators to recognize teaching as a profession that deserves good pay and to keep education in the forefront of their budgets.

If she wanted a section of the state to raise campaign money for Bush-Cheney '04, she couldn't have picked a better spot than Benton County, a Republican stronghold.

Bush was host for a fundraising lunch that brought in $150,000 at a country club in nearby Rogers, then headed west to attend an evening fundraiser in Newport Beach, Calif. She has raised more than $5million for her husband's campaign.


Parents support theory, not practice of leaving no child behind  

By LEE HENDREN, Times & Democrat Staff Writer

Most American parents want an educational system that leaves no child behind, but they don't like the way the federal No Child Left Behind law works, a national opinion survey has found.

Support for NCLB is "a mile wide and an inch deep," said Pam Solo, president of the Civil Society Institute, a Newton, Mass.-based nonprofit that seeks to serve as a catalyst for change to help improve society.

The institute's Results for America project commissioned Opinion Research Corporation to conduct the survey of 699 parents in the 48 contiguous states.

Nearly four in five parents of school-age children said they were aware of the No Child Left Behind law, and of that group, two-thirds support the concept of ensuring that every child gets an education.

Yet more than half of the parents oppose high-stakes testing, which is fundamental to how No Child Left Behind works, Solo said in a recent conference call with reporters.

"Parents don't much like the idea of high-stakes testing ... or the notion that their own child's school could be branded a failure and penalized," she said. "They reject a one-size-fits-all approach to reforming education."

Only 46 percent associate NCLB with "improved learning," while 34 percent see the law as "punishing schools for failure instead of rewarding them for success."

"These survey results indicate that, while American parents are supportive of the concept of 'No Child Left Behind' for America's schools, the level of support melts away significantly when they are asked to consider what this could mean specifically in the context of their child's school," said Wayne Russum, senior research manager for Opinion Research Corporation.

"This does not appear to be a political or ethnic phenomenon; (it) cuts across most demographic and political groupings," Russum added. "Even the Republicans have concerns about the implementation and the tools used in the implementation of the act."

If additional federal education dollars become available, only 10 percent of the respondents prefer to see them spent to further implement NCLB, while half would spend that money to reduce class sizes.

"We have lots of research data, in addition to experience," indicating that smaller class sizes and "more relational settings" boost academic performance, said Ken Rolling, executive director of Parents for Public Schools.

PPS has chapters in Charleston and Lancaster and in 14 other states. The survey results "mirror our experience with parents and their concerns about NCLB," Rolling said.

"We've found that parents like the intention of NCLB. No one disagrees with its goal of a better education for our children," Rolling said. "But what they don't like is ... the details of how NCLB really works."

NCLB "attempts to take apart their neighborhood schools," but "parents like their neighborhood schools and want them fixed," he said.

According to Solo, standardized testing:

-- "Measures failure rather than promoting success."

-- Leads to a "narrowing of the curriculum" that stifles creativity.

-- Encourages teachers to "teach the test at the expense of other learning experiences."

-- Creates "adversarial relationships" among teachers, administrators and parents.

"There are no standardized children," Solo said. "Parents want policies that promote learning ... based on what we know about how kids learn," as well as "more voice in educating their children."

She called for "returning the power of teaching to those who know how to teach ... rather than having the educational police looking over our shoulder."

The survey was conducted between Jan. 22 and Feb. 1. Telephone interviews with 3,047 adults were weighted by age, gender, geographic region and race. The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 4 percentage points for the sample of 699 parents.


Republicans Praise NCLB Policy Giving Schools Flexibility on Students with Language Barriers

U.S. Newswire, 2/19/04 

WASHINGTON -- U.S. House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) and Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE) today praised the U.S. Department of Education for a new policy that will give states and local schools flexibility in assessing limited English proficient (LEP) students without compromising on the rights of such students to learn English under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The rule means schools around the country will not be unfairly identified by states as "needing improvement" as a result of complications relating to the difficulty of testing students who face language barriers or are hindered by inadequate schooling they received prior to arriving in the United States.

"This policy will help to ensure good schools are not incorrectly identified by states as needing improvement, while continuing to ensure limited English proficient students are learning English and making academic gains. It provides flexibility to states and schools without denying these children the opportunity they deserve to learn English in our public schools," said Boehner. "The policy reflects the intent Congress had when these provisions were written and passed two years ago with overwhelming bipartisan support. I congratulate Secretary Paige, Deputy Secretary Hickok, and the administration for taking this step."

"Once again, the Department of Education is giving states great flexibility in how they implement No Child Left Behind. This new transition policy will help schools, teachers and students meet the standards of this historic education reform bill, while at the same time ensuring those students for whom English is a second language receive the quality education they need and deserve," Castle said. "We stand ready and willing to help all schools meet the standards their states set and I appreciate the Department's willingness to address these issues."

According to a recent national survey, Republican leaders noted, 81 percent of Hispanic Americans support using standardized tests to decide whether students can move from one grade to the next, and large majorities of both African-Americans and Latinos support using such tests to "identify areas in which students need extra help and teachers could improve." Ninety-two percent of Hispanics agree it is "very important" for immigrants' children to learn English in school. Support is strongest among those born abroad. (Hannah Gladfelter Rubin, "Survey Finds Hispanics Support Schools, Testing," Education Daily, January 30, 2004)

"This policy comes two months after the Education Department finalized a similar rule on students with special needs that will also help to ensure good schools are not wrongly identified by states as needing improvement," said Boehner. "Many of the law's skeptics ought to stop and take a look at these rules and policies, and recognize they provide significant flexibility to states and schools without compromising the ability of disadvantaged children to access a quality education. They are reasonable and fair, particularly in light of the billions in federal education funds states are receiving to implement the law's requirements."

NCLB requires states to test all public school students annually in key subjects, such as reading and math. The Department of Education policy gives states and local school districts flexibility in assessing limited English proficient students. Newly-arrived limited English proficient students, during their first year in the United States, will be allowed to take either the English proficiency assessments or the state language arts assessment, while being allowed to use appropriate accommodations for the math assessment. These first-year students' scores will not be computed for adequate yearly progress (AYP) purposes, but they will still be calculated as participants, and the students' scores will be included in AYP calculations beginning in their second years.

The flexibility policy also allows states to include limited English proficient students in a school's LEP subgroup (AYP purposes) for up to two years after these students attain English proficiency, helping to ensure schools receive credit for good work they have done in helping LEP students attain full proficiency.


NCTAF News Digest for February 19, 2004

Topics This Issue:

- Race a Factor in School Facilities, Senator Says

- The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: An Examination of School Leadership

- Reductions Hurt Across State, Say Union and Administrators

- Md. Offers an Advance Of $42 Million

- Pa.'s $30 Million Debt Imperils School Network

- Educators Leery Of Online Program

- Seeking Alternatives to Standardized Testing (Deborah Meier Interview)

- Grading the Systems: The Guide To State Standards, Tests, And Accountability Policies


Race a Factor In School Facilities, Senator Says

Excerpt: Many of the state's school buildings are in bad shape because affluent, white parents send their children to private schools and leave public facilities in neglect, Sen. David Bisbee, R-Rogers, told the Republican Women of Benton County.

"The South has been re-segregated, with white students going to private schools and poor black students in schools that have not been maintained," Bisbee said while speaking at the group's lunch meeting at Ryan's Steak House in Rogers.

Bisbee did not have figures for white private school enrollment, he said after the meeting, "but we know there are towns that are not majority-black that have majority-black school districts." Bisbee is Senate chairman of the Joint Budget Committee and the co-author of the state's new school funding formula, along with Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant.

The new funding formula obligates additional kindergarten-12th grade education spending of more than $400 million next year. Bisbee made his remarks while defending the Legislature's decision to spend up to $10 million on a study of school building needs in Arkansas. Many Arkansas schools were built with a limited life span and were poorly maintained, Bisbee told the group. That means the state will probably face considerable costs in putting up new buildings.

A $2 billion price tag would not surprise him, he said. "No business spends $2 billion without some really good research," he said. The $10 million for a detailed study "isn't pocket change, but it's a very small portion of what we'll have to spend."


MetLife [School Leadership}

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: An Examination of School Leadership February 2004

Report Excerpt: In schools across the country, more and more emphasis is being placed on the importance of leadership. The school principal is increasingly regarded as the primary factor in implementing reform and raising student achievement. However, those most closely involved with schools – principals, teachers, students and parents – all have different ideas of what school leadership actually means. What should a principal’s priorities be? What are the key elements of the principal’s job? How do other members of the school community perceive principals? The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 2003 examines the attitudes and opinions of teachers, principals, parents and students regarding these and other areas of school leadership.

The different experiences and school community roles of teachers, principals and parents and students allow each to bring a unique perspective to an examination of the issue of school leadership. Despite these differences, the survey revealed remarkable unanimity in what these groups view as most important in a discussion of leadership in the schools: motivating teachers and students. All three adult stakeholder groups are most likely to believe that motivating teachers and students is the most important characteristic of a school, the most important role of a school leader and the most important part of a school principal’s job. Principals report that they spend more than one-third of their workweek during the school year on this task, more than on discipline or reporting and compliance.

Although teachers are in agreement with principals and parents on the relative importance of guiding and motivating students and faculty, they differ in their emphasis on other aspects of the school and a principal’s priorities. Teachers believe that test scores are most important to principals – more important than motivating teachers and students. Yet principals overwhelmingly report that the motivation of students and faculty to achieve is their top priority. Teachers believe that principals spend more time on reporting and compliance than on guiding and motivating teachers, but principals report that the reverse is true.

In addition to examining views on school leadership directly by asking about the most important aspects of school leaders and the priorities of school principals, the study explored this issue by looking at areas that can be affected by the quality of school leadership such as the school atmosphere, relationships among key groups and job satisfaction. Teachers, principals, parents and students report great differences in these areas. Of the three groups of adults, principals consistently report the most positive views of their schools. They are most likely to describe their school as showing concern for students and being welcoming to parents.

The Boston Globe [State Budget Cuts]


Reductions Hurt Across State, Say Union And Administrators 02-19-04

Excerpt: About 1,400 teachers have lost their jobs, class sizes have grown so large that they're hard to control, and some students are paying high fees for sports, activities, and transportation. Those are the effects of the state's $527 million cut to local aid during the past two years, and a portion of that cut affected education, according to a state teachers union report released yesterday. The cuts are chipping away at the progress the state's schools have made since the Education Reform Act of 1993, the report contends.

The authors of the report said they did not have a figure for education cuts during the past two years. News reports have indicated that the state cut basic education aid last year by $150 million for local school districts and also reduced MCAS preparation funds from $50 million to $10 million. This year, Governor Mitt Romney is proposing $72 million in basic education aid, a 2.3 percent increase, and an additional $40 million to create various new programs for school districts.

The statewide look at the cuts was compiled by several teacher and administrative groups, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association. State education officials yesterday argued that that the report focuses on too short a time span. While local aid has been reduced over the two-year period, overall education spending has increased by 6.7 percent, the officials said. The spending increase, however, comes from a variety of sources, including municipal reserve funds and overrides of Proposition 2 1/2 tax limits.

The school districts that responded reported eliminating 1,400 teaching jobs during the past two years.

In addition, 153 districts reported average class size data. Of those, 59 percent said class sizes have increased, 18 percent said classes have decreased, and 24 percent said the sizes have remained the same. Many school districts, including Boston, Springfield, and Haverhill, also reported closing schools, cutting programs such as tutoring for the MCAS exam, and raising fees.

The Baltimore Sun [School Management]


Md. Offers An Advance Of $42 Million

Excerpt: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he will advance the struggling Baltimore school system $42 million to help address an overwhelming cash flow problem that threatened to bankrupt the system. But the money will come with strings. The state cash will help ease a $58 million cash flow crisis - which comes on top of the system's $58 million accumulated deficit. As a condition of the advance, Ehrlich will require a plan from school system leaders by Friday that will assure him, legislators and taxpayers, he said, that the system will be financially and academically accountable.

"A lot of questions must be answered to everyone's mutual satisfaction," he said.

Details of the accountability plan still are being hashed out, but a specific condition the governor is requesting is an "oversight person" who will report directly to him on the status of the city schools' money. "I want answers," the governor said at a news conference he called yesterday with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, city schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and others.

The state advance will require legislative approval, and yesterday some state lawmakers complained about the prospect of again bailing out the city school system. The state's advance will be in addition to an $8 million loan from the city and an $8 million loan from the nonprofit Abell Foundation - both at a 1.5 percent interest rate. The total - $58 million in loans and advances - will address the school system's current fiscal year cash-flow emergency, which has caused school officials to fall behind on bills.,0,7835611.story?coll=bal-home-headlines

The Philadelphia Inquirer [State Funding]


Pa.'s $30 Million Debt Imperils School Network 02-19-04

Excerpt: A network of nonprofit private schools that has educated some of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable children for four decades is nearing meltdown because the state owes it as much as $30 million and doesn't have the money to pay. Pennsylvania's 29 state-licensed Approved Private Schools work with about 4,000 children and young adults with impairments including cerebral palsy, severe mental retardation, autism and emotional disorders. After a school district and the state agree to a placement, the district pays 40 percent of the cost, which can run $40,000 a year or more. The state is supposed to pay 60 percent.

But the Pennsylvania Department of Education ran out of money to pay the schools last spring, and it has decided to pay them only a fraction of what it acknowledges they are owed. Some of the private schools say they will start sending children back to their home districts if the crisis isn't resolved by June. Others are insisting that local school districts pick up the entire tab for their students if the problem isn't settled soon. Either way, school districts would be hard-pressed to come up with acceptable alternatives, said Michael Kelly, the director of pupil services for the Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County, which sends about 45 students to Approved Private Schools, at a district cost of about $700,000. Paying full tuition would add more than $1 million to the district's costs and "that would be a hardship," he said.

But "what concerns me more," he said, "is finding an appropriate education for these students." Districts will find a way if they have to, he said, but "... it takes years to develop programs to meet the needs of these students. This would be uncharted territory." A quick resolution appears unlikely. The state notified some of the schools this month that they will get less than half of the $7.3 million in expenses they are owed from the 1999-2000 and 2001-02 school years, with the schools having to write off the rest. Other schools that have not yet been audited and claim expenses totaling millions more will get nothing, at least for now, state officials said. And there is no money to pay almost $11.5 million the schools say they are due for the 2002-03 school year.

Idaho Spokesman Review [Online Certification – Teacher Preparation]


Educators Leery Of Online Program 02-17-04

Excerpt: Educators are questioning how an online certification program approved by the Idaho Board of Education can adequately prepare teachers to handle the demands of a classroom. The State Board of Education, with only state Superintendent Marilyn Howard dissenting, approved the Passport to Teaching certification process in November, which bypasses requirements of state education colleges.

The test is sponsored by the nonprofit American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, based in Washington, D.C. The computer-based course, which includes essay requirements, incorporates video and audio interactive scenarios designed to test candidates' skills and knowledge. For a $500 fee and one year of study, the board claims its course prepares candidates to meet state teaching guidelines just as well as college-trained teachers who spend an average of five years of study and classroom training with mentors.

Idaho is the second state in the country to approve the online certification program. Pennsylvania accepted the program -- but Brian Christopher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said his state has since backed away from it. "The idea is that we don't want them to depend simply on certification alone," Christopher said. "We believe in a strong internship program as well, and to be in a supervised environment. You really need hands-on training before you take control of a classroom." There are eight candidates for the program in Idaho. But, so far, no candidate in Idaho or Pennsylvania has been certified.

Washington Post [Testing – NCLB]


Seeking Alternatives To Standardized Testing (Interview) 02-18-04

Excerpt: MATTHEWS: I see many good schools in low-income environments, like the KIPP schools, or some of the Edison schools, that seem to be producing well-educated kids by using the testing approach, with some variations, and very few that are having similar success with your approach. I have come to wonder if your approach is too hard to make work unless the staff is unusually gifted, as yours was at Central Park East. Am I wrong? Why don't we have a large and growing number of schools in low-income neighborhoods following your example?

MEIER: It mostly depends on how one defines being "well-educated." You get what you ask for. For those who define it as KIPP or Edison do, clearly the test-prep approach works, although they'll soon discover its limits. I'm for their right to define education that way and to use assessments that best capture what matters to them. But I think time will demonstrate that narrowing the gap between low- and high-income test takers is a never-never-land game -- for many reasons -- and that a better definition of being well educated offers a better shot at real equity. Richard Rothstein has done a good job of chasing down the so-called miracle schools that confound the odds on testing and proving they are mostly myths.

Alas, in a society determined to increase all the other gaps between low and high income and black, brown and white Americans, it will get harder, not easier, to narrow, much less close, those gaps. But even if one could do it, the gap in test scores is not the one I'm most worried about. Neither is it the one that most affects how kids do after they leave school, or what kind of society we are creating. The kinds of tests we're all focused on simply are not a good measure of what really counts. C.P.E. [Central Park East] started from a different premise -- the premise that got me interested in becoming a teacher to start with. I do not, for good reasons, view test scores as a measure of intellectual achievement -- or of much else that we know matters in the long haul. The success of C.P.E. was not based on test scores but on the remarkable data we collected on who graduated, who went on to college, and, most important, how they fared in real life afterward.

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation [NCLB]


Grading the Systems: The Guide To State Standards, Tests, And Accountability Policies  01-30-04

Excerpt: The No Child Left Behind act requires all states to establish state academic standards in reading and math, to test all students on whether they're meeting those standards, and to hold schools and districts accountable for their academic performance. Yet a new study indicates that few states have successfully tied their standards, tests, and accountability policies into a comprehensive and rigorous system.

Grading the Systems: The guide to state standards, tests, and accountability policies, from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and AccountabilityWorks, examines thirty states' standards, tests, and accountability policies to see how well these essential components tie together (as of January 2003). Specifically, the authors look at six key elements of an effective and complete accountability package for primary-secondary schooling:

- state standards (for reading and math),

- the content of state tests,

- alignment between standards and tests (to ensure that what's supposed to be taught is also what's being tested),

- test rigor (whether passing scores are set where they should be),

- test trustworthiness and transparency, and

- accountability measures (whether the state has incentives, consequences, and interventions for students, adults, and districts).

Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received solid scores for at least three of six elements, with the Bay State posting excellent scores for its standards. Most multi-state averages were merely "fair."



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