ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – March 5 to 12, 2004

TOP OF PAGE

STATE   
Illinois Senate committee OKs raising dropout age / Quad City Times
Educators wary of earlier exam dates / Daily Herald
Some will always be left behind / Beacon News
Governor's plan for education wouldn't bring change / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Money isn't going where it's needed for education / Decatur Herald & Review
Blagojevich offers few specifics on education changes he hopes to make / DeKalb Daily Chronicle
Some say Blagojevich's budget plan is unconstitutional / Peoria Journal Star
Hidden danger: Many schools lack adequate number of sprinklers / Sauk Valley Newspapers
Restructure education before funding reform / Pantagraph
Democrats rip school funding / Chicago Tribune
Vocational ed evolves to meet 21st Century career demands / Chicago Tribune
Residents should do their part for schools / The Sun (Lisle)
Officials find no easy remedies for 'No Child' ills / The Sun (Plainsfield)
Governor's plan leaves local administrators with questions / Olney Daily Mail
Why more schools are hitting up voters / Daily Herald
It's wait-see on governor's plan / Franklin Park Herald Journal
Teacher scholarship funds cut / Chicago Tribune
State lawmakers: 'We have to live within our means' / Melrose Park Herald
Rebuffed by state, schools seek tax hikes / Daily Southtown
A timely proposal for massive school reform / Chicago Daily Defender
Stale board of ed just the middleman / Plainfield Enterprise
Teachers should be taxed on retirement / Freeport Journal Standard
No help from Springfield / Pantagraph
The real problem with education / Edwardsville Intelligencer
Quinn pitches funding proposal / Peoria Journal Star
Plan calls for revamping education funding in state / Alton Telegraph
NATIONAL   
Report: 12th-grade test needs overhaul / CNN.com
Pa. co. seeks to put ads on school buses / Boston Globe
School districts leaving federal dollars behind / Denver Post
Schools look to taxpayers to OK funds / Chicago Tribune
State Board of Education to support law overhaul / Tribune Star (Terre Haute, IN)
Education law causing shift away from liberal arts / Cox News Service
Districts look for ways to cut fat, keep funds / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
State standing firmly behind No Child act / Palm Beach Post (FL)
Examining No Child Left Behind / Washington Post

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

Illinois Senate committee OKs raising dropout age  

By Jennifer Wig, Quad City Times

SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois Senate committee gave its approval this week to a bill that would raise the age at which students could drop out of high school from 16 to 17.

The Senate education committee moved the bill to the Senate floor by a 8-0 favorable vote. Two “present” votes were reported. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, said delaying the age at which students drop out could induce them to remain in school until graduation. In addition, he said, society suffers a high cost when students drop out because many end up in the corrections systems or work at low-wage jobs.

The bill also provides other options for students, such as job training and community college, which also would be funded by state dollars. While del Valle offered no estimate for his proposal’s financial costs, he said any dent in state funding would be worth making a dent in the dropout rate.

The bill is supported by the ISBE and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. According to ISBE, the statewide dropout rate is 4.9 percent.

TOP OF PAGE

Educators wary of earlier exam dates  

By Erin Holmes, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 3/3/2004

Suburban high school educators said Tuesday they fear that giving the state exams earlier in 2005 means more kids will be ill-prepared, at a time when the No Child Left Behind law is raising the stakes on improvement.

State officials have agreed to give the tests in March 2005, so they can get the data out to the schools earlier. Last year the scoring process - made stickier by demands of the No Child Left Behind act - took so long schools didn't know their scores until about December.

Suburban school officials say the change - juniors will take the Prairie State Achievement Exam nearly two months earlier than in 2004 - could sink test scores and ruin any continuity the testing program had.

"You're going to have to have a big asterisk (by the 2005 scores) and say, 'This year, there's nine weeks less of instructional time,'" Wheeling High School Principal Dorothy C. "Dottie" Sievert said. "They're going to be less prepared. It's not a time to be making large changes like this."

But state board of education spokeswoman Karen Craven argues timing shouldn't matter. The PSAE assesses cumulative knowledge through years of school, not just the year it's taken, she said.

Craven added that the state board consulted experts, who said the two months is a "trivial" amount of time.

She also points out few had vast hopes for better scores several years ago when the state actually began giving schools more time before doling out the standardized tests.

"There was no one out there saying, 'Our kids are going to do so much better because we have more time,'ć" Craven said.

If the state does notice a drop in scores, "We will consider making an adjustment" statistically in 2005, she added.

Educators repeatedly have said they want to get data back sooner, to give them time to react and implement change.

But what they sought was a quicker turnaround, educators said - not a new testing date.

"When we wanted results sooner, we wanted them graded faster," Warren Township High's Mary Olson said.

Craven said that's not possible with the current contractor handling the scoring. Should the state contract with another scorer in 2006, the testing dates may be pushed back again.

"We can certainly understand the difficult position the state is in," Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen said. His district is "very concerned" about the change in dates, he said, but officials "will wait to evaluate this change until ... seeing results from the 2005" tests.

In 2005, high school juniors will take the Prairie State on March 2 and 3. This year's juniors will take it the last week of April. Elementary and middle school kids will take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test on March 7, 2005; this year they will take it in early April.

The new dates should get the initial results back in early summer.

But it doesn't matter if the scores aren't where they should be because of timing, says Tom Hay, an assistant superintendent in Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300.

"You are really testing sophomores who are in (their junior year) for six months," he argued.

Officials in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 estimate the effect will be a half-point drop in the average composite ACT score.

"I understand peoples' needs and the governor's need to get test scores back into teachers' hands so they can make changes the following year," District 214 Superintendent Elizabeth A. Ennis said.

But, she said, "we need to provide the best testing situation. And you sure don't give a test to kids over material you haven't had time to cover. I mean, that's the worst example of poor test circumstances I can think of."

Naperville Unit District 203 Superintendent Alan Leis fears teachers will be pressured to cram more into less time.

It's not all bad news, though.

In high school, the change will put distance between the PSAE and Advanced Placement tests, which now follow days later. In elementary school, some say the timing will be a better fit, coming before spring break rather than right after.

"It's really hard to do testing at that point" after break, said Alan Simon, superintendent of Arlington Heights Elementary District 25. "The kids are in a little different frame of mind."

He added he doesn't believe the timing will prove as much a hassle at the elementary level.

"My gut reaction is it doesn't seem to make a big difference one way or another," he said.

TOP OF PAGE

Some will always be left behind  

Beacon News Editorial, 3/5/04

At issue: The No Child Left Behind act penalizes schools whose special education students don't meet normal standards. We say: The expectation is wrong and the law should be changed.

The federal government's "No Child Left Behind" law is neither realistic nor practical.

After all, no educational system, no matter how good it is, is going to be able to bring all students up to a federally mandated level of achievement.

In life, some people are going to be left behind, and the federal government can't change that.

One of the problems with the law is that schools that have students with autism, mental retardation, brain injuries or other types of disabilities that hamper their learning ability risk being rated as failing schools because of the poor performance of the students on the standardized tests the federal government uses to rate students, and hence schools.

The law mandates, among other things, that all students, including special education students, must be brought up to grade level on standardized tests.

In essence, educators are being told they must bring students up to a level some cannot possibly achieve.

A schools director in Nashville, Tenn., called it "ludicrous to give a (special-education) student a test that they cannot read or understand, much less know the answer."

What's even worse is that across the United States, thousands of schools were deemed as "failing" because of the test performance of special education students who simply are not going to meet the federal "standards" no matter how well they are taught or how hard they try.

As one teacher who deals with a variety of learning disabled students put it, "These kids are not going to grow out of it, not going to grow up and be OK. It's sad, but that is the way it is."

The feds don't see it that way, and schools that "fail" can face sanctions, including being taken over by the state or private companies, and teachers can face loss of their jobs.

At the very least, the federal government ought to allow students who cannot reasonably be expected to have the learning capacity to pass its tests not to have such tests counted against the schools.

It is patently unfair to have the test results of students incapable of passing such tests used to determine the fate of the schools.

More than anything else, though, this shows that members of Congress and federal bureaucrats ought not to be meddling in matters that are better left in the hands of local teachers, principals and administrators.

TOP OF PAGE

Governor's plan for education wouldn't bring change  

Opinion by Paul H. Seibert, Director of Development, The Governor French Academy, Inc., St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/01/2004 

Governor Rod Blagojevich is at war with the Illinois State Board of Education. According to the governor, the ISBE is a bloated, "soviet-style" state bureaucracy. He would replace the State Board and its staff with a Department of Education which, he says, would answer directly to the office of the governor.

Mr. Blagojevich says that the Illinois State Board of Education and its State Superintendent of Education have no accountability. The new department would be accountable directly to the governor. He says that the ISBE wastes tons of money. His new department would save lots of money. He says the ISBE has little impact on the actual education of Illinois school children. His new department would be different.

Let me start off by saying that I have never been a fan of the Illinois State Board of Education. In my years in Illinois education, I, too, have found that the ISBE is a tangled bureaucracy. At best, it is a regulatory agency. In other words, its purpose is to create and enforce rules regarding Illinois education. It carries out the edicts of the Illinois legislature which creates the laws that govern Illinois schools. By definition, it is not a creative body. It is about making Illinois schools color within the lines.

In my role as an advocate for and advisor to Illinois charter schools, I have pushed for some other model of the ISBE in the area of education reform. If our schools need reform, asking the Illinois State Board to lead the way is foolish. The ISBE is the rule keeper. It is the maintainer of the status quo. If I have been asking for a major change to the ISBE for years, am I happy now that the Governor seems to agree? Not really.

What would a Department of Education look like compared to the current State Board of Education? According to the Mr. Blagojevich, the Department of Education would be appointed by the Governor. The State Board of Education is appointed by the Governor. The appointees to the Department would be approved by the state Legislature. The ISBE appointees are approved by the state Legislature. The Department would answer directly to the Governor. The ISBE answers jointly to the Governor and the State Legislature. The ISBE has a paid staff of bureaucrats. The Department of Education would have a paid staff of bureaucrats – probably many of the same bureaucrats who now work for the ISBE. Like other state departments, the Department of Education would probably have a chief executive. The ISBE has its State Superintendent. Some appointees of the State Board change every time there is a change of Governor. The appointees of the Department of Education would definitely change every time there is a change of Governor, especially on change of political party.

Where is the difference? Both are appointed by the Governor. Both are state bureaucracies. Both answer to one or more elected state offices. Both are regulatory agencies. Will a red car run better than a blue car? There is no evidence that says it will.

Will Illinois realize better schools by replacing the Illinois State Board of Education with a Department of Education? Will Illinois children realize a better education? Considering the above, it's not likely. This is a shame, for something needs to be done for better schools and better education in Illinois. So far, this proposal may offer different lines within which to color. Please, teacher, may we have permission to color outside of the lines?

TOP OF PAGE

Money isn't going where it's needed for education  

Letter by David R. Baker of Decatur, Decatur Herald & Review, 3/5/04

They say that money talks, but it doesn't sing, dance or walk. However, the past several years, money is certainly walking -- walking right into the pockets of principals, superintendents and legislators.

Until they fork some of this into the hands of the teachers, nothing is going to go anywhere. Also, the people (parents) are going to have to get more. Just as the governor said, there is going to have to be some other way besides property taxes to fund education. It is getting out of hand. I personally need to pay $100 more this year and $80 more last year. Something is definitely wrong.

As I said before about the soda pop and candy bar issue, parents (mostly) and teachers will have to take care of this. Kids will have to take more responsibility, too. Mom's home cooking and more exercise at school -- at least 10 to 15 minutes of calisthenics a day in gym class -- should suffice to take care of any excess fat one has.

TOP OF PAGE

Blagojevich offers few specifics on education changes he hopes to make  
By Christopher Wills - Associated Press Writer, 3/7/04

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich has spent weeks criticizing the State Board of Education as a do-nothing "Soviet-style bureaucracy" and urging lawmakers to replace it with an agency under his control, but he says he hasn't thought about candidates to lead the new agency or even what qualities would be important for the post.

"I don't want to jinx anything by thinking about it, because we don't know if we're going to get authority for this," Blagojevich said in an interview.

"I haven't thought about any specific criteria. I'd like to get the most qualified person we could possibly get who's got the right kind of attitude," he added.

Blagojevich reiterated many of his concerns about the state's education bureaucracy in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, but he offered few details about what would change in Illinois education if his plan is approved, dwelling instead on his hopes of creating "a culture of 'can do.'"

Financially struggling school districts, meanwhile, are asking voters next week to decide on 123 proposals to raise taxes or increase local debt to help pay for education. Blagojevich offered no advice on whether voters should give the schools more money to spend under a system that he considers fundamentally flawed.

"I wouldn't feel right if I were about to give them advice, except to say they should do what they think is right. I've been trying to mind the store that I've been hired to mind," he said.

"I do know that if we're successful in the reforms I'm advocating, the taxpayers footing the bill for local property taxes will get more bang for their buck," he added.

Blagojevich is asking lawmakers to gut the independent State Board of Education and create a new education agency under his control, run by his appointee starting in mid-2005.

The Democratic governor said the state board as it operates now overloads teachers and principals with useless regulations that result in "an inefficient, wasteful system."

He predicted that his education proposals would cut school expenses by more than $1 billion over four years, letting districts divert more money to classrooms. He said he would achieve that by setting up centralized programs to provide school supplies and employee benefits at lower costs.

Blagojevich said he can guarantee that school regulations would be reduced if he is given control, but he would not identify any regulations that could be dropped or changed. He promised to simplify the teacher certification process but said specifics must wait until he gets more feedback from teachers and principals.

Most employees at the State Board of Education would be invited to work for his new Department of Education, he said, but he predicted the atmosphere there and in schools around the state would change.

"This is as much about building a system that changes the esprit de corps and morale as it is about changing a structure," Blagojevich said. "It's the culture of 'no' and the culture of excuses. We want a culture of 'can do' and a culture of accountability."

Critics argue the governor's proposal would make cosmetic changes without tackling real education problems.

Nearly one-third of Illinois school districts face financial problems, some so severe that bankruptcy is a real worry, according to the state board. The quality of education varies wildly from district to district, largely because funding depends heavily on local property taxes. Minority students, often going to school in decrepit, crime-ridden buildings, drop out at alarming rates.

Fixing problems like that, critics say, will require fundamental changes in the way schools are funded and managed.

"We don't want a bureaucracy just to switch from one area to the other without addressing the concerns that we have in educating children," said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat and head of the state Senate's Black Caucus, which opposes the governor's education proposal.

Blagojevich, however, says it's too soon to push for broader changes, especially in school funding. First, voters must see evidence that schools won't waste their money, he said.

"I think if they see that we're prepared to reform the school system and put ourselves on the line for these schools, then I think they'll have an open mind," he said.

Still, Blagojevich is making no promises that he will ever overhaul education funding.

"Let's see what happens down the road," he said.

Blagojevich said he was able to increase education spending by $400 million this year despite a huge budget deficit, and he proposes another $400 million increase next year. He called that an "incremental approach" to fixing inequalities because the state funding formula is weighted toward helping the poorest schools.

Blagojevich rejects the often-debated idea of pressuring some of the state's 880 school districts to consolidate because they are too small and poor to serve their students well, saying that would run counter to his goal "to shift decision-making away from a bureaucracy in Springfield and send it to the local school districts."

In testimony to the state Senate last week, State Board of Education Chairwoman Janet Steiner chided the governor for not discussing his goals with her since promoting her to chairwoman last April.

Blagojevich, however, said he sees no point in doing so when he wants to go in a fundamentally different direction.

"We want to create a whole different culture and environment," he said.

TOP OF PAGE

Some say Blagojevich's budget plan is unconstitutional  

By DOROTHY SCHNEIDER of Copley News Service, March 6, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Lawmakers, scholars and even staff in the governor's budget office admit there is a

problem with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposed Balanced Budget Act: It's unconstitutional.

"The Balanced Budget Act is really very simple," said Blagojevich in his February budget address.

"It requires every spending bill or every spending increase - considered by the General Assembly - to include in the bill a corresponding revenue increase or spending reduction to pay for it."

In short, under Blagojevich's plan, state government could not promise services it could not afford.

However, the act as the governor outlined it would contradict the Illinois Constitution's requirement to keep appropriation bills - which detail how programs or services get funded - separate from all other legislation.

The language in Article IV, Section 8 of the state constitution reads: "Appropriation bills shall be limited to the subject of appropriations."

"This is just another example of bumper-sticker politics," said Sen. Steven Rauschenberger, R-Elgin. "The governor is preying on the fact that many people do not understand our budget process.

"Arguing for this balanced budget scheme that he knows won't work is just another way to divert attention away from the budget deficit that he hasn't fixed, and some would argue he hasn't even tried to fix," Rauschenberger added.

Mike Lurie, general counsel and regulatory director for the governor's Office of Management and Budget, said the administration still needs to look at the fundamentals.

Rep. Gary Hannig of Litchfield, the House Democrats' budget expert, agreed there would be a problem with the Balanced Budget Act as the governor laid it out.

"Mechanically, it's very difficult because the constitution specifically says there are two types of bills," Hannig said.

The Illinois Constitution requires appropriation bills to stay separate so unrelated programs or projects cannot piggyback onto an appropriation bill that must be passed, said former state Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, a Northwestern Law School professor and delegate at the 1970 constitutional convention.

Netsch said the provision is not unusual in state constitutions. Without that required separation, Netsch said, a mandate to split the current board of education into two distinct bodies could conceivably be tacked onto an appropriation bill, like school funding, which is likely to pass.

"That happens in Congress all the time, which drives people crazy," Netsch said.

Lurie said some contingency might be worked out so that appropriation bills would be coupled - but not combined - with the substantive bills that call for additional spending.

But if there are two bills - one that calls for spending and one that pays for spending - one could pass while the other fails.

Lurie said the proposed law would not succeed in its mission if legislators only had to introduce a bill to pay for a new program but didn't have to get it passed in the General Assembly.

Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the governor's Office of Management and Budget, said Blagojevich is trying to promote more fiscal discipline.

To amend the state constitution, three-fifths of the Legislature must approve the amendment, and the measure would be placed on the ballot in the next general election. Then, the amendment must be approved by three-fifths of those voting on the measure or the majority of people voting in the election.

TOP OF PAGE

Hidden danger: Many schools lack adequate number of sprinklers  

BY GREG SMITH, SVN STAFF REPORTER, March 7, 2004

When fire destroyed Rahn Elementary on Feb. 12, the building did not have a water sprinkling system. According to the Lee/Ogle Regional Office of Education, most schools in the region do not have sprinklers.

"Older schools do not have sprinkling systems because they were not required when they were built," said Delight Pitman, regional superintendent of schools for Lee and Ogle counties. "Since we have a lot of older schools, we probably have a large percentage that do not have them."

The 353 students and the 40 teachers and staff members at Rahn were able to get out of the building quickly because everyone did what they had practiced.

"Water sprinklers save buildings, they don't save lives," said Kent Johansen, interim superintendent of the Oregon School District. "If there had been sprinklers, the kids and teachers would have walked out into 10 degree temperatures all wet. Imagine what it would have been like with the students and teachers standing in the church all wet. Not all schools have a place to go inside in case of a fire."

None of the school buildings in the Oregon School District have water sprinkling systems because they were all built before they were required. Water sprinkler systems were not required in new school buildings until 1991, according to Gary Steinert, Whiteside County regional superintendent.

"I was the superintendent of Stillman Valley School District when we built a $600,000 addition to a rural school," said Johansen. "The addition cost an additional $90,000 because we had to put in sprinklers. The sprinklers added 15 percent to the cost of the building."

An underground container with 10,000 gallons of water had to be built to supply water to the school. Work had to be done on the well to supply the container.

"Algae has probably clogged the system, so it might not work," said Johansen. "The reason sprinklers are required is because it was something the legislatures could easily vote for. What it amounts to is an unfunded mandate by the state."

Only additions to Whiteside County schools and new buildings have sprinkler systems, according to Steinert.

"If you build a 7,200 square foot addition to a school, you will need to put sprinklers in the new addition," said Steinert. "You don't need to install one in the rest of the building."

Most schools in Ogle and Lee counties that have sprinklers, only have them in a few areas, according to Kai Conway, assistant Ogle/Lee regional superintendent.

"Rochelle Township High School has sprinklers throughout because it is brand-spanking new," said Conway. "Other schools will have them in a theater or an addition that has been added since 1991."

Sprinklers can save lives, according to Mount Morris Fire Chief Rob Hough.

"Since the fire was in the roof, sprinklers would not have helped control the fire at Rahn," said Hough. "There was between 18 inches to 24 inches between the ceiling and the roof where the fire was located. Most codes do not require water sprinklers in that area."

The state code does not require sprinklers between the roof and ceiling, however, some communities do require that area to be covered. Naperville does. A state legislator from Naperville is proposing a bill that would require sprinklers in every building, according to Hough.

"Naperville requires sprinklers in homes," said Hough.

Sprinklers help contain fires so there is less damage. Sometimes they do such a good job that there is little for the fire department to do.

"When we have gone out for fires in buildings with sprinklers, we have found the fire already contained, leaving us the job to finish up," said Hough. "Sprinklers can keep a fire contained in one area so it does not spread."

In the case of the Rahn fire, many of the students and teachers did not realize there was a fire until they turned around and looked at the building.

"I heard one person said they saw flames while they were in the building," said Hough. "As far as I know, that is only hearsay."

TOP OF PAGE

Restructure education before funding reform  

Pantagraph Editorial, March 7, 2004

In the chicken-or-egg world of school reform, it has become clear that a complete restructuring of the education bureaucracy must safely cross the road before Illinois can hatch a plan to fundamentally change how schools are funded.

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich said before the Senate on Wednesday, until taxpayers believe their money won't be wasted, "taxpayers are not going to be willing to have an open and honest discussion about how we fund our schools."

The Illinois Senate devoted seven hours to education in a rare meeting as a Committee of the Whole. Blagojevich underwent questioning for 75 minutes on his proposal to create a Department of Education. It was the first appearance by a governor in such a forum in 17 years. Considering the cool relationship Blagojevich has had with the Legislature, his willingness to make such a showing carries added significance.

Both the session and the governor's presence are indications that the issue has a high priority -- not just among lawmakers and the governor, but also voters.

Whether that intense interest can translate into meaningful reform this time is the big question. Despite the governor's appearance, there still appears to be communication problems between his staff and the Legislature.

Blagojevich is proposing creation of a Department of Education under control of the governor. His plan would remove nearly all authority from the Illinois State Board of Education, except to "study" education matters and to appoint the state superintendent. The latter is a power granted by the state Constitution. However, the superintendent would be little more than a figurehead under Blagojevich's plan.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, is a co-sponsor of the plan. But he wants action delayed until more details are available -- a wise move.

Blagojevich should face the constitutional issue head on and eliminate the board and superintendent through the amendment process.

As for the idea of a Department of Education, Blagojevich has history on his side.

Chicago public schools continued to deteriorate until the system was totally revamped and the mayor was put in charge. Although few would say Chicago schools are out of the woods, education is heading in the right direction. The entrenched bureaucracy needed to be shaken up and there needed to be a leader who could be held accountable -- in that case, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

Daley has endorsed Blagojevich's plan: "Some people believe the current decentralized system keeps politics out of education. In reality, it keeps accountability out of education."

Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, noted during the session that the State Board of Education has had three decades to fix public education. The board could rightfully counter that the Legislature has had more than three decades to do the same.

But the point is that the problem is systemic. The call to eliminate the Board of Education goes back at least as far as the Jim Edgar administration.

We disagree with the Senate Black Caucus that funding issues must be addressed first.

On the contrary, if the public sees the state response as merely throwing money at the problem, it will not support funding changes.

The public wants to see fundamental changes, not window-dressing -- not just for the sake of their pocketbooks but for the sake of their children.

TOP OF PAGE

Democrats rip school funding

Hopefuls say lack of money hinders `No Child' law
John Chase and David Mendell, Chicago Tribune
Although most of the leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate support the federal No Child Left Behind Act's overriding goal of increasing accountability in public schools, they uniformly blast how the new law is underfunded and vow to increase financial support for education nationwide.

In addition to promising to fully fund No Child Left Behind by roughly $9 billion, most of the hopefuls said they would work to increase financial backing for college grants and special education, though none was specific about how to pay for it.

State Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago said he also would work to increase funding for after-school programs, vocational education and early childhood education such as Head Start.

"All of these programs are scheduled for cuts under the president's proposed budget," Obama said in answering a Tribune questionnaire on education issues sent to five of the Democratic candidates.

Like Obama, the others running in the March 16 primary--attorney Gery Chico, former securities trader Blair Hull, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas--were critical of President Bush's education plans and suggested additional funding was key to improving the nation's schools.

Chico, former president of the Chicago Board of Education, called for a series of changes to No Child Left Behind and said Bush broke a promise when he did not authorize the appropriate funding for the new law. He said the lack of money hinders schools' abilities to abide by the law's demands, including improving performance on standardized tests.

"Unfunded federal mandates coupled with unrealistically high standards of academic achievement undermine the very real progress that is being made in our schools," Chico said.

Hull, meanwhile, chastised the law for containing "perverse incentives for schools to expel or shunt aside those students who test poorly in order to meet the standards required for continued funding."

Hynes and Pappas were also critical of the law, with Hynes stressing that the federal government's role should be funding education for poor children and special education students, while Pappas said more needs to be done for the youngest children.

"I have been and remain the strongest proponent of programs that focus on children from ages zero to 6," she said. "We must fully fund Head Start and Early Head Start and related parenting skills to help our children to start school with a leg up."

Although their Republican counterparts back the idea of school vouchers, the Democrats feel the opposite. Not only will vouchers decrease revenue for public schools that are struggling financially, they said, but also there are serious questions about their effectiveness.

"The current transfer provisions under No Child Left Behind are not solving the problem because recipient schools are seeing their own class counts increase to troubling levels and their teachers and facilities are put under enormous stress," Hynes said. "The only solution is to fix troubled schools."

Hull also said vouchers are misleading to the people who think they need them.

"Vouchers simply offer an illusion of choice rather than real systemic reform," he said. "Vouchers do not make high-quality education available to lower-income families since vouchers rarely, if ever, cover the tuition cost of private school."

The candidates also oppose Bush in backing the idea of increasing funding for college student grants, such as the Pell Grant, which has become less valuable in recent years due to cutbacks in federal funding.

Hull took the president to task for not fully funding the 40 percent share of funding the federal government promised years ago for special education. The other candidates each vowed to work to increase funding to the full 40 percent.

The candidates said bilingual education must continue to be a priority.

Although each of the candidates agreed with it in principle, some stressed that students must keep their eyes on becoming capable in English while learning in another language.

"The federal government should continue to fund bilingual education as a critical key to making sure that every child can continue to learn in all subjects--math, science and social studies--while they are learning and developing their English language skills," Hynes said.

TOP OF PAGE

Vocational ed evolves to meet 21st Century career demands

Ann R. Martin, Chicago Tribune, Special to the Tribune

Preparing students for employment in today's workforce is a whole new ball game, high school and college administrators said. Postsecondary education is becoming crucial for all students, not just those bound for college.

"We would like to think that everybody who leaves here goes postsecondary somewhere. That's our goal," said Jeff Jerdee, director of education to careers and technology education for Township High School District 214, the second largest high school district in Illinois, with six high schools plus alternative programs in Chicago's northwest suburbs.

Jeremy Schrafel, a senior at District 214's Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, is exploring alternatives other than college after high school graduation. He has a definite career in mind.

"For my whole life I've wanted to go into some form of visual art," Schrafel said. "I want to go into some sort of visual arts job, maybe at a design or printing place."

Although the high school's graphic arts career education program is giving him a lot of practical experience, it also has taught him that he needs to know more, he said.

Schrafel is one of many students looking at career program options for postsecondary education. Schools are offering many certificate and associate degree career programs that prepare students to work in specific fields. Certificate programs concentrate on the skills needed for particular fields and usually require less time to complete than associate degree programs, which have more general education requirements.

Moraine Valley Community College lists 108 career programs designed to prepare students for employment in fields ranging from Visual Basic computer programming to polysomnography (sleep studies). Each program is tailored carefully, said James Fraites, dean of science, business and computer technology at Moraine Valley in Palos Hills.

"When we put together a collection of courses, it's not really a collection of courses--it's a collection of job skills," he said. "We believe when students graduate they will offer a nucleus of skills such that an employer will say, `You're ready to start in my company.'"

Career classes a secret

Accredited private schools, which usually specialize in areas such as automotive technology or allied health fields, also offer postsecondary career education.

"The career sector for education is a bit of a well-kept secret," said Elise Scanlon, executive director of the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, based in Arlington, Va. "It's a viable option for students who pretty much have an understanding of what career they want to pursue."

The commission accredits about 780 schools in the United States and Puerto Rico, Scanlon said. It is one of at least seven national career field accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation by a recognized agency ensures a school's quality and makes its students eligible to apply for federal financial aid, she said.

Some accredited private postsecondary schools, including for-profit schools such as DeVry University, have focused on career education for decades. DeVry, which has 24 campuses and 42 centers in 20 states, was founded in 1931 and initially offered an associate degree in electronics.

"The school system has always had a career orientation to its education, or an applications focus," said John Petrik, dean of career services at DeVry's Addison campus.

Although DeVry has added computer technology to its curriculum and offers bachelor's degrees, it still maintains a career-oriented, hands-on approach to learning and zeros in on the skills that employers are seeking, he said.

"Many of our courses are designed with labs where they actually will design circuitry on computers and then assemble that circuitry and simulate what they'll be doing in the field when they're hired as field service technicians," Petrik said.

In touch with professionals

DeVry enlists focus groups and advisory boards to make sure its programs are producing graduates with the skills that businesses and industries need, Petrik said. As a result, DeVry graduates find jobs. Within 22 weeks, 92 percent of last June's graduates were employed, he said.

At the high school level, however, the focus on career education is relatively new and is different from the traditional concept of vocational education, Jerdee said. In District 214 the career approach instills high-tech concepts and a commitment to lifelong learning that students need to keep pace in a job market that demands more education for everyone, he said.

"If you don't know basic programming, you can't fix a car," Jerdee said. "Those people wear white lab coats now. They've got high-tech computer diagnostic equipment."

Because there's more to learn for today's jobs, it takes more time to learn it. Even with four years devoted to programs such as welding, high schools have time to bring students only partway to the sophisticated skill levels now required for employment, he said.

"It used to be the welder on the line building the car," Jerdee said. "Now they build the robot that welds." The resulting jobs can be filled only with highly skilled workers.

Students at District 214's high schools begin career plans as freshmen. The goal is to bring the students "as high up into the sequence of classes that are available to them as we can," he said.

Dave Collins, a senior in the manufacturing technology program at Hersey High School, is preparing for a career in metalworking or heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The career program is giving him the background he needs to continue his education, but also is giving him skills he can use right now, he said.

"Even outside of school, that's the type of job I do, metalworking," Collins said. "I work for a company called Life Time Fitness in Schaumburg ... I fix fitness equipment."

He plans to continue working after high school graduation and attend a career school program for metalworking or HVAC.

Some high school career programs are designed to ease students into community college programs. District 214 offers programs that allow students to earn community college credit while they are earning high school credit, Jerdee said.

"We have articulation agreements with other programs at postsecondary institutions where they can skip the first year and go directly into the second year at the community colleges," he said.

Included in those deals are programs in areas such as refrigeration and heating technology, fire science technology, health occupations and NetPrep, which prepares students to be computer network administrators and support specialists, he said.

Smooth transitions

Articulation agreements with high schools provide smooth transitions that are especially important in the information technology field, said Erich Spengler, associate professor of information technology at Moraine Valley.

"We're always working hard to ensure that there is a solid articulation so they can start pursuing careers while they're already in high school," Spengler said. "Then those programs can be articulated into the community colleges, which in turn can help give them a strong foundation for the jobs."

Moraine Valley's Cisco Academy trains the high school instructors who teach courses that are part of the community college's Cisco Network certification programs.

The Cisco courses, which prepare students to design, build and maintain computer networks, are among the most popular at Moraine Valley, Fraites said. Cisco Systems Inc. is a leader in networking for the Internet.

As with other certificate programs, Moraine Valley's Cisco Network certificate programs prepare students to take certificate examinations that are administered by the industry's certifying authorities such as Cisco, Microsoft and CompTIA, Spengler explained.

Moraine Valley works closely with the certifying agencies and the businesses involved in the career fields to ensure that the college's programs provide students with the right skills, Fraites said. All of the college's credit programs also must be approved by the Illinois Community College Board.

Cybersecurity a new field

The newest program at Moraine Valley is cybersecurity, which involves protecting computer systems and databases. In September the college was one of eight schools to receive a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to develop programs that address the security needs for computer programming and data in the workplace.

The grant established a Regional Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance at Moraine Valley where training for faculty from participating schools is under way this spring, said Spengler, who also is director of the center. The program's first two security awareness classes for students are filled to capacity at Moraine Valley this semester, he said.

Overall, the career programs most in demand focus on computer skills and health care, Fraites said. Students attracted to the programs include people already in the workforce and in need of new skills as well as recent high school graduates.

Night and weekend classes allow students to continue their educations while working full time.

Moraine's popular new polysomnography program, which trains technicians to assist with sleep studies at hospitals and clinics, has evening classes and clinical experience during the night, while patients are sleeping, said Margaret Machon, assistant dean of career programs and director of health sciences. It takes about a year to complete the certificate program.

"We had the first graduating class in May from this program," Machon said. "Before they even graduated, the students in polysomnography already had job offers."

Massage therapy classes, which are part of Moraine Valley's newest health care certificate program, are scheduled to begin March 22. The program offers good career opportunities for students, Machon said.

Both programs are among many other certificate programs that can be rolled into associate degree programs and eventually bachelor's degree programs. As the needs of the workforce change, students with bachelor's degrees frequently enroll in certificate programs or non-credit training programs to update their skills, Fraites said.

"We tell students you never stop learning," Jerdee said. "You need to know that you'll need to retrain and where to get retrained."

TOP OF PAGE

Residents should do their part for schools

Letter to the Editor by Jill Michelic of Lisle, The Sun (Lisle), 3/5/04

I've just spent the morning at our library listening to a dizzying array of facts, figures and opinions regarding the upcoming Lisle District 202 referendum. People are very impassioned on both sides of the issue, and while I was impressed with the preparedness of all speakers, I think that most people are truly missing the basic bottom line here — our schools need money.

I don't really care to hear another statistic about the individual salaries of our teachers or our principals or superintendents (which are comparatively moderate), or how much we spent on computer monitors (which are, truly, very cool), or how much the cost of toilet paper is per pupil. (I'm making that up, it wasn't discussed.) Our schools need money.

If you think they've made mistakes, fine. Go to a school board meeting and discuss it. Start an action group. Chain yourself to a flagpole. Meanwhile, our schools still need money. They're not making it up, and there is no magic cure.

The simple fact remains that if this referendum doesn't pass, there will be changes. Larger class sizes, fewer teachers, less programs, more out-of-pocket expenses for parents. The quality of education in Lisle will decrease. For those of you without children in the school system, this translates, simply, into Lisle becoming a less desirable area to live. A less desirable area to live translates directly into lower property values. That might not happen, but it might.

You may say the district is bluffing, but what if they're not? Is that a risk you're willing to take for less than the cost of one dinner out a month? District 202 currently has the lowest tax rate in all of the surrounding districts. If the referendum passes, we will still have the second-lowest tax rate in all of the surrounding districts. The increase will cost each of us less than the price of one dinner out a month. Fall off your wallets, people!

I don't mean to sound cavalier — our family is definitely on a tight budget. We don't have fancy cars, I shop at Aldi, and in my eye a clearance rack is a beautiful thing. But I want to be part of a community that recognizes that its children are a priority. I believe in our schools. I'm proud of the teachers and the principals and the administrators. And I'm willing to pay 300 bucks to prove it.

TOP OF PAGE

Officials find no easy remedies for 'No Child' ills

Susan Frick Carlman, The Sun, Plainsfield

Officials based in Washington, D.C., pointed out what's working right with the federal government's role in local education, and local school administrators pointed out what's not, during a meeting arranged recently by U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, to discuss issues related to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Biggert and Department of Education official Ron Tomalis visited K.L. Hermansen Elementary School in Romeoville Feb. 18 as part of a nationwide initiative that is taking federal officials into local schools to counter criticisms coming from across the education community as President Bush launches his re-election campaign. Objections to the act, which the president is expected to highlight as a success of his first term, range from funding to timelines to labeling mechanisms that many educators find counterproductive.

Although funding from Washington was down $2.5 billion in fiscal 2003 for the state assessments that measure students' academic performance relative to the act's requirements, Biggert and Tomalis highlighted the unprecedented $57 billion in discretionary education spending shown in the president's proposed 2005 budget, much of it to help meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. They defended the administration's performance on education, asserting that federal funding for the department has gone up 36 percent since 2001 — an increase that exceeds spending expansion in any other federal department, according to Tomalis.

But they also pointed out that paying for education is not Washington's job.

"Education is, and always should remain, a primary responsibility of the state and local level," Biggert said.

It's that balance that currently is taking up the focus of regional officials. An assortment of initiatives are addressing the reality that, despite the legal requirement that the state fund at least 51 percent of the cost of public schooling, more than half of the expense is borne by local property owners. In 2001-02, the state footed just 32 percent of the bill, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, while 7.3 percent of the revenue came from the federal level.

Despite its small role in paying for education, the concept of the federal government requiring students to meet uniform learning standards is not new. Tomalis said the regulations reflected in the current legislation originated during the Clinton administration, with the 1994 Improving America's Schools Act. But the provisions of that act, which included full academic proficiency — as does the No Child law — were not enforced strictly, according to Tomalis. He said when Bush took office three years ago, only 11 states were in compliance.

Pushing performance

As the earlier mandate had done, No Child gave the states primary responsibility for most implementation decisions. But it is more thorough, and sets a 2014 deadline for all students to meet academic standards if their schools are to continue receiving federal support.

"One thing that's different is performance. We must see improvement," Tomalis said.

He also suggested there is a philosophical shift in the present approach to improving American education, evidenced in the names of the 1994 and 2002 federal acts.

"Rhetoric is very important. ...We've moved away from a focus on buildings and institutions to a focus on children, which is where it should be," Tomalis said.

None of the participants or other panelists disputed that claim, but numerous administrators noted ways in which the No Child act has introduced hurdles that they are finding virtually impossible to overcome. Some also suggested that while the act has noble intentions and has brought a new level of attention to the issue of accountability, its mechanics and its emphasis on the testing instruments appear misdirected.

Some specifically questioned the portion of the act that breaks students into subgroups based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs and other criteria. Joe Matula, superintendent in Maercker School District 60 in Darien, suggested eliminating the breakdown in favor of a closer look at why some students are not progressing.

"It just seems that the focus is all on the data, not on a plan to help the kids," he said.

Rich Duran, superintendent of the Will County Regional Office of Education, echoed the thought. While he commended the act's effect of compelling schools to take a closer look at themselves — and to consider variables such as high mobility — he charged that it places undue importance on instruments to the exclusion of what's going on in the classroom.

"We keep debating what percentage of kids must achieve, but we don't talk about how," Duran said.

Some of the administrators also took the federal officials to task on the portion of the act that governs the measure labeled Adequate Yearly Progress. Panelist Phil Hansen, who was chief accountability officer under Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas from 1995 to 2002 and now is consulting with the Illinois State Board of Education, said setting a requirement that academic growth occur at an annual rate of 7.5 percent was not realistic.

"Children are not widgets, so we can never assume that they will learn in equal increments," Hansen said.

Conclusions also are difficult to draw on the basis of Adequate Yearly Progress data, participants said. Hansen noted that three out of four Chicago schools that failed to improve by that measure in the most recent round of yearly reports nonetheless showed improvement on state test scores.

Several of those at the meeting also said the consequences of the yearly progress requirement seem punitive. When subgroups fall short of the academic targets, the entire school can be tagged as failing to meet the requirements — a phenomenon that is blamed for the nearly 40 percent of Illinois schools that fell below the bar this year. The schools eventually are required to provide opportunities for students' families to choose better-performing schools nearby for them to attend instead, a stipulation that many have charged is an attempt to lean public education toward a voucher system. They also must furnish supplemental services — usually after-school tutoring — for students whose performance is identified as substandard.

Hansen noted that the school-choice aspect can add significantly to a district's compliance expenses because busing is costly. He said two out of three kids who have switched to other schools through the option have since returned to their original campuses. And the feature is not seen as an incentive for school improvement.

"Our parents ... are always telling us, 'Help us make our schools better. Don't tell us to go to other schools,'" he said.

The bottom line

Gus Tomac, superintendent of Chaney-Monge School District 88 in Crest Hill, expressed frustration at the cost of the requirements contained in the No Child act. His two-school district, currently operating with a $600,000 deficit, is in the midst of its 10th referendum campaign since 1998. Voters have approved only one tax increase in the past nine requests.

"The fact remains the crisis is funding. ...That's just the bottom line," said Tomac, adding that his district's red ink is largely the result of requirements that come from the federal level. "I view No Child Left Behind as being one of those unfunded dictates."

Tomalis countered the assertion, reiterating that the federal government's monetary function is to supplement other education funding sources.

"What we have funded is an accountability program that we believe will lead to all children being proficient," he said.

But others appeared skeptical of that prospect as well. Mary Curley, superintendent of Community Consolidated School District 181 in Hinsdale, encapsulated what several of the other administrators had suggested in the observations she voiced near the conclusion of the two-hour meeting.

"I think what you're hearing is that we support what you're doing ... but we're truly struggling with the implementation," Curley said.

The outward perception generated by the federal act is that "public education is bad and we're going to fix it," she said, noting that it addresses trouble spots encountered by small groups of students, but overlooks the majority of areas in which most districts are doing fine.

"I think it's a little myopic because we're really struggling, and I would just like you to think about what you've heard here today," she said.

TOP OF PAGE

Governor's plan leaves local administrators with questions

Jennifer Ramseyer, Olney Daily Mail

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich touts the benefits of his plan to create a new Department of Education, school administrators are left with many questions and concerns.

Blagojevich's education plan includes stripping the State Board of Education of many of its powers and giving them to the new department, which will be accountable to him.

He has criticized the board for its 2,800 pages of administrative rules and called it a "Soviet-style bureaucracy."

The governor has said the change would bring more accountability to the system. However, this statement is suspect for some.

At a recent meeting of school superintendents, Jane Ladage, Education Policy Advisor from the governor's office, addressed area administrators about the governor's education proposals.

In their responses, some administrators felt the change would not create more accountability since they felt the governor was less touchable.

They were concerned by diminishing local control in education.

Some wondered aloud if the governor would appoint regional and local superintendents in the future as well.

Without the board and representation, would the money and contracts go to Chicago and its suburbs?

Where would there be checks and balances in the system?

With a new department headed by the governor's office, will there be any consistency and stability for education?

How will the governor or new department cut costs when new mandates, some of them unfunded, keep on coming?

Superintendents noted that the governor's statement that 46 percent of school expenditures are spent on instruction is an inaccurate number.

ISBE claimed the amount is 91 cents to the dollar.

There was a feeling the new Department of Education jobs would be appointed by the governor's office on the basis of partisanship.

West Richland Superintendent Don Carlyle, present at the meeting, has mixed feelings about the governor's plan.

"There is quite a bit of red tape at ISBE. My main concert is the state certification process is very, very complicated for teachers, very, very complicated for administrators," Carlyle said.

In defense of the state board, he noted the board is given its directives from the legislature.

Carlyle is not a fan of state testing, since he feels it has never been a good way to measure the success of what students are learning.

However, whether the ISBE or the governor's proposed department is in charge doesn't matter to Carlyle.

"All I care about is that they provide enough funds to do our job and streamline to let us teach the kids," Carlyle said.

Bev Turkal, who is currently on the Board of Education representing Southern Illinois, echoed this concern for the individuals who currently occupy those jobs.

Blagojevich has said his new agency will deliver equal results for 80 percent of the funds with 60 percent of the headcount it takes to run the state board.

"I am appalled at the board thing in the plan. I am very concerned because it is no more than the power of politics," Turkal, of Robinson, said.

Turkal noted she thought it was wrong of Blagojevich to question the board's hard work.

"I have pride to represent this part of Illinois," Turkal said.

A concern of Turkal's that hasn't been addressed by the education program is how schools are funded.

East Richland School District Superintendent Marilyn Holt attended the meeting of superintendents and several others discussing the governor's plan with interest.

Holt formerly worked for the Illinois State Board of Education as a division supervisor.

She believes the board has a tough job and the criticism it is receiving from the governor's office is unearned.

The nine-person board is unpaid, she noted, adding that in her experience, she has found the members to be very dedicated.

"They have not represented a party but represent children. I have not witnessed them having acted as a partisan decision," Holt said.

In fact, Holt believes that being more political may have been easier for the board.

"The state board cannot go on as it is in conflict with the governor and the legislators. It's time for them all to sit down and work together," Holt said.

She noted the increasing efficiency of the ISBE over the last several years.

"When the board started electing the state superintendent, things worked well," Holt said. "Before that they had 1,400 employees, now it is above 400. In just 2 1/2 years, the board lessened the number of employees," Holt said.

The debate over who will be in charge of the state education system is an important one for even the average citizen because, "This is your tax dollars at work," Holt said.

"I think the questions are important. It's a question of the checks and balances system. Who will be the check and balance for the governor and the governor's people?" Holt said.

Another question that is important to the plan is "Is it constitutional?"

The board was formed in the 1970 Constitutional Convention.

Though the governor says it is, Holt said that when the Wisconsin governor tried to do this it was found unconstitutional.

Holt likes what was said by Edwards County Superintendent Pat Healy, to look internally at what works and put more money there.

If those things that work are the foundation of the system, Holt thinks the educational system will work well.

East Richland has received less revenue each year since Holt has been here.

"From state funds we need to be able to expect more or at least an equal amount," Holt said.

"There are more basics today than ever before. Our kids come and they are bright. We as teachers send our students to places we've never been to do things we've never done," Holt said.

Holt is hesitant to give support to a new department when the checks and balances system is uncertain.

"The governor is telling us, pass the bill and trust us and we'll work out the details," Holt said.

Though the current system isn't perfect, Holt is against throwing out the good with the bad.

The plan to create a Department of Education will affect local school districts in many ways, she believes.

However, Holt is trying to be open-minded to the governor's proposals.

"Where are the pitfalls and possibilities?" Holt asked.

When big bills on education were passed in 1985 and 1995, making big changes, Holt noted, there were possibilities there for the schools.

Holt sees some good things in the governor's overall plan for education.

She would love to have less paperwork.

Holt is in favor of the school maintenance grants, the details of which are included in Senate Bill 3001. They would increase bonding authorization for school construction bonds.

If a joint health benefits plan can save the district money, it has possibilities.

The plan would purchase benefits for all Illinois teachers, but allow districts to maintain local control of benefit levels.

The governor's education proposal also includes:

- Reading proposals which include an Early Childhood Block Grant, which will add funds for more at-risk children to go to preschool, Imagination Libraries Program, a proposal to provide books for all children from birth to 5-years-old and adding reading specialists to schools that fail to meet reading achievements.

- Recreating Project Success, a system that responds to the needs of students and their families by using the school as a hub for the services.

- Teacher certification and preparation plans, including renewal requirements for reading instruction, the creation of a Professional Teachers Standards Board that will take over the certification process currently handled by the state board, a scholarship for students who will teach in understaffed schools or shortage discipline areas and a task force for alternative routes to teacher certification.

- Healthier students initiative, which includes the ban on junk food, requiring schools to provide breakfast if 40 percent of the population is eligible for reduced lunches, exploring the P.E. curricula, initiating the "Governor's Fitness Challenge," and requiring food inspections at schools.

- Community involvement proposals, including requiring 40 hours of community service for high-school graduation, investing $2 million in target communities to keep potential dropouts in school and expanding the Tech Prep Program.

TOP OF PAGE

Why more schools are hitting up voters

Sara Burnett, Daily Herald

No matter where you live or which party's ballot you pull, chances are good you'll face at least one question about school funding - and perhaps more - on Election Day.

A near-record number of Illinois school districts are asking voters March 16 to increase taxes. Voters in various west and northwest Chicago suburbs will face at least 22 different school funding questions.

And more than half the state's voters will weigh in on a measure that could raise the income tax for people who make more than $250,000 a year - money that would be split among Illinois schools.

The high number of ballot questions is no coincidence, experts in school funding say.

It's due largely to the 1991 property tax cap law, which limits the amount of money schools, towns and park districts can collect each year to the rate of inflation plus any growth from new homes and businesses.

Over time, as buildings age, enrollments grow and salaries - about 80 percent of any school budget - increase, taxing bodies such as schools feel the pinch more and more.

"The problem is, schools are starting to show their age, and even when (staff) raises are low, they're usually above inflation," said Kevin McCanna, president of Speer Financial and an adviser to governments on referendum requests.

"The math doesn't work anymore. At some point, you've just got problems."

According to the State Board of Elections, Illinois school districts will pose 131 ballot questions in the March 16 primary. Of those, 93 ask for tax increases.

The record was the 137 questions asked last November. There are about 900 districts statewide, but many have more than one question on the ballot.

Of the 22 suburban questions, 18 seek to raise taxes and four ask to borrow money without an accompanying tax increase.

Schools say the funds are needed for everything from new buildings to renovations and education funds, which are used to pay teacher and teacher aide salaries.

If history is any indication, though, districts shouldn't start making plans for the cash just yet. Across Illinois, voters have approved just 37 percent of the 522 school tax proposals put on the ballot since 1996, according to the election board.

In the suburbs, schools fare a little better. Between 1996 and 2000, suburban voters approved about 61 percent of school referendums. When the economy took a turn for the worse, the numbers dipped. In 2001 and 2002, suburban school districts had a 47 percent success rate.

Also, on the primary ballot in many districts throughout the state - including Cook and parts of Kane counties - will be an advisory referendum on a proposal Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn believes will help ease the school funding crunch.

That plan would raise the income tax for people who make more than $250,000 per year by 3 percent. The tax would affect about 81,000 taxpayers - roughly 1.4 percent - and raise about $1.15 billion in revenue, Quinn has said.

Half of the money - about $575 million by today's estimates - would be distributed among the state's 896 school districts.

The remaining cash would go to provide every homeowner an annual property tax rebate of at least $208.

Quinn has pitched the idea as a "Taxpayer Action Amendment" to the state's constitution.

The question, which will be posed to about 53 percent of the state's voters, is non-binding, meant to get the public's pulse on the issue.

Quinn's office is hoping the numbers will show the plan has support and give legislators reason to put a binding question on the November ballot, said Claude Walker, a Quinn spokesman.

The measure would require 60 percent approval to become law. If that were to happen, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2005, and property owners and school districts would see their first checks July 1, Walker said.

TOP OF PAGE

It's wait-see on governor's plan  

BY CHUCK FIELDMAN, Franklin Park Herald Journal Staff Writer, 3/10/04 

Superintendents of school districts with buildings in Franklin Park, Northlake and unincorporated Leyden Township all have a wait and see attitude about Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal of doing away with the Illinois State Board of Education.

During his Jan. 16 State of the State address, Blagojevich called on state legislators to create a new Department of Education, which would be under the governor's control.

A new Department of Education would replace the current State Board of Education, which Blagojevich wrote in a Jan. 25 letter to Illinois residents as "defined by mismanagement and misplaced spending priorities."

The State Board of Education, the governor continued, "has failed in its responsibility to support local schools, instead crippling districts and teachers with thousands of pages of rules and regulations. Like many unaccountable bureaucracies, the Illinois State Board of Education has become an organization that exists more for the benefit of its own overpaid administrators than for the benefit of the children of this state. And the children are paying the price."

Blagojevich says his plan to strip the Illinois State Board of Education of its administrative powers and create a new Department of Education will save an estimated $1 billion over four years to reinvest in classrooms.

"A department of education could be a positive thing if it becomes more of a partner with schools and not so much a gatekeeper," said Kathy Robbins, superintendent of Leyden High School District 212. "The State Board of Education pretty much just regulates what we do, and it's in a way that creates much more paperwork.

"The State Board has done some positive things, but a department of education could be a very good replacement, depending on how it would be organized and run."

It's some specifics about a department of education that Superintendents David Nemec (Franklin Park District 84), Bruce Lane (Mannheim District 83) and Joe Palermo (District 87) are waiting to hear and read about before they will offer opinions on a move that would do away with the State Board of Education.

"I'm a wait and see person," Nemec said. "I'm all for an increase in revenue flow to our district, but I'm certain all superintendents will want to see how any changes will impact their own school districts.

"The funding issue definitely needs to be addressed. Every year, there are more and more unfunded mandates from the state."

Lane said he sees some good possibilities with a state department of education.

"In theory, there are some good things that could come as the result of (a department of education instead of the State Board of Education), but we definitely need to see some more details, and I need to see how it will impact our district.

"If something will help to improve education, I'm all for it. But I'm not sure if this will do it."

"We need to see specific plans and get more information about what changes will be made," Palermo said.

Robbins said part of the angst many superintendents around Illinois have about Blagojevich's proposal to do away with the State Board of Education stems from a favorable opinion of State Superintendent Robert E. Schiller.

"I think most superintendents are very supportive of (Schiller)," Robbins said. "He's a strong advocate for education and kids. And it's probably doubtful that he would be a part of a new Department of Education."

TOP OF PAGE

Teacher scholarship funds cut  

Golden Apple winners in limbo; legislators vow support

By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune staff reporter, March 10, 2004

Barely a month after winning a Golden Apple Scholars award, high school senior Dema Sabbara grappled Tuesday with the news that the state plans to cut funding for the scholarship program.

"I put my heart into applying," said Sabbara, an Evanston Township High School senior who is unsure if she can afford to attend DePaul University without the scholarship.

"Wherever I go, I will make the best of it," she said. "But I can do a whole lot more in teaching with this scholarship."

Sabbara was among 100 high school seniors and about 300 college students who expected to receive the four-year scholarships in exchange for teaching in needy schools after they graduate.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed ending the program, cutting more than $3 million earmarked for the scholarships from next year's budget. The decision drew fire from several legislators, who vowed to try to have the money restored.

Becky Carroll, a Blagojevich spokeswoman, said Tuesday that budget constraints forced the state to stop funding the program.

"It was a tough decision. In an ideal time we would give a program like this one more money," said Carroll, who said no grants were cut from the current year's budget. "There remains tremendous opportunities available for students who hoped to receive the Golden Apple."

Students can apply for other state scholarships, she said, including the Future Teacher Corps Program, which provides up to $5,000 annually for 1,400 students who agree to teach for five years in hard-to-staff schools or in subject areas with a teacher shortage.

And the state added 1,000 state college assistance grants this year under the Monetary Award Program for students with financial needs, Carroll said.

Another 460 scholarships are available through the Minority Teachers of Illinois program, which provides $5,000 annually for up to four years for minority students who agree to teach at schools where 30 percent of students are minorities, she said.

Some legislators said Tuesday that they will work to restore the Golden Apple program's funding before the budget is approved in spring. The funding was also in jeopardy last year.

"We need teachers to be better trained and teach in low-income schools in inner-city areas. That's what this program does," said state Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "It seems like we keep talking about education being our top priority, and then you have actions like this that have us moving backward."

Del Valle said the decision to cut the Golden Apple Scholars program "borders on hypocrisy."

The program has received state funding since 1993. It is also funded by corporate and private donations.

The scholars receive $5,000 tuition scholarships annually for four years and $2,000 annual summer stipends for extra training. Besides helping pay for college, the program pairs students with some of the state's best teachers during the summer for extra training.

Some of those teachers have received Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching, a program that honors 10 Chicago-area teachers each year. This year's awards will be announced Wednesday and Thursday. The Chicago-based Golden Apple Foundation runs the teacher award and student scholarship programs.

About 1,200 high school seniors were nominated for the scholarships this year, and about 425 applied. Roughly 55 percent of the scholars are minority and low-income students; about 90 percent complete the five-year teaching commitment, according to the foundation.

When students graduate, they work for five years at schools with a high percentage of low-income students or where fewer than 57 percent met academic goals in at least two subjects.

Many of the students said the financial assistance is crucial.

"What am I going to do? I was counting a lot on that scholarship," said Benita Arguellez, 18, a senior at Curie High School in Chicago.

The decision to eliminate the scholarship program came as schools try to comply with new federal requirements to have highly qualified teachers by 2005-06.

In Illinois, children in high-poverty schools are 10 times more likely than those from low-poverty schools to have classes taught by teachers who lack a state certificate or who teach subjects outside their expertise.

State Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Lombard) said offering other scholarships in place of the Golden Apple program isn't an acceptable solution.

"Just throwing money at young people for teaching does not work," Cronin said. "The Golden Apple, with a unique curriculum, summer internships, a mentoring program unlike any other, has a proven track record that works."

Anelia Gonzalez, a sophomore at Northern Illinois University, was counting on the scholarship money for the next two years. Now she isn't sure how she will pay for the rest of her education.

Gonzalez works at Old Navy and said she may apply for a second job if the Golden Apple money isn't restored.

"I'm worried," said Gonzalez, who graduated from Queen of Peace High School in Burbank. "If it gets too difficult, I won't be able to stay at Northern."

TOP OF PAGE

State lawmakers: 'We have to live within our means'  

BY DAVID POLLARD, Melrose Park Herald Writer, 3/10/04

Local state legislators are trying to digest Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget blueprint for fiscal 2005.

While most applaud his proposal, they are faced with the task of making tough decisions in order to have it work.

The governor has presented a $43.5 billion budget to the Illinois General Assembly. The proposal allocates an additional $400 million for elementary and secondary education. The budget also allocates money to hire more State Police officers.

If the numbers he has come up hold true, at the end of the fiscal year, the state would retire a $1.7 billion structural deficit. The deficit was a result of major expenses, like Medicaid and employee health insurance, growing faster than revenues.

State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-7th, said she has mixed feelings about the governor's proposed budget. She said the merging of different government agencies and the allotting of money for elementary education is a good move, but noted there still is a $1.7 million deficit with which to contend.

"I haven't heard anything addressing this," she said. "The revenue side is short.

"Nobody wants to cut anything, but we have to live within our means."

She said a lot of schools in her district and others throughout the state are in deficit-spending mode, yet still under tremendous pressure to provide quality education at the same time.

"(Parents) want the best for their kids, but it costs money," she said.

She believes all schools should be equally funded no matter where they are and believes funding through property taxes is not equitable.

Decisions, decisions

Ultimately, state legislators like Yarbrough have to meet and make the decisions to make the governor's budget proposal a reality.

"It's a big plan to give to somebody else to do," she said. "Our state, like other states in the union, is experiencing unprecedented deficits; and we're down to the bone with what we can cut.

"Where is (the money)? It wasn't in his budget address."

State Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano, R-77th, said he believes the budget will come together after legislators take a look at it.

"I think, generally speaking, it's not too bad," he said. "He threw the Legislature a bone to figure out how the education money should be spent."

But, he said, the governor's proposal to close loopholes on businesses getting tax breaks is something he may have to look at because he has a lot of constituents who own businesses. He also wants to make sure the social service agencies in his district, especially the ones that deal with the developmentally disabled, get the money they need.

State Rep. Robert "Bob" Biggins, R-41st, said he applauds Blagojevich's efforts to balance the budget because he did not cause the problems that exist, but now he has to fix it.

He said the governor proposes a lot of cuts that should be made to balance the budget, but, at the same time, he believes some of the revenue the governor is projecting to come in may not.

"This year, it looks like he's borrowing with hopes that (revenue projections) can pay it back down the road," he said.

Biggins said it's a gamble when dealing with anticipated revenues because in last year's budget some expected sources of revenue did not materialize like the sale of the Thompson Center. He added there are areas in the budget where more spending is taking place based on anticipated revenues, which is risky as well.

He said the budget should not be balanced on future hopes of economic growth, but on more concrete information.

Local focus

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-4th, said she looks forward to working with her colleagues to pass a budget that benefits her district.

"The governor has provided us with the blueprints to continue bringing Illinois out of its budget hole," Lightford said. "If the General Assembly and the governor work together, we can make a great difference and improve Illinois' finances."

She also commended the governor on his acknowledgment of the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic among minorities and his proposal to provide more money to address the issue. Additionally, the governor's health-care initiatives include $66 million to raise the income cap for FamilyCare to extend coverage to an additional 56,000 parents, and tripling the funding for breast- and cervical-cancer screening.

State Sen. Dan Harmon, D-39th, said he is amazed at what the governor has done to balance the budget.

"I applaud the governor," he said. "He has looked two budget deficits in the face and has balanced the budget.

"I applaud his efforts to tighten the state's belt and make the state more efficient and accountable."

He said although the governor's budget will have to be approved by the state Senate and House, what Blagojevich has proposed is a sound starting point.

"He and his team took some bold steps to come up with a budget like this," he said. "There are some cuts that are too painful and there might not be much support for them."

He said some cuts that were made may hurt social service agencies like the West Suburban Special Recreation Association, which provides activities for the developmentally disabled. If the cuts were made, it could affect the association's expenditures for toys used to help the growth of developmentally disabled children.

There are also deep cuts proposed in the nature preserve budget. Harmon said it is still too early to tell what will stay and what will go.

"His team came up with some solutions last year and I hope he can pull off the same this year," he said.

TOP OF PAGE

Rebuffed by state, schools seek tax hikes  

Daily Southtown Editorial, March 10, 2004

Of the 888 school districts in Illinois, 74 percent are operating with budget deficits. One-fourth of the state's school districts have been running deficits for three years or more, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The state board and Supt. Robert Schiller have been warning for a couple of years that Illinois schools are approaching a crisis of unprecedented proportions. The cost of maintaining school programs is growing faster than the revenue schools receive, most of which comes from local property taxes. For 30 years, Illinois governors and the Legislature have declined to make substantive changes in the way schools are funded. As a result, local school districts have increased property taxes as much as state law allows, borrowed as much as the law permits and, in some cases, cut programs, teachers and "extras" such as sports, music and art.

This is the situation schools face, and the reason that more than 90 school systems across Illinois are holding tax or bond referendums in Tuesday's primary.

The circumstances vary from district to district, but in general, property taxpayers are being asked to pick up the share of the cost of running schools that the Legislature and the governor have refused to fund. The governor has vowed not to raise state taxes, a promise that will be good for him politically as he plans his next campaign but leaves it up to voters on the local level to decide whether their schools should get a property tax increase, borrow more money or cut back on the programs they offer.

Ten school districts in the Southland are seeking property tax rate increases. They are Willow Springs District 108, Evergreen Park District 124, Atwood School District 125 in the Oak Lawn-Alsip area, Alsip-Hazelgreen-Oak Lawn District 126, Kirby District 140, Dolton District 148, Calumet City District 155, Lansing District 158, Thornton Township High School District 205 and Thornton Fractional High School District 215.

Seven other school districts are proposing bond issues to build new schools in fast-growing areas, including Crete, Frankfort, New Lenox, Lemont and the Tinley Park-Orland Park area. Others want to sell bonds to repair or replace outdated or deteriorating schools.

Voters need to keep in mind that their local school boards are turning to them for fiscal support because the Legislature and the governor won't provide enough. By voting "no," local residents are saying "go find the money somewhere else," but there is nowhere else to find it.

The only real solution is a new school funding formula that increases the state contribution to public education and reduces the reliance on property taxes. That's the only way to reduce the disparities in school funding between wealthy communities and the rest of the state.

But with no sign that's going to happen anytime soon, the alternative is for voters to approve higher property tax rates. That will be painful for some residents in the affected communities; nowhere will it be cause for celebration. But the alternatives — program cuts, higher class sizes and an inadequate education — will hurt more and will hurt everyone.

TOP OF PAGE

A timely proposal for massive school reform  

Chicago Daily Defender Editorial, March 1, 2004

Once there were hundreds of time zones across the U.S.

Setting clocks was a local matter, as folks relied on some form of solar time or a steeple's clock or a ticking timepiece in a jeweler's window to get up to the minute and hour.

Traveling from Connecticut to Cucamonga meant encountering a head-spinning, crazy quilt passage through time until 1888, when the federal government stepped in and set up standard time zones.

Like 19th century America's old time zones. Illinois is encrusted with outdated, costly governmental bodies: the state features some 6,000 government units and 888 school districts.

Now Governor Rod Blagojevich proposes that Illinois emulate the nation's 1880s' visionaries by stepping into the business of running public schools more efficiently. He would replace the massive lllinois State Board of Education with a Department of Education accountable to the state's chief executive.

It's a proposal that would bring overdue and sweeping changes to the state's education bureaucracy. It would also create a system of planning and responsibility in which top education managers report directly to the governor.

It's a proposal that would empower legislators and the governor to increase support and funding for schools in the city's minority community.

Chicago Public Schools chief executive Arne Duncan says that he's all for the governor's proposal

He says Illinois has a long way to go before the state truly meets its responsibility to school children.

He's right.

Illinois ranks 16th in the US in terms of per-pupil spending and 48th in the percentage of education funding provided by the state.

Our state is only 40th in the nation in the amount of money invested in classrooms as only 46 cents of every education dollar is used for instruction.

Some lawmakers are moving tentatively toward supporting Blagojevich's centralization plan.

Representative Lou Jones (D-26th) is ready to work with the governor to increase school funding. A spokesperson said last week the governor has painted a broad picture and Jones wants to talk to teachers, principals and administrators about Blagojevich's proposal.

"It’s a big change, a massive undertaking," the spokesperson said.   But the time to be tentative bas passed, along with those old time zones.

The governor's idea is massive, but that's the idea. So we beseech Jones and her fellow legislators to make time now and get on with streamlining Illinois public education.

Duncan says he fully supports the push for the greater accountability that a single, visible, efficient Department of Education would create. The schools chief says that once Blagojevich is accountable to the people, unlike the legion of costly State Board bureaucrats, he should be in the position of holding school districts across Illinois accountable for the quality of education.

We concur, and believe, along with visionary educators, that the governor should either control the State Board or do away with it.

The governor's goals for a new agency are to cut bureaucratic red tape that takes money and energy from teaching and to help school districts save money on everything from supplies to classroom specialists so more can be invested in classrooms.

It's time for a new Department of Education to do the job.

TOP OF PAGE

Stale board of ed just the middleman  

Letter by Ronald V Kozmar, District 202 School Board President, Plainfield Enterprise, 2/18/04

In regard to Gov. Blagojevich'a proposal to replace the State Board of Education with a Department of Education, rearranging bureaucracies is irrelevant.

It just shifts the focus from what is truly the critical issue: the adequate, equitable funding of schools

The Illinois State Board of Education does not create the rules. The General Assembly and governor do.

The ISBE is just the middleman that develops ways to implement the legislative action Illinois, according to the latest data, ranks 47th in the nation in its share of funding for public elementary and secondary schools.

It ranks 50th in terms of the disparity between the richest and poorest districts because of the heavy reliance on property taxes.

While lllinois ranks 10th in terms of the total amount spent per pupil, most of which comes from local property taxes, it ranks 25th in spending per capita and 41st in spending per $1,000 of personal income.

In other words, based on our population and wealth, we are not spending as much on education as most other states, and Illinois is certainly not fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to be the primary funding source for public education.

Presently, 80 percent of the school districts in Illinois are in deficit spending.

In Plainfield District 202, our enrollment is increasing by 2,500 students per year.

Despite cute of nearly $6 million, we are in our second year of educational fund deficits

And even if we pass a referendum at some time in the future, further cuts may be required to stem the red ink.

Yet presently there are no gubernatorial no legislative initiatives to deal directly with the funding crisis in Illinois.

While we support the governor's proposals that achieve reduced costs through economies of scale and increased efficiencies, they are a mere pittance of what needs to be done.

Furthermore, some of his proposals, such as his community service requirement for high school students, while laudable, are effectively additional mandates that no doubt will require more paperwork and bureaucracy to administer.

TOP OF PAGE

Teachers should be taxed on retirement  

Letter by Richard Wahler of Freeport, Freeport Journal Standard, 3/10/04

I'm doing a slow burn since former state legislator Ron Lawfer's letter detailed how Illinois teachers do not pay income taxes on their retirement pay.

He estimated nearly $100 million of additional money could go into the Educational Fund. If I remember right, isn't it the teachers who are continually lobbying the sate legislature for more educational money? Do they think everyone except them should pay educational taxes? Who are they kidding?

From what I've seen in local and state publications, educational funding has increased faster than any other entity.

I've been retired for more than 25 years, and I've paid income taxes on every penny of my retirement pay. Is this a one-way street?

Perhaps any and all nonteacher retirees should get together and petition the state legislature to end all taxes on retirement pay.

It appears that if teachers paid taxes on their retirement pay, the problems with educational funding would be solved.

TOP OR PAGE

No help from Springfield

Letter by Sondra Hayes, Olympia School Board member, Danvers, Peoria Journal Star, March 10, 2004

Olympia schools strive for and produce excellence in education. To continue the exemplary programs, we must vote yes for the children of Olympia.

The four legislators who represent communities within the Olympia School District strongly support education. They have told us there won't be changes in education funding this year. Local property taxes would increase $438 for a home valued at $125,000. You would pay that for a Playstation 2 and five games. How would your child benefit more?

We should ensure that our graduates have knowledge and confidence to face our society's challenges. Vote yes.

TOP OF PAGE

The real problem with education

Edwardsville Intelligencer

We've said it before, but apparently we need to say it again: education belongs in the hands of the educators.

That's why we were a little disturbed to hear -- again -- that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has plans to change the "culture" of our state's educational system.

How he intends to do this remains something of a mystery.

The governor has been concrete on the fact that he wants to do away with the current State Board of Education and replace it with a new agency that he will create, will be under his control and run by his very own appointee.

But beyond that, just how Blagojevich is going to bring change to the "culture" is decidedly unclear.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, the governor was clear in giving his assessment of the current state of education.

"It's the culture of 'no' and the culture of excuses," Blagojevich said. "We want a culture of 'can do' and a culture of accountability."

Yes, the last word is the key word.

Whenever a politician begins using accountability in regard to an educational issue, you can bet that the students are going to suffer.

Need an example? One of the most widely used measuring sticks for school accountability is the standardized test. The vast majority of those tests don't include sections on grammar, specifically the parts of speech. As a result, students aren't taught to diagram sentences.

The politicians can thump their chests when the standardized test scores go up and the students can go through life not knowing the difference between a subject and predicate.

That's accountability.

Blagojevich has said he wants to see school regulations reduced and the teacher certification process simplified. He hasn't said how he wants to do this, but if he's going to use that word, "accountability," then we have to wonder.

And we have to wonder, too, if we are even looking at the right problem.

Words and phrases like "culture," "can do" and "accountability" stir voters, but take a look around.

Our Edwardsville schools are doing quite well when it comes to educating students. About 95 percent of Edwardsville High School graduates enroll in either a two-year or four-year college. Impressive.

Similar situations exist in the Triad, Highland, O'Fallon and Belleville school districts.

So the problem, we believe, in the majority of state school districts isn't the educational system, it's the system through which education is funded.

One third of the districts in this state is currently facing a serious financial problem.

Edwardsville, Triad, Highland, O'Fallon and Belleville are all somewhere on that list. And they are still getting the job done.

Parents might be digging deeper into their pockets to pay for driver's education, performing arts and sports, but those schools are still getting it done.

Funding IS the problem and Blagojevich is making no promises that he will overhaul the current funding system.

"Let's see what happens down the road," is what he told the Associated Press.

What will happen is that schools will be forced to cut more programs, more teachers and offer less than they do now.

When that happens -- and it will unless the funding formula is fixed -- let's take a look at the "culture" and see, then, who is accountable.

It won't be the educators.

TOP OF PAGE

Quinn pitches funding proposal

Plan would raise income tax for wealthy, provide about $65 million for public schools

Karen McDonald, Peoria Journal Star

PEORIA - Forcing the burden of funding schools on local property taxpayers discourages economic development, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday.

That's why Quinn is proposing a Taxpayer Action Amendment, which he says would provide about $65 million in supplemental funding for public schools. The proposal would place a higher income tax on the state's "rich" and provide an annual property tax rebate to each of the state's homeowners.

"It's a reliable, predictable source of revenue that isn't based on property taxes," Quinn told several hundred community, business, education and government leaders at the 15th annual Rural Community Economic Development conference at the Holiday Inn City Centre.

The event, which concludes today, addresses rural economic development issues, including tourism, technology and attracting and retaining industry.

Quinn cited health care, transportation, energy and access to high-speed Internet as factors that greatly affect economic development and briefly outlined several pending bills that would help improve some of those resources in rural areas. Economic development problems rural communities face is related to quality education and school funding, Quinn said.

Only about 35 percent of school funding today comes from state dollars and the remaining portion often is unfairly passed to the public in property taxes. That contributes to deficit spending in about 80 percent of the state's schools, Quinn said.

"The only way we're going to have a growing, entrepreneurial state where we have quality jobs," Quinn said, is to "have smart people. And to have smart people, we need to have good schools."

Quinn believes taxes should be based on a person's ability to pay. The current tax structure, "is very unfair for everyday people who live paycheck to paycheck."

If approved, the amendment to the state's Constitution would raise state income tax to those who make more than $250,000 a year and provide an annual property tax refund on July 1 to homeowners of at least $208. Less than 2 percent of Illinoisans would be affected by the higher income tax guidelines, Quinn said.

One person opposed to the referendum, Jim Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, believes if approved, it eventually would lead to an income tax increase for all taxpayers.

The advisory referendum will appear on Tuesday's primary ballot in 370 communities across the state. "If the people aren't for it, then it's not going to go anywhere," Quinn said.

Three-fifths of both the Senate and the House must approve the amendment in order for it to be placed on the November general election ballot. It would then need to be ratified by 60 percent of those voting on the question to become part of the state constitution.

TOP OF PAGE

Plan calls for revamping education funding in state

Josh Stockinger, Alton Telegraph  

Regional school administrators are praising a concept that would reorganize state education funding and boost it annually by as much as $1.8 billion.

The proposal would also shift an additional $2.4 billion in school funding from local property taxes to state-based taxes.

Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability -- a nonprofit, bipartisan research organization -- presented the plan last week to school administrators at the southwestern meeting of the Illinois Association of School Boards.

Administrators said they want to hear more about the proposal, which could go before the state legislature this year.

"What this really is, is big-picture reform," Martire said. "It is a fundamental change from the past in that we are just looking at good, economic principles and designing a state system that recognizes them."

Martire said 80 percent of school districts in Illinois -- almost 700 districts -- are deficit spendingand that a complete overhaul of the state taxing system is necessary.

He said the state has "unfairly" distributed the tax burden on taxpayers despite shifting economic climates. For example, Martire said the bottom 20 percent of income earners pay 13.1 percent of their total income to the state in taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent pays only 4.6 percent.

State taxes fund education, police and fire services. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the total tax burden in Illinois is among the lowest in the nation -- 47th out of 50.

The state funds 37 percent of education costs -- nearly 15 percent lower than the national average of 51 percent.

Martire said Illinois? reliance on property taxes for funding is significantly higher than the national average. At the national level, most states get roughly 19 percent of revenue from property taxes, while Illinois gets 31 percent.

He said the state relies on property taxes more than personal income and sales taxes combined. Over the years, Illinois has increased its reliance on property taxes, while other states have decreased it, he said.

But Martire said redistribution of the burden is needed in all taxation areas. His 14-part plan calls for the consideration of the following items:

- Require accountability from all government spending -- not just programs for low-income families, disabled people, the elderly, the incapacitated and the infirm. It would require a thorough review of all tax expenditures, member initiative spending and the state’s purchasing practices for items such as prescription drugs.

- Increase the income tax rate of 3 percent. Increasing it to between 4 percent and 5 percent would generate an additional $2 to $5 billion a year.

- Increase the corporate income tax rate from its current level of 4.8 percent to between 6.4 percent and 8 percent, depending on the personal income tax increases. This would generate between $322 million and $563 million in additional funding.

- Expand the sales tax base to include all consumer services, thereby generating another $900 million in new revenue and making revenue collection more stable in poor economic cycles.

- Allow the state to fund at least 51 percent of the cost of providing a "quality education" to all public school students in the state. Also, the state should provide $2.4 billion in property tax relief directly to taxpayers through the new funding formula.

- Subject pension income for taxpayers earning more than $75,000 a year to taxation to generate $359 million more annually. Martire said Illinois is one of only three states that makes pension income exempt from taxation.

- Improve collections from tax delinquents and debtors.

- Review federal definitions of adjusted gross income for individuals and taxable income for corporations to determine whether allowed deductions make sense.

- Take advantage of federal deductibility when increasing specific taxes.

- Provide an $800 million refund tax credit that would ensure the bottom 60 percent of all Illinois taxpayers would not see an increased tax burden, while the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers would see a decrease in the current tax burden.

- Design all tax revenue increases in a manner that does not have a negative impact on low- and moderate-income families. The state should create tax credits to eliminate any related negative impacts.

"At the end of the day, it makes school funding more stable and more fair in the state by bringing the top up, not the bottom down," Martire said. "The biggest tax increase goes to the wealthiest taxpayers in the state."

Martire said without reform, the state’s structural deficit would continue to grow over the years. He said he is hoping for bipartisan support of the plan to change that.

Phillip Crause, a board member in the Wood River-Hartford Elementary District, said he liked Martire?s plan.

"Not only is it a good thing, it’s a necessary thing," Crause said. "The state of Illinois simply can’t continue in the same way they’ve been funding schools for the past century. Change is required."

Michael Gray, superintendent of East Alton Elementary, also praised the plan.

"It?s something I may get behind and really try to let people in the area know about it," Gray said. "I really believe we have an opportunity to fix the Illinois system, but we really need to do something soon."

Martire said the proposal could be introduced in the next legislative session.

TOP OF PAGE

NATIONAL

Report: 12th-grade test needs overhaul  

AP, March 5, 2004 

WASHINGTON  -- The national test considered the best measure of how high school seniors perform is suffering from plummeting student participation and growing questions about its reliability, according to a new report released Friday.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, needs a significant makeover at the 12th-grade level, according to a commission created last year by the test's governing board to review the exam.

Among the biggest recommendations is expanding the test's basic purpose so that it gauges not just what 12th-graders know but also their readiness for work, college or the military. Such a change would require government approvals that could take years.

The commission also recommended that the test be required in every state in reading and math every two years, just as it is in those subjects in grades four and eight. That would produce the first-ever state results for high school seniors -- not just a national average -- to help policy-makers evaluate their school standards and make comparisons to other states.

"We need to know in America what 12th-graders know -- it's important to the country -- and we don't have a way presently to know that," said Mark Musick, the commission co-chairman and president of the Southern Regional Education Board.

The national test is given to a representative sample, not all students in a given grade, and that would not change under the commission's recommendations. The test would also remain voluntary and produce no individual scores, which critics say create student apathy.

The combined school and student participation rate in the 12th-grade test dropped to 55 percent in 2002, meaning almost half of those selected for the sample chose not to participate.

That response has put the test "right on the brink of not being able to say this information is reliable enough to use," Musick said.

Getting serious

Beyond mandatory state participation, the commission says the test leaders should come up with bold ways to get students to take the test and to encourage them to do well. Its ideas for incentives range from a written thank you from the U.S. president to the distribution of shopping "discount cards" to be used at bookstores and businesses that support the test.

"One of the challenges (the test) has had to contend with is getting parents and students to take it seriously, because no individual students get results," said Michael Nettles, commission co-chairman and senior research director at the Educational Testing Service.

"What this report suggests is maybe, if we can get the states to get more serious about it, along with the workplace and colleges, then parents and students will take a more serious look," he said.

Some of the proposed changes would require federal money and congressional approval.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test, will begin reviewing the recommendations Friday and will seek comment from many groups over the next few months. The board is not expected to take votes on the ideas until August, said Charles Smith, the board's executive director and the former commissioner of education in Tennessee.

The report comes as the value of a high school diploma is facing increasing scrutiny, as colleges and employers complain of young people emerging from school with too few skills.

But it also comes as students face more tests than ever, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at The National Center for Fair & Open Testing. He said expanding the size and intent of the test could raise its stakes and erode its credibility as a "neutral thermometer of American education quality."

TOP OF PAGE

Pa. co. seeks to put ads on school buses  

By Jennifer C. Yates, Associated Press Writer, 3/7/2004

PITTSBURGH -- On the outside, school buses will be just as yellow as they've always been. But if Brian Ungar has his way, the insides will be filled with a dozen or more colorful advertisements promoting colleges, touting toothpaste and warning against using drugs.

Ungar, the founder of InSight Media of White Oak, Pa., has approached 42 area school districts about putting 11-by-25 inch vinyl advertisements above the windows inside school buses. School officials would have discretion over what ads are appropriate, and get as much as 40 percent of the gross revenue from the ads.

"They generate revenue through the advertising that could help offset operating costs and fund educational programs. We're not talking about a little money, we're talking about a lot of money, actually," Ungar said. He would like to see about 15 ads per bus, each of which would cost about $30 a month.

Advertising in schools is not new, although the idea of putting ads in buses has gained momentum in only the last few years, said Jennifer Dounay, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States. Some states leave the decision on whether to allow bus ads up to individual districts. Others have state laws allowing it and mandating the ads be age-appropriate, according to an ECS report.

In Massachusetts, a 2002 law cleared the way for school-bus advertising, while prohibiting liquor, tobacco, drugs and gambling ads. The ads can be placed on the exterior of the buses, but can't take up more than one-quarter of the bus.

A couple of districts there have placed ads on buses as a result. The Braintree district has a $30,000 contract with a restaurant chain, and the Beverly district made $36,000 last year by selling ad space to local businesses, including a health club and real estate companies.

Other school districts are pursuing the idea. The Boston school board voted late last year to put advertising on 620 buses, which could raise as much as $600,000.

Dr. Joseph Findley, acting superintendent of the Montour School District in suburban Pittsburgh, said the district heard a presentation from Ungar about his company, but no decision has been made. The district would get about $140,000 from such a deal, which is not a huge amount of money, he said.

"I think it's just another vehicle for possibly coming up with revenues that are not gaining any other way," said Findley. He said the board is considering Ungar's proposal. "Nobody at this point in time is sold on this."

Under Ungar's company, school districts would assemble a review panel of two school board members and a parent representative that would proof the ads before any were posted on the buses.

"They have the veto power," Ungar said.

A similar model is used by School Bus Media Inc., a Miami-based company that puts public service announcements and advertisements on school buses. The 4-year-old company approached state and local governments to get approval to move ahead, said David Hill, the company's vice president.

The company currently has about 400 public service announcements in about 120 school buses in northwestern Florida, he said. As with Ungar's company, School Bus Media pays school districts part of the money they get from advertisers.

The company avoids liquor, condom, fast food and other advertisements deemed inappropriate for children. Hill said he has gotten some criticism, but he defends the placement of the ads.

"The child rides the bus 10 times a week. He's going to and from school on the bus, all he has to do is look out (the window) and see advertising," Hill said. "He's already seeing advertising. He goes home and watches Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network."

In western Pennsylvania, the Montour Taxpayers Organization, a school district watchdog group, doesn't want children riding to school with ads. Even though parents and school officials would have a say in what is posted, it's possible there would be disagreements over what is appropriate, said Michelle Bitner, the group's president.

"We as parents feel our children are subjected to an enormous amount of advertising on a daily basis and one place to keep it out of is schools and school buses," she said.

TOP OF PAGE

School districts leaving federal dollars behind

Some Colorado educators say 'No Child Left Behind' comes with too many strings

By Karen Rouse, Denver Post  

Sixth-grader Jeremiah Murray is willing to smell a petrified piece of dinosaur dung, even if he isn’t willing to outright touch it. Strasburg Superintendent Bill Powell, who was at Strasburg Elementary School to teach the lesson on rocks and minerals, refused more than $32,000 in federal No Child Left Behind funds.

When the Strasburg School District was offered a $32,453 grant for this school year, Superintendent Bill Powell told the federal government to keep it.

Those federal dollars, designed to help disadvantaged students academically, came with strings attached, he said; taking the money would subject the district to the mandates and sanctions of "No Child Left Behind," the 2001 act Powell called "the most damaging, intrusive piece of legislation to enter education in my 32 years as a public school administrator."

Requirements that all teachers be "highly qualified" by 2006 are unrealistic, particularly in rural schools where teachers may have less access to training facilities, Powell argues.

And penalties against schools where students fail to meet federal reading and math standards for proficiency each year are examples of legislators trying to force a cookie-cutter pattern onto unique districts, he said.

"We don't need the federal government or state trying to run the local (schools)," said Powell, who has overseen the 900-student district for 10 years. The district's budget is $8 million. "It's not going to happen in Strasburg."

The rural Adams County district joins several others across the nation that are turning down federal dollars to avoid the costs, paperwork, sanctions and requirements associated with the education reform act advocated by President Bush.

A handful of holdouts

In Colorado, only the Strasburg, Lone Star 101 and Branson school districts have declined money tied to the act, said Patrick Chapman, a federal programs director.

Other districts from New England to the Southwest are weighing the consequences of opting out. In Vermont and Connecticut, districts already have. And at least one in Illinois is considering it, according to news reports.

In Utah, state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican, led a push earlier this year to have the entire state excluded from the act.

"A big reason was state sovereignty," said Kat Dayton (no relation to the lawmaker), state aide for Utah's majority party.

Rep. Dayton "doesn't believe the federal government has the authority to mandate education or education reform, and it's something that needs to be dealt with and is the responsibility of the state government," Kat Dayton said.

Rep. Dayton softened her legislation when she learned that total exclusion would cost Utah $106 million in federal funds, Kat Dayton said Friday.

On Thursday, Utah's Senate essentially tabled Dayton's revised legislation, which simply said the state would participate only in No Child Left Behind programs that were covered by federal dollars. Arizona is looking at similar legislation.

Colorado officials said districts may escape the mandates and sanctions of the law, but it may be at the expense of students.

"Congress determined that having a literate populous and a populous that can do fundamental mathematics is of such importance that it has become a national priority," said William Windler, an assistant state commissioner of education. "There are some places out there where that's not happening.

"We need citizens that can read and do math."

The goal of No Child Left Behind is to have all children proficient in reading and math by 2014. Under the law, adequate yearly progress, or AYP, must be met by all subgroups of students - such as minority children, special-education students or English-language learners.

If one subgroup fails to meet the federal goals, the whole school or district can fail AYP.

Sanctions for those that miss AYP two to six years in a row include paying transportation costs for students to attend a higher-performing school or being taken over by a private management company.

The performance of all districts - regardless of whether they make AYP - must be reported publicly, Windler said, regardless of whether it accepts federal funding.

"Districts and schools that don't take it aren't subject to the Title I sanctions," Windler said. "What they are subject to is that the state has to report ... adequate yearly progress."

Three of Strasburg's four schools failed AYP, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

Because most federal programs are based on poverty, larger districts with a high percentage of students on free and reduced-price lunch typically get more funding under No Child Left Behind than smaller, more affluent districts, Windler said.

"It's much more difficult for a large district with a lot of poverty (to turn away federal dollars linked to the act) because it represents a higher percentage of what it (takes) to bring these kids to proficiency," Windler said.

Districts that are accepting dollars and can show that their students, "regardless of color, race, creed, boy, girl, ... are meeting the criteria" face no sanctions, he said.

The act also requires that schoolteachers meet their state's guidelines for being highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

Questioning qualifications

Some educators argue that rural teachers are often asked to teach several subjects outside of their specialty area, and may have difficulty in meeting the requirements of being highly qualified in those subjects. Access to additional training can be difficult, said Wes Smith, executive director of Colorado Rural Schools Caucus.

"In rural middle schools ... you prepare yourself in a lot of creative ways," Smith said. "You do a lot of reading in the summer. You may just work with other teachers that have more background, and you look for resources to bring into your classroom."

To be highly qualified in Colorado, teachers must hold an educator's license, which shows they have special training in at least one subject area, such as math.

A teacher that has been teaching a subject outside his or her specialty area can meet the requirements for being highly qualified by either passing a test or showing he or she has received alternative training in the subject.

"These rules are made not only for Douglas or Jefferson County, but also recognizes the small districts and the difficulty they have in filling their positions," said Dorothy Gotlieb, director of the office of educator licensing at the Colorado Department of Education.

Windler said the level of difficulty a district has in implementing No Child Left Behind's mandates will depend on how well the school used its resources prior to the law.

"A district that has done a good job all along of placing teachers appropriately ... it's not going to be a big deal to them ... (to meet the mandates for) highly qualified teachers because they probably already are."

Janet Michael, superintendent of the Lone Star 101 school district, said the unincorporated Washington County district declined federal money linked to No Child Left Behind because the act sliced the district's share of federal funding by more than 50 percent - from about $13,000 to $5,500.

Districts can use the federal grants provided under the act for materials, staff development, tutoring, special reading programs, or any other services geared toward helping students achieve math and reading proficiency.

"It would cost me more getting all the paperwork done than I would get from the grant," said Michael, who oversees the northeastern Colorado district with 102 students. "I still have to do adequate yearly progress, but I don't have to do the consolidated grant-writing."

The application for the grants is "almost a book," she said. "The paperwork is just ridiculous."

Pat Chlouber, a former member of the Colorado Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education representative to Colorado, said she doesn't understand why districts don't feel they can cover the costs.

Federal funding under No Child Left Behind will go up 50.8 percent between 2001 and 2005, Chlouber said.

TOP OF PAGE

Schools look to taxpayers to OK funds

With more districts in trouble, threat of cuts gets louder

Tim Jones, Chicago Tribune

One-third of Ohio's public school districts went to the voters last week asking for tax dollars to support school operations. Voters said no to more than half of those propositions.

Voters in Oregon last month resoundingly rejected a statewide proposal that would have sent $299 million in state aid to public schools. Once again, Oregon schools face the prospect of deep program cuts as well as a shortened school year.

In Minnesota, where many school districts have reached taxing limits and cannot legally go to voters again to ask for money, parents in some districts are organizing Tupperware-like fundraising parties to save teachers' jobs.

"This is the worst it's been since I've been involved in government, and that's 30 years," said Gerri Ogle, the associate commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In Missouri, 20 percent of the public school districts will go to voters next month, hoping to avert teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and threatened program cuts.

"Our districts are looking at pretty severe reductions," Ogle said.

Across the nation, public school districts are approaching voters in sometimes unprecedented numbers as they try to offset the effects of three years of state budget cuts or freezes, higher costs for health care and the approaching cost burdens of No Child Left Behind, the federally mandated education accountability system.

In Illinois, 1 in 8 school districts will present tax and bond issues to voters on March 16. The cost squeeze in Illinois and dozens of other states is aggravated by the economy, which has drained tax revenue and put pressure on school districts to seek higher local taxes.

The consequences of failed tax votes are not new but the volume of those schools threatening cuts is louder because more school districts are in trouble. Ohio, for instance, is considering a four-day school week. Many voters, weary of higher extracurricular fees and already-implemented cuts, feel overtaxed as school districts repeatedly seek help.

"This is the literal rock and a hard place for school districts," said Julie Underwood, general counsel for the National School Boards Association. "When state and local economies are hurting, schools hurt. Schools are really a barometer of state and local economies."

While success rates of tax proposals vary from state to state, school officials say the political and economic climates present a daunting task for school districts that try to convince voters of the need for new taxes.

`Like Russian novels'

Ohio is one of more than 30 states involved in litigation challenging the adequacy of the state's school funding system. Lawsuits like this, Underwood said, are "like Russian novels. They go on and on and on."

The upshot of the Ohio lawsuit, though, may be triggering a backlash. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled seven years ago that the state's property-tax-reliant school funding system is unconstitutional, yet the legislature and governor have not been able to produce a politically acceptable replacement. Voter frustration has built as schools return to taxpayers asking them to pay higher property taxes.

"Ohio has lost more than 150,000 manufacturing jobs," said Gary Allen, president of the Ohio Education Association. "The public is becoming more and more disenchanted."

Last Tuesday's vote marked the fourth consecutive year that Ohio voters rejected a majority of tax proposals. Ominously, some school officials noted, voters in some affluent districts that had consistently voted for tax measures voted no this time.

"People thought the court ordered that this be fixed, and they're wondering `Why are they ignoring the court decision?'" said William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which successfully challenged the legality of the state's finance system.

`Enough is enough'

"People aren't stupid. They're going to start asking questions, and people in more affluent communities are going to be turning down more tax issues. . . . They're saying, `Enough is enough.'"

Although school financial crises are common, contributing events have created a deeper trough from which to climb out. A recent study in New York projected it will cost that state $7 billion to adequately fund its school system. A report from Minnesota said the No Child Left Behind law will cost the state and local school districts at least $39 million a year to implement.

For many districts in Minnesota, returning to the voters is not an answer. Almost all of the state's school districts have gone to voters at least once in the past four years, said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, in St. Paul. Under state law, many of the districts already have reached the taxing limit.

With three straight years of funding reductions, 22 of 26 districts in the Twin Cities area reported a combined budget shortfall of $62 million for the coming school year. "There have been problems before, but they are more broad now," said Croonquist.

"I don't think we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel yet," he added.

One response has been local fundraising. Parents have been raising money for school bands and other activities for years, but the financial crunch has led to the creation of the STAR Fund, which stands for Securing Teachers and Resources. Parents in the Hopkins School District, just west of Minneapolis, organized home fundraisers, called gatherings, in an effort to help offset the elimination of 26 teaching positions in the 8,100-student district.

"They're like Tupperware or Amway parties," said Julie Woolfrey, of Minnetonka, who has two boys in grade school.

The STAR Fund has organized about 40 such events, during which the financial facts of life are explained to parents and neighbors.

"We either get indifference or support. There's not a lot of negative. If we do get that, it's from people who say we shouldn't have to do this. And we kind of agree with that," Woolfrey said.

So far $160,000 has been raised, including $12 from a 3rd-grade student. That is a pittance against a shortfall projected at $3 million in the next budget at Hopkins, but if fundraisersreach their goal of $200,000, Woolfrey said, they might be able to save four teaching jobs.

A similar fundraising effort is underway in Orono, Minn., where citizens last year raised $250,000 and saved six teaching positions.

But those who applaud the civic effort and generosity quickly point out that this is not a long-term solution. "This is only a Band-Aid now," said Nik Lightfoot, the human resources director for the Hopkins district.

"What we really have to have is a legislative solution."

TOP OF PAGE

State Board of Education to support law overhaul

Groups want changes to No Child Left Behind Act

Sue Loughlin, Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, IN)

The Indiana State Board of Education has joined six other statewide education groups in calling for an overhaul of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The state board voted 6-5 Thursday to add its name to a letter being sent to Indiana's congressional representatives and the U.S. Department of Education. The letter asks for several changes to make the federal law more flexible and realistic.

Dan Tanoos, a member of the State Board of Education, made the motion to support the letter on Thursday and spearheaded the effort to get the state board's endorsement.

The letter makes it clear "we support the intent of No Child Left Behind. We need to continue to work on student achievement and closing the achievement gap," Tanoos said. "But there are certain parts of No Child Left Behind that are not realistic."

Groups representing Indiana superintendents, principals, teachers, school boards and urban districts have voiced concerns the law is too rigid and imposes impractical standards.

Under the federal law, all but 1 percent of Indiana's most severely, cognitively disabled students would have to pass state ISTEP tests in math and English by the year 2013-14. Among those who would have to pass are special education students and those with limited English skills.

Many believe the nearly 100 percent proficiency requirement is unrealistic, Tanoos said.

Tanoos referred to a national survey in which 84 percent of teachers believe that most special education students should not be expected to meet the same set of academic-content standards as other children their age.

Among those who voted against adding the state board's endorsement to the letter was Suellen Reed, state superintendent for public instruction, and board member Connie Blackketter, a teacher from Rensselaer.

"I certainly wanted to support Danny and the idea of challenging some of the flaws in No Child Left Behind," Blackketter said. She agrees the 100 percent proficiency goal is unrealistic and lack of federal funding to support the law's mandates "is a huge problem."

But she felt the letter had some flaws and might be detrimental to many special education students. The way the letter was worded, it might create loopholes so that many special education students aren't held to the same academic standards as their non-special education peers.

She believes many special education students are capable of meeting those academic standards. If there are lower expectations for those students, they won't be as well prepared for the workforce or life, she said. "We wouldn't be offering them the best education possible," she said.

It's not just Indiana asking for an overhaul. National education groups, Republican and Democratic governors and the National Conference of State Legislatures also have expressed concerns with the federal law. Several states have proposed or passed legislation that would let them opt out of No Child Left Behind and forfeit federal funding.

The federal law requires annual testing in grades 3-8. If schools do not improve for two straight years, students can transfer to higher-performing schools in a district. After a third straight year of no improvement, schools also must provide tutoring or other remedial help for struggling students.

Sanctions apply only to schools that receive federal Title I funds, which are designed to boost the achievement of poor and minority children.

TOP OF PAGE

Education law causing shift away from liberal arts

Kate Ackerman, Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- Schools are teaching more math, science and reading and less liberal arts as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a study released Monday.

The Council for Basic Education conducted the study last fall to learn how the act, a centerpiece of the Bush administration's education agenda, was affecting instructional time. It found that while schools are spending more time on math, science and reading, they are spending substantially less on social studies, civics, geography, languages, and the arts.

To hold schools accountable, the No Child Left Behind Act requires regular achievement testing in reading and math. Individual states may require students to take assessments in other subjects.

"The narrowing of the curriculum is worrisome, because students need exposure to history, social studies, geography, and foreign languages to be fully prepared for citizenship, work, and learning in a rapidly changing world," said Raymond "Buzz" Bartlett, president of the Council for Basic Education. "Truly high expectations cannot begin and end with math, science, and reading."

Funded by the nonprofit Carnegie Corp. of New York, the study combined a mail survey of 956 elementary and secondary principals in Illinois, Maryland, New York, and New Mexico with focus groups of principals across the country. It included a representative selection of urban, suburban, and rural principals.

Three-quarters of the principals said instructional time for reading, writing, and mathematics has increased greatly or somewhat. Almost half of all principals reported increased instructional time in science.

But one in four principals reported decreases in instructional time for the arts, while fewer than one in 10 reported increases.

The most significant narrowing of curriculum occurred in schools with large minority populations. Almost half of principals at such schools reported decreases in instructional time for elementary social studies, and four in 10 anticipated decreases in instructional time for the arts.

"In our effort to close achievement gaps in literacy and math, we risk substituting one form of educational inequity for another, denying our most vulnerable students the kind of curriculum available to the wealthy," Bartlett said.

Claus von Zastrow, the report's author and director of institutional development at the Council for Basic Education, said the No Child Left Behind Act brings both risk and opportunity.

The act "has promoted a real sense of academic purpose, consensus regarding high expectations, and a focus on educational equality," von Zastrow said. But he said the focus on math, reading and science risks weakening other subjects.

Carol J. Lark, the principal of C.P. Squires Elementary School in Las Vegas and a 2003 winner of a National Distinguished Principal award, was a part of the study. She said that while the No Child Left Behind Act is generally good and accountability is necessary, she believes a balanced liberal arts education is also important.

"I hope this study will make people stop and think," Lark said at a news conference Monday. "We cannot afford to teach reading all morning and math all afternoon."

TOP OF PAGE

Districts look for ways to cut fat, keep funds  

By Carolyn Bower of the Post-Dispatch, 3/09/2004

Want celery sticks with that?

Area schools are considering dumping junk food from their menus and sodas from their vending machines amid increasing concern that the nation's youth are growing obese.

The shift won't be easy, though. Junk food fattens the bottom line in most school districts, many of which have suffered from shrinking revenue.

The Parkway School District's answer may be to keep the machines but stock them with healthier foods. The School Board is considering revising policies to require more nutritious food in school cafeterias, snack bars and vending machines - even the items parents and kids sell to raise money for the band and athletics.

"Obesity has become epidemic," said Mike Kanak, director of food services for the Parkway School District, which serves about 20,000 students in west St. Louis County. "People are turning to schools for answers."

Concerns in Parkway mirror those in school districts across the country.

A new federal study reports that deaths from poor diet and physical inactivity rose by 33 percent over the last decade and may soon overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death.

Nearly twice as many children and three times as many adolescents are overweight as 20 years ago. The weight gain poses increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, said Susie Nanney, acting director of the obesity prevention center at the school of public health at St. Louis University.

"Children whose nutritional needs are met are more attentive in class," Nanney said. "Vending machines do not provide enough food for the brain to be attentive in class. The school environment has a significant role in supporting healthy eating patterns," she said.

With that in mind, Illinois legislators are considering a bill that would ban junk food and soda from school vending machines beginning in 2005.

After July 1, Philadelphia school officials will allow only water, milk and 100 percent fruit juice to be sold in schools. Sports drinks will be available in the high schools.

New York City and Los Angeles school districts have banned soft drinks.

Beverage companies have begun to offer healthier items in drink machines, items such as water, sports drinks, juices and dairy-based products.

Ashlie Keener, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of St. Louis, said, "We respect the rights of parents, teachers and students to make choices."

Local school officials say they support healthier fare, but they also want to protect revenue from vending machines and fund-raisers.

Parkway schools expect to earn $672,889 this school year from beverage and snack sales. The money helps buy books, supplies, computers and software, band uniforms and field trips.

Even school snack bars, situated within cafeterias, are lucrative. The Parkway South Middle School snack bar serves yogurt, cheese sticks and fruit juice, but also offers doughnuts, chips and cookies. The snack bar sells $400 to $600 worth of snacks a day. That money helps subsidize the school food service.

"A lot of students eat chips, doughnuts and soda for lunch," said Stephanie French, 12, a seventh-grader at Parkway South Middle School. "Some just get a soda."

Stephanie, vice president of the student council, drinks soda rarely but she often buys a pretzel from the snack bar. She would like to see more choices for students, including vending machines with fruit drinks, power bars and granola bars available after school.

Josh Travis, 14 and the student council president at Parkway South Middle School, favors surveying students about what they would like to eat at school. "At this age, our metabolism is high," Travis said. "But the way we eat can become a habit."

Pattonville schools turn off soda machines during the school day and offer milk machines and low-fat items, said Rick Mariam, director of food services for the district, which serves about 6,000 students in northwest St. Louis County.

"It is frustrating to us that even though we offer healthy alternatives, the ones who most need those are the least likely to select them," he said.

Sodexho, which provides food service to the Collinsville School District, has installed vending machines to make milk and juice available at Collinsville High School, said Esau Tolson, a Sodexho general manager. The company plans to install similar machines in other schools as well as adding low-fat snacks, including fruit rollups and low-fat gummy bears.

"The whole key is if the kids will pick them," Tolson said.

TOP OF PAGE

State standing firmly behind No Child act

Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE -- The Department of Education is standing its ground on a plan to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, despite pleas from Florida educators to reconsider standards.

The federal law put 84 percent of the state's public schools on a federal watch list last year.

The Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition met with department officials in February to discuss their concerns about President Bush's 2002 law and the standards set by Florida to comply with it. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents has similar concerns and will give a position paper on it to Education Commissioner Jim Horne this month.

"We're not going to fudge the numbers to make Florida look better," said Frances Marine, Education Department spokeswoman. "And I can tell you right now, seeking a waiver is not something we are going to do."

Seminole County Superintendent Bill Vogel said he just wants Florida's numbers to align with other states so that the state's schools won't look so poorly in comparison.

Because there are no federal guidelines on how to comply with the act, each state set its own standards. On a No Child Left Behind Web site, Florida ranks last out of the handful of states reporting their scores, with just 51 percent of students making progress in reading and 54 percent in math. In comparison, Virginia is listed as having 78 percent of students making progress in reading and the same percentage in math.

"We are trying to get an equal playing field," Vogel said.

One of the biggest problems educators have is with the number of students who must be tested in each of eight subgroups before their scores count against a school.

In Florida, 30 students must be tested in each of the subgroups for the scores to be counted. But other states set their subgroup numbers much higher, making it less likely that test scores from lower-achieving students would count against a school. In California, 50 students must be in a subgroup for them to be counted, but only if that equals 15 percent of a school's total population. If it doesn't, the subgroup must have 100.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires all public school students to be performing on grade level by 2014 regardless of race, disability, or newness to the country. Schools that fall behind standards -- which increase until 2014 -- must allow their students to choose other, better-rated, public schools at the expense of the district and implement tutoring programs at no cost to parents. Substandard schools could ultimately face state takeover or be forced to become a charter school. Other concerns Florida educators have include:

• Results on whether schools are meeting "adequate yearly progress" will be released in June this year, but that may not be enough time for school districts to appeal the results before they must offer school choice to students.

• Schools that don't make adequate yearly progress have to set aside 20 percent of their budgets for busing students who choose to go to other schools.

Vogel estimated school districts could have to spend $100 million this year on busing.

Marine acknowledged that many schools probably will be eligible for school choice this year, but said federal officials believe less than 10 percent of parents with eligible children will take the option.

"We believe NCLB can be a valuable diagnostic tool that, in conjunction with the Governor's A-plus plan, will continue to drive improved student achievement in Florida," Marine said.

TOP OF PAGE

Examining No Child Left Behind

Jay Mathews, Washington Post, March 9, 2004

More than a month ago I asked for stories about how the new federal No Child Left Behind law is affecting children in our public school classrooms. I was unhappy about the lack of specifics in most of the published attacks on the law, and I begged for some concrete examples of harm.

I am going to share what I received in just a moment, but first I must say I was surprised that I did not get the blizzard of e-mails that have come after appeals for input on other lively issues, such as treatment of special education students or college admissions angst. This is probably because the law is still new, and its most radical provisions -- more tutoring at schools not making the grade and voluntary student transfers from those schools -- have not had a chance to take effect in many places. Also, we won't know how painful the "needs improvement" label will be for schools until it is affixed, as it almost certainly will be, to many schools that up to now have enjoyed good reputations in their communities.

The stories I got are interesting, and they point to very specific strengths and weaknesses of the law, as it becomes reality for our children. The negative messages far outnumbered the positive ones and left the impression that when Congress and the White House revisit the law after the next election, the first thing they should look at is a way to reward schools that are improving without forcing them to reach very specific marks and without dumping a load of new students on them from the less successful school down the road.

I will start with the positive messages. Two came from readers that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was expressly written to serve -- Hispanic parents living in big cities where the public schools have been mediocre at best. Carlos Pozo, a truck driver who has a child in the Dallas public schools, said, "I can give you a list of schools that are low performing" in his area. He likes the idea that under the federal law he might be able to transfer his first grader if the neighborhood school is not doing the job. Jose Pacheco said his children "are in one of the really bad schools" in Dallas. When he tried to transfer her to a magnet school he was told "she did not meet the requirements in reading and writing." So he hopes the new law will either improve the school she is in or give him another chance to move her.

Ricki Sabia, whose son Stephen attends fifth grade at Cloverly Elementary School in Silver Spring, said she is finding it much easier to get him into mainstream classes despite his learning disabilities. "Much to our surprise, attitudes really had changed considerably since NCLB," she said. "There are high expectations and we did not have to twist any arms."

But those who do not like what they see happening sent much longer and much more emotional e-mails than those who like the law so far. Most of their stories are about disabilities or limited-English students being given tests too difficult for them, transfers from low-performing schools overloading successful programs and opportunities for combining fun and learning being squeezed out by test preparation.

Christina Clayton, an English as a Second Language teacher in Dallas, described a Vietnamese boy bounced around by a system that insisted he be tested, but had trouble getting him an official designation that would bring extra instruction. A fifth grade teacher in Fairfax County described a child who had both learning disabilities and limited English, but worked hard all year and improved greatly. It broke his heart when he discovered she had received a letter saying she had failed one state test, and further investigation showed she missed by one point.

Paul Smith, a high school teacher in Wisconsin, said he had to cut back on life skills lessons -- opening a bank account, getting a doctor's appointment -- for students with severe cognitive disabilities because the state was insisting on better reading scores. "They may have not marketable skills," he said, "but at least they will be able to identify a topic sentence."

Tim O'Mara, who teaches at a middle school in New York City, said the size of his school's sixth grade increased 20 percent because of students transferring in from a struggling school. This means a bigger work load for him and less chance of his school meeting the new achievement targets. "Don't get me wrong," he said. "My colleagues and I treat these kids with the respect they deserve and do our best to honor their individual needs. We just wish the powers that be would do the same for us."

Jacqui Cebrian had the same experience in her third grade in south Chicago. Her kids were doing well and the school was improving until transfers from a nearby school poured in. "You now have two schools failing instead of only one," she said. Bonnie Sue Stein, a parent in New York City, said transfers raised the average class size at her daughter's school from 23 to 29. Her daughter, she said, "was taken aback by the increase of kids, and the lack of space."

Loss of time, however, was more painful than loss of space for some teachers and parents. The need to prepare for tests in reading, writing and math forced cancellation of other pursuits that some teachers and parents considered valuable. A new survey by the Council for Basic Education of 956 principals in Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico and New York found the squeeze particularly hard on social studies, civics, geography, languages and the arts, and many educators who wrote me bemoaned the limits on recess and other chances to blow off steam.

Jim Sando, a fifth grade teacher in Ambler, Penn., said he misses his weekly "free math" period when students had useful fun with computers, logic puzzles and other games. Terry Bosworth, a first grade teacher at Deale Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, said that "recess periods have been shortened and there is less time available for cultural arts activities such as assemblies, chorus, band, orchestra" and an annual student performance.

Tanya Sharon, who teaches fifth grade at Bennett Elementary School in Detroit, said, "Teachers can't find time to prepare their students with skits, plays or recitations because we are constantly trying to cover the curriculum and teach what is needed to pass the tests." Colleen O'Malley praised the work done by the principal and teachers at Alexandria's Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy, but worried that there was no time for fun for her kindergartner. "They are discouraged from talking during lunch because that takes time and these little guys have a heavy schedule," she said.

Dan Bennett, principal of Bradley Hills Elementary School in Bethesda, said he used to have five or six field trips a year, but now there is only time for two. There are fewer science experiments and social studies projects. "We used to hold more book clubs for discussion of literature," he said. "Staff now spends time remediating . . . not a bad thing, just less enjoyable and challenging for able students."

And yet, students are learning and achievement seems to be going up, particularly in Bennett's school district, Montgomery County, where test scores indicate significantly more progress by low-income students in the lower grades. Whether this effort continues will depend on how well the many well-educated, middle class parents who wrote me can tolerate what they see as a sacrifice of a happy learning environment for their children so more attention can be paid to kids who do not have the same enrichment at home.

Brian Bachman, a State Department diplomat, and his wife, a professional violinist with a small business, have a daughter who attends Fairhill Elementary School in Fairfax County. "It has dedicated, well-meaning staff, good facilities and has consistently performed well in standardized tests," he said.

Yet they have noticed the diminished time for art, music, physical education, recess and other less structured activities. "Most parents I've talked to are happy with the new emphasis on the 'basics' and improving test scores," he said. "Maybe that just makes my wife and I different. I don't know. But I do know that school for my daughter is nowhere near as much fun as it was for me when I was growing up, and that makes me sad."

TOP OF PAGE

 

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