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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – March 19 - 26, 2004

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STATE
Accurate count of dropouts sought / Chicago Tribune
Far more schools in fiscal peril
/ Chicago Tribune
Lawmakers point fingers at governor
/ Lincoln Courier
Educator says federal school law is working
/ Peoria Journal Star
Study: Most teens skip after-school activities / Sun Times
State has no business imposing junk food law / Bureau County Republican
Don’t punish kids for schools’ woes / Rockford Register Star
Education funding top concern at forum /
Champaign News-Gazette
Grant proposed for South Pekin / Peoria Journal Star
A paperwork paradox? / Daily Herald
Educators urge parents to study No Child Left Behind / Daily Herald
Business, Education, and Labor Task Force Unveils Strategy to Transform Teaching Profession in Illinois / Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago
Local educators not keen on idea of separating girls from boys / Chicago Tribune
Ryan's education policies on target / Chicago Tribune
Vote results signal need for school-funding reform / Pantagraph
District 203 hits Blagojevich plan / Chicago Tribune
Schools could get $2.2 billion / Chicago Tribune
Education called key to U.S. job recovery / Pantagraph
ISU grant will fight obesity / Pantagraph
Put priority on preschool / State Journal-Register
Madigan raises concerns over gov's teacher certification plan / Sun Times
Schools press state for funds / Chicago Tribune
A good reason to bump up flat tax / Sun Times
State lawmakers uneasy with construction spending / Copley News Service
Students probably won't have to worry about earlier ACT / Daily Herald
Teacher panel panned; Blagojevich backs off / Chicago Tribune
Gov stands by education plan / Rockford Register Star
Speaker questions governor's teacher certification plan / Daily Southtown
Rally demands school funding / Pantagraph
Future teachers feel sting of state aid cuts / Palatine Countryside
Gov borrows, spends, hands bill to Ill. Kids / Rockford Register Star
Board Blasts Governor's Education Plan / Southern Illinoisan
Why schools are in bad shape and getting worse / Daily Herald
Lists of troubled schools grow / Chicago Tribune
Principals say parents should rate teachers / Sun Times
Principals' union upset with survey / Chicago Tribune
Students regret possible loss of Golden Apple scholarships / Pioneer Press
Teachers to grade themselves? /
Chicago Tribune

NATIONAL
Big city schools show gains in state tests / Chicago Tribune
Not left behind / Birmingham News
No Child Left Behind: Lame tests, unwarranted sanctions / Modesto Bee
Nation's schools remain unbalanced / Scripps Howard News Service
Requirements Test School / Kansas City Star
Panel gives 'no' to No Child law / St. Paul Pioneer Press
14 states seek more flexibility in No Child Left Behind law / USA Today
Schools stepping up efforts to reduce teacher turnover / CNN.com

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STATE

Accurate count of dropouts sought  

Miscounts seen masking problem

By Lori Olszewski, Tribune staff reporter, March 19, 2004

A prominent researcher on civil rights in education will call for the U.S. Department of Education to establish a uniform and honest reporting system of high school graduation rates during a conference in Chicago on Friday.

Across the nation, researchers and community groups have shown that school districts are reporting misleading statistics that can hide the gravity of the dropout problem, especially among African-American and Latino youths.

The need for accurate reporting has become critical because the federal No Child Left Behind law requires school systems to include graduation rates in their accountability plans.

"There has been no check on the accuracy of the data being reported as part of NCLB," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. "As a result, you cannot compare graduation rates among the states, and the information is not reliable."

The regulations surrounding the law also should close loopholes that allow states to erase some young people from their dropout statistics, Orfield said Thursday.

Right now, some states include students with equivalency certificates as graduates, while others only allow students with traditional high school diplomas to be counted. Many dropouts are "hidden" by tallying them as transfers, though the students never move to another school, according to recent reports.

Orfield and other experts will meet in Chicago Friday for a conference sponsored by the Harvard project, Northwestern University and other Midwest educational institutions and community groups.

The sponsors include Chicago community groups that have been at the forefront of efforts to highlight the severity of the dropout problem in Illinois, such as the Alternative Schools Network, Greater West Town Community Corp. and United Neighborhood Organization.

Orfield was a lead author on a recent report that found only about half of all African-American, Latino and Native American students were graduating from high school with regular diplomas in four years.

The report found that 75 percent of Illinois 9th graders graduate four years later, though the state was reporting an 83 percent rate using a different definition.

The report was a joint effort of the Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute, a non-partisan policy research organization.

States should adopt identifier systems so students can be followed through their schooling years, Orfield and other researchers recommend.

Illinois already is moving to implement some of the changes. The Illinois Board of Education plans to spend $5 million to $6 million over the next three to four years to build an information system to track students more accurately. The system should be operating by the 2005-06 school year.

State Supt. of Education Robert Schiller said he supports uniform national standards for reporting graduation rates.

"The reports have shown different states are using different indicators so we are not getting a true and accurate picture," Schiller said.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, also would force Illinois school districts to document that students have transferred before excluding them from their dropout numbers.

The national criticism appears to be having an effect. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced in December that a group of national experts will review dropout reporting methods and make recommendations in the spring.

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Far more schools in fiscal peril  

Districts on watch list soar; critics urge funding reform

By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter, March 19, 2004

The number of Illinois school districts in dire financial condition has nearly doubled this year, an increase that educators and finance experts say signals a deepening fiscal crisis in the state's public school system.

Two days after voters rejected a majority of referendum measures proposed to shore up school finances, the Illinois State Board of Education made public an analysis showing 156 districts are on "financial watch" for 2004--up from 87 last year.

The financial watch designation--the worst of four possible ratings--generally means districts have run up deficits, drained reserves, borrowed to cover daily expenses and pushed indebtedness to the limit, like a consumer reaching the maximum on a credit card.

An additional 141 school districts got the second-worst rating, "financial early warning." Combined, the 297 districts in the bottom categories make up a third of Illinois' 893 school districts, the board said, and 77 percent of districts were in deficit spending.

"This is a sad statement for public education," said Rebecca Allard, president of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials. Particularly disturbing, she said, is that "nobody is dealing with this issue in Springfield."

Allard and other educators said fundamental reform to the state's education financing system is needed, from removing or changing the tax caps that limit revenues to overhauling funding formulas that rely heavily on local communities to pay for schools.

As it stands, local districts can't keep up with the rising costs of salaries and health insurance, as well as rapidly growing enrollment in some areas, Allard said.

Some critics contend, however, that school spending is out of control, with districts operating in the red and resorting to borrowing to cover spiraling expenses of their own making.

"Their focus should be on reducing costs and making some sense out of payroll," said Jack Roeser, president of the Family Taxpayers Network, which publishes the salaries of schoolteachers and administrators annually. The top salaries posted on the group's Web site rankle citizens, Roeser said; several exceed $200,000 because of retirement packages and other perks.

This week, voters approved 46 percent of the school tax and bond referendum measures on ballots statewide, and losing school districts are now moving to cut teachers, increase class sizes and cut extracurricular programs.

The state board released only overall figures on the school districts in financial trouble, and the information is considered preliminary until the board meets next week, when the ratings of individual districts will be released.

The overall figures also show that the number of financially healthy districts--in the "financial recognition" category--declined to 356 in 2004 from 431 last year. The number of districts in the second-highest "financial review" category stayed the same, at 240.

Chicago sees rating fall

Chicago Public Schools chief financial officer John Maiorca said Chicago's rating declined in 2004, from financial review to financial early warning. The system is facing a $200 million deficit.

But Maiorca said the district remains in "decent shape." He blamed the decline in the financial rating partly on changes made to the state board formula that determines financial designations, as well as philosophical differences over how much cash school districts should hold in reserve--one of the factors the board examines.

The board also looks at district expenditures compared with revenues; short-term borrowing, such as borrowing against future tax collections; and long-term debt, such as construction bonds for buildings. Each area is rated, and districts are given a "financial profile," including a final score that places them in one of the four categories of fiscal health.

The profile system was used for the first time last year, after the state board was criticized for a financial rating system considered so lenient that even the most troubled districts didn't make the financial watch list.

But some districts criticized the new system, saying it misrepresented their financial situations. In response, the board adjusted the formula this year and revised the 2003 ratings to reflect the changes.

The tinkering benefited 315 districts that got higher 2003 scores as a result. The number of districts on financial watch last year, for example, decreased to 87 from 101.

Though they create bad publicity for districts, the financial ratings carry no penalties or mandates to improve--a situation the state board wants to fix.

State board director of operations David Wood said Thursday that the board is pushing legislation in the spring that would mandate improvements and strict monitoring for districts in the financial watch category.

Time for reform, officials say

Local school officials and education reform advocates said the sharp increase in financial watch districts means it's time for lawmakers to take on more comprehensive reforms of the Illinois school finance system. The system has long been criticized for relying too heavily on local property taxes to fund schools and for allowing inequities between wealthy and poor school districts.

"We have to address the financial crisis in Illinois. I don't know how many wake-up calls you need," said Glenn "Max" McGee, the former state schools superintendent who is now a local superintendent in Wilmette. "This really shows that funding, sooner or later, has to be a critical issue for the General Assembly to address."

"Schools are in trouble. If you doubted it, if you questioned it, this proves that the system doesn't work," agreed Kim Grimshaw Bolton of the Metropolitan Planning Council, one of the groups spearheading a new statewide effort to funnel more dollars into poor school districts and increase education spending overall.

That would likely take an increase in the state income tax--something Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pledged not to do.

The governor has proposed spending $400 million more on schools in the fiscal year starting July 1, despite a $1.7 billion budget deficit facing Illinois. But his chief public education initiative is a proposal to take control of the schools' bureaucracy by creating a new education agency under his control. The current, independent Illinois State Board of Education would be relegated to a think tank under the plan.

Many local educators are skeptical of that plan, saying it does not address the fundamental funding problems that have plunged so many districts into debt.

"There has to be a dramatic change in the way the state looks at school funding, and every year that change is delayed, more and more kids are going through the system without getting what they need," said Robert Grossi, chief executive officer of the panel overseeing finances for Hazel Crest School District 152 1/2 in southern Cook County.

That district was on the verge of insolvency in 2002 but now has a balanced budget after closing school buildings, cutting staff and making other changes.

Any plan to reform education financing has to look at both increasing revenues and cutting expenditures, Grossi said.

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Lawmakers point fingers at governor  

BY PAUL AYARS, THE COURIER

Three downstate legislators pointed the finger of blame at Gov. Rod Blagojevich when nearly 30 central Illinois school officials pressed them for solutions to funding education in Illinois.

Voters Tuesday fiercely rejected pleas for financial help in a pair of tax referendums in the largely rural Olympia School District, forcing the lay off of 55 teachers and closing three schools.

Voters statewide rejected 47 of 89 tax issues and 16 or 29 bond referendums Tuesday.

But the legislators in Lincoln today sidestepped the issue, saying Gov. Rod Blagojevich has yet to present a plan to increase state education funding.

"Education concerns cross party lines. There's a lot of concerns," Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, told administrators of school districts in the Logan/Mason/Menard Regional Office of Education. "The problem is, until the governor signs onto something and campaigns for it, it's not likely to go anywhere."

Bomke and state representatives Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, and Richard Myers, R-Colchester, said the governor skirts accountability in his plans to dismantle or fragment state agencies like the State Board of Education and Department of Agriculture. Bomke contends the governor's proposals to gut the state department of education and assign responsibilities elsewhere violates the state constitution.

"The truth of the matter is he's a nice guy," Bomke told the roomful of educators at a 11/2-hour meeting at Lincoln College. "One on one, he's a nice guy. There's no question he's got more charisma than George Ryan."

But Bomke said, even after he initiated the lawsuit that sought to keep Lincoln Developmental Center open despite Ryan's closure order, he still had access to then Gov. Ryan, something he said he lacks with Blagojevich.

Bomke said, "He always has an enemy (a person or department in his sights) and he's very good at visuals," like sitting the State Board of Education chief before him and between Blagojevich and the legislature at the governor's State of the State address earlier this year.

The legislators said there's a pervasive lack trust of the governor in Springfield.

"We never see him," Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, told the educators today. "The governor actually doesn't come on the floor (of the House). He's not even in Springfield."

With three legislators present, several education administrators zeroed in on education funding shortfalls as their major concerns, not only of local schools, but Illinois universities.

Former Lincoln Junior High School Principal Jerry Meyer, superintendent of the Midwest Central district in Manito, sounded a litany of ways his rural district is floundering and could be helped.

"We need stability, something to stay the same," he said. "Drastic change, in my opinion, is not a good thing. As was said earlier, we need you to know funding, that is the issue."

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Educator says federal school law is working  

By ELAINE HOPKINS of the Journal Star, March 19, 2004

PEORIA - Meeting standards of the No Child Left Behind law challenges educators, but it can be done, a U.S. Department of Education official said Thursday at Bradley University.

"It is possible to have every student performing at grade-level expectations," said Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary of policy for the education department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"It's exciting to see" the law working now in some schools, she told a group of college and high school guidance counselors. She later met informally with other educators throughout the day.

She expressed faith in the controversial law that can financially penalize schools whose students continually fail annual tests. The intent, she said, is to raise achievement of all students, especially in reading and math, then science.

She compared achieving the required standards with past triumphs in science and technology.

"Superintendents say there's no way the school will make adequate yearly progress," but polio has been eradicated in the United States and the nation sent men to the moon, she said.

Marburger also was confident in federal expectations that 100 percent of the nation's students can achieve the set goals, even when tight budgets are increasing class sizes at many schools.

"I say 100 percent is realistic. It will be better than where we are currently," she said.

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Study: Most teens skip after-school activities  

BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA, Sun Times Staff Reporter, March 19, 2004 

No one's watching the typical Chicago public high school student after the last bell rings, with most teens spending after-school time by themselves.

So says a University of Chicago survey of Chicago Public Schools ninth-graders released Thursday. The survey said that after school, only 25 percent of ninth graders take part in after-school programs -- ranging from sports to music to activities at church and community centers -- while 33 percent are at home supervising siblings and other kids.

The study, described as the largest survey of how urban high school students spend time after school, was provided to all 33,000 CPS ninth-graders last year. About half responded.

"As more families are two-wage earners, and more poor, single parents work, we need to be concerned about supervision of these kids," said U. of C. researcher Robert Goerge.

The study by U. of C.'s Chapin Hall Center for Children found 80 percent of teens on average spent more than two hours alone after school daily, but that included time when there were adults nearby.

The study found more than 20 percent of kids surveyed pointed to friendship and fun as after-school goals; 13 percent cited skills building, and 5 percent cited job training.

"But over half say they're doing academic activities after school, which was a pleasant surprise," Goerge said.

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State has no business imposing junk food law  

Opinion by Same Fisher, Bureau County Republican Publisher

State has no business imposing junk food law

Absolutely not and I'll tell you why later.

My grandmother was the head cook at the school I attended. I remember that on Sunday mornings she sat with a row of neatly sharpened pencils at her side figuring the cost of every meal but also the nutritional value. She knew it was important for the kids to have nutritional and tasty meals. She took great pride in delivering both. Back then you had a choice. Either eat what was cooked up by my grandmother and her staff or bring your own lunch. But just because you brought your own lunch didn't mean you could bring pop and candy bars -- it just wasn't allowed.

I know a lot has changed since the 30 years I was in school. Then, a soda or candy machine in the school was unimaginable. Unfortunately, my grandmother died a year and half ago, but I wonder how she would answer the question.

Obesity whether it's in children or adults is a problem and it's getting worse. However the state has no business imposing legislation that would prohibit candy, pop or snacks in schools. It's a local decision that should be left up to the community and ultimately each local school board.

Anyway, the state has enough business to attend to instead of telling schools what to do on this subject. Maybe they could focus on improving school funding -- that definitely would be worth their attention.

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Don’t punish kids for schools’ woes   

Rockford Register Star Editorial by Linda Grist Cunningham Executive Editor, 3/21/04

After watching Illinois voters reject almost 53 percent of the education referendums around the state last week, I’m convinced. We hate our kids.

That’s got to be it. Otherwise, why are so many of us gleefully delighted that in the Rock River Valley three of four referendums went down in flames and a fourth only squeaked by because the high school’s basketball team won second place in the state tournament just days before the referendum?

Excuse for a moment those folks who worked so hard to get these passed. They’re worn out and well justified in licking their wounds in silence before shouldering the yoke to go another round with voters bound and determined to throw hissy fits every time a school referendum is proposed.

And, all the rest of us who stick our heads in the sand — and that’s most of us — neither working for or against a referendum, and definitely not bothering to vote? Well, we must hate our kids, too.

Think I’m kidding? Then answer me this: Why do we think it is perfectly OK to punish our children for the monumental screw-ups of adults who fail miserably decade after decade to develop and implement school funding systems that work? If we loved our kids — and if we believe everyone of them is entitled to a quality education — why is school funding in Illinois — and in the rest of the 49 states — such a disaster?

President George W. Bush calls himself the education president and promises no child will be left behind. Gov. Rod Blagojevich calls himself the education governor and does television sound bites on cola contracts and bad nutrition. There’s nary a political candidate of any stripe that doesn’t promise constituencies that he (or she) will make education of our dear, precious children, the hope of our future and the joys of our lives, a top priority. Liars all.

Oh, they talk a good game. They create the mottos and catch phrases and issue proclamations and manifestos. And, pretty much there’s no cash to get them done. Unfunded mandates? These people wrote the book.

Illinois, like many other states, pays for schools with a tattered patchwork of federal, state and local funds, grants, gifts, contracts and, the mother of all horrors, the property tax. The demented mind that first decided property taxes were an intelligent way to fund schools really hated kids.

If we loved our kids, we’d fix our schools. If we loved our kids, we’d demand a fiscally sound funding mechanism that worked. If we loved our kids, we’d deliver what we promise. But we hate our kids, so we do nothing except wring our hands, yell about test scores and play a million and one other smoke-screening blame games. We do anything except fix it.

May I make a modest proposal? Let’s fix it. Really, it’s that simple, assuming, of course, we don’t actually hate our kids.

First, we have to stop lying. Either we believe in access to quality public school education or we don’t. If we do believe, then step two is stop pretending that we can do it cheaply. Heck, we’re happily paying top dollar for the war in Iraq; surely, we’re willing to pay top dollar for quality education. Personally, I vote for books over bombs any day. How about you?

With steps one and two out of the way, here’s step three: Ditch the property tax cold turkey. Now. Today. Replace it with an increase (probably substantial) in the income tax. Yes, the income tax. The more you make, the more you pay. That’s fair. Collect it all in one place and split it evenly among every school district in the state. No formulas, just divide the dollars by the district. Raise the income tax again if it’s not enough.

For crying out loud, Winnebago County’s collecting a 1-cent jail tax that’s raising $23-million-plus annually. Add another penny and give the additional $23 million to the schools. Anything but the property tax.

I’m sure there are two dozen and three other funding ideas, and probably plenty that would work just fine. But, we hate our kids, so we’ll keep raping our schools and classrooms until we have so decimated public education that we’ll need a five-cent jail tax just to cover the costs of incarcerating a couple generations of hated kids.

Want things to change? Then, demand that our state legislators and the governor change the funding system. Now. Unless, of course, you really do hate our kids.

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Education funding top concern at forum  

KATE CLEMENTS, Champaign News-Gazette, 3/23/04

BLOOMINGTON – While Gov. Rod Blagojevich has launched a fight to take over governance of Illinois' public education system, a group of teachers, principals, superintendents, business leaders and legislators on Monday said they have other primary concerns.

"Frankly I really don't care how it is governed, because the difference is made in the classroom," said Roger Sanders, superintendent of Newark High School District in Kendall County.

Blagojevich aims to dismantle the State Board of Education and replace it with a new Department of Education under his control, claiming the state board has failed in its mission and "wasted the people's money," while the problems of education continue to mount.

State Schools Superintendent Robert Schiller disagreed with that assessment, and said shifting the power to the governor's office does not change the fact that the vast majority of the state's school districts are facing deficits and local property taxpayers are shouldering the majority of the costs.

The governor's proposal only serves to divert attention from the real problems affecting schools, Sanders said.

Sanders was one of the attendees at an education symposium the Illinois Business Roundtable held in Bloomington on Monday to discuss how best to improve student achievement. The event revealed participants focused not on governance, but on the adequacy and equity of education funding.

Robert Nielsen, Bloomington schools superintendent and former Urbana High School principal, said educators already know what is needed to improve student achievement, but do not have the resources to pay for it.

"Kids want to learn and teachers want to teach," Nielsen said. "Give us a chance and we will do the best we can."

State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, said the way the state's schools are governed is a legitimate concern, but not as critical as the funding issue.

”The most important thing we should be discussing is how we fund education," Winkel said.

Blagojevich has agreed that there are equity problems with the school funding system, but said no type of school funding formula would be well served if the money going into it was not being used in the most appropriate way. He said his reforms must be enacted before taxpayers could be persuaded to support an increase in state funding for schools.

Ted Sanders, president of the Education Commission of the States and a former state superintendent in Illinois, said there is "not a shred of evidence" that one governance system of education is better than another, and that a more important issue is whether whatever system is in place has enough power to step in and do something when specific schools are failing.

A representative from President George W. Bush's administration stayed carefully neutral on the governor's proposal.

”I'm not here to get in the middle of any debate between the state board and the governor," said Bob Simon, U.S. assistant undersecretary for elementary and secondary education. "But the fact that education is No. 1 on the agenda would tend to give hope that common ground can be found."

Simon urged all sides to find those things everyone can agree on and focus their energies on those.

"It's not going to be easy to do, but you can do it," he said.

James Hunt, former Democratic governor of North Carolina and chairman of the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, advocated a shift toward state financial support of schools and away from local property taxes. In North Carolina, the state covers 75 percent of education costs, compared with just 36 percent in Illinois.

"Can you talk to our governor?" asked state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, who has introduced legislation to increase income taxes and use the money to fund schools and pay for property tax rebates. The bill is stuck in the House rules committee and is unlikely to ever see the light of day.

Blagojevich, who has vowed not to raise income or sales taxes, has said he does not support the idea of an income tax increase for schools, even if accompanied by an equal amount of property tax relief.

Lou Mervis of Danville, a former chairman of the state board of education and chairman of the Illinois Business Roundtable Education Committee, is hoping the governor can be swayed.

"That's the only fair way to do it," he said.

Mervis said his organization wants to help advance the discussion and provide a vision for how the state can attack the problems in its education system.

"What got accomplished today was people thinking about what Illinois needs to do," he said of the symposium. "As much as I admire the governor for opening a dialogue on education, I think he has shown us nothing yet that's meaningful. Governance is not the issue."

Winkel said he attended Monday's symposium to help gauge the feelings of the participating educators and business people and left with "a very clear understanding" that funding and local control are the key concerns.

Also Monday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing in Elmhurst on the governor's education proposal. The bill that would enact the changes is SB 3000. More discussion is scheduled as the General Assembly returns to Springfield today.

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Grant proposed for South Pekin  

School board may turn down planned $542,191 in state building funds

Adriana Colindres of Copley News Service, Peoria Journal Star, 3/23/04

SPRINGFIELD - South Pekin Grade School District 137 is one of two dozen Illinois districts that would receive a state school construction grant under Gov. Rod Blagojevich's capital budget proposal.

But the Tazewell County district might turn down the offer.

South Pekin Superintendent Daniel Hylbert said Monday that while he still must discuss the subject with his school board, the board could decide not to accept the $542,191 state grant.

Declining enrollment at the school means the construction grant might no longer be needed, Hylbert said. When district officials put together the school construction grant proposal a few years ago, they wanted to build additional classrooms at the South Pekin school.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education's Web site, enrollment there has slumped from 294 in 2000-2001 to 262 in 2002-2003. Hylbert, who joined the district last fall, said present enrollment is 255.

The drop is partly because "we're in tornado alley," Hylbert said. Some families moved away after a tornado last May caused millions of dollars in property damage, he said.

The district consists of a single school that serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Blagojevich announced Monday that the capital budget proposal he will unveil Tuesday calls for spending $550 million on school construction and maintenance during the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Of the $550 million amount, about $150 million would fund construction and renovation projects in South Pekin and 23 other school districts that unsuccessfully applied for grants in the past. In addition, about $350 million would be available for other school districts that would apply for construction grants.

An additional $50 million would be available to help school districts maintain their buildings. Districts would be able to apply for a state grant of up to $50,000, and the districts would have to contribute an identical amount.

The construction money still must be approved by the General Assembly.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said if South Pekin turns down the grant money, there are "tons of other schools" seeking funding for construction projects.

"I don't care how bad the economy is, or how challenging our budgets are, we will not ignore our schools and we will not ignore our children," Blagojevich said in announcing his plans at Chicago's Mark Twain Elementary School. "We will keep on investing in the things that matter."

Blagojevich wants the Illinois Capital Development Board to administer the school-construction grants and manage the projects to save local districts an estimated $160 million in management fees over four years.

The Illinois State Board of Education now administers the grants, but Blagojevich seeks to replace the independent agency with his own cabinet-level office. He needs permission from lawmakers to move ahead with those plans.

ISBE spokeswoman Karen Craven said that agency selects school districts for construction grants based on criteria defined by lawmakers. She warned that Blagojevich's plan could politicize the grant process and turn it into "basically a pork program for his favorite school districts."

"That's his prerogative, but I don't believe that that's in the best interest of schools," Craven said.

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A paperwork paradox?

John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor

SPRINGFIELD - Earlier this year, Gov. Rod Blagojevich hoisted a 2,800-page stack of Illinois State Board of Education rules and regulations onto the podium during his State of the State address, plopping it down with a thud to illustrate his belief that the state's public schools are being smothered by a bureaucracy run amok.

The vilified stack later appeared at committee hearings to bolster the administration's push to all but eliminate the state board and move all education policy decisions directly under the governor's control.

But a Daily Herald review of legislative records dating back to Blagojevich's time in the Illinois House shows he not only supported several of the laws contained among those 2,800 pages of bureaucratic codes, but also that if he'd had his way, the stack could have been thicker.

Between 1993 and 1996, Blagojevich is listed as a key sponsor of more than a dozen education plans, although none of his ideas became law.

During his state House tenure, it was rare for Blagojevich to vote against education laws. His first year in the Illinois House, Blagojevich voted for every education plan that hit the law books. Those plans ranged from outlawing paddling to requiring state education officials to check in on schools to make sure they're teaching the Holocaust, black history and women's history.

In fact, he voted for every education mandate and every education-related law his first term. When Republicans took control of the House during his second term, he still supported the vast majority of education laws.

While the governor has blasted state education officials for the mass of bureaucracy, those education officials say they are merely following through on the myriad laws sent their way by lawmakers and the governor. Even as the governor assailed the mass of mandates, he pushed several new ones, including one that bans junk food in school vending machines and one that requires a student to perform community service to get a high school diploma.

He offers no apologies for his positions, even if they appear contradicting.

"If you're saying that from time to time, we're going to have ideas and require certain things when it comes to the health and nutrition of children - absolutely yes, we're going to do that. And if it adds a page or two more in the school code or in the regulations, then that to me is a small price to pay for healthy children," Blagojevich said.

"But the big question is, if we're given the ability to have a department of education that has accountability to the governor, to the legislature, parents and taxpayers, will that 2,800-page monstrosity be bigger or smaller? I guarantee you it will be substantially smaller."

The governor's critics say his voting record and recent initiatives call into question his credibility.

"It's just so ironic. It didn't make sense to me," said Elmhurst state Sen. Dan Cronin, the top Republican on the Senate's education committee.

Cronin points out that Blagojevich opposed the Republican-pushed 1995 law that put Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in charge of the city's schools, a law Blagojevich now models his education plan after. Blagojevich recently said his 1995 vote was a mistake.

While in the Illinois House, Blagojevich also opposed the law that now lets schools avoid following certain laws and requirements if they get the state's OK.

"Here's a guy who has talked about the virtues of relieving local schools of mandates as a rationale for forming his new department of education. So there's a lack of credibility there," Cronin said.

"He's just not genuine. He's skillful at playing the game of politics and telling people what they want to hear."

The Blagojevich administration said the criticism and the Daily Herald's review of the governor's legislative record misses the point.

"The bottom line is the governor has made it clear in his speeches that the Illinois State Board of Education is so far removed from the legislature or any ounce of accountability that all the legislature can do is pass bills," Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said.

Rausch said when lawmakers disagree with the state board of education's policies or rules, they are left with no recourse under the current system other than to pass more laws trying to tell education officials to do things differently.

"That's one of the biggest reasons the governor wants a department of education," Rausch said, "so legislators have someplace to get things done."

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Educators urge parents to study No Child Left Behind

Kari Allen, Daily Herald

Area school officials have been bewildered at times over details of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Parents are in the same boat, but perhaps even more so, said Gayla Boomer, Illinois PTA president.

That's why Boomer emphasizes the need for school districts to explain the act to parents and tell them what they can do about its implications.

Boomer and state schools Superintendent Robert Schiller addressed the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association, or INSPRA, during the group's meeting Friday in Downers Grove.

"No Child Left Behind requires parent involvement," Boomer said. "But no law has created more confusion in the minds of people than No Child Left Behind."

The act, which will require all students to meet state standards by the 2013-14 school year, requires parents to make some choices about their children's education.

If a school doesn't meet Adequate Yearly Progress on standardized tests for two straight years, for instance, parents have the choice of sending their child to another school. If a school doesn't meet this progress for three straight years, schools are required to offer supplemental help to students.

Some parents struggle, though, over whether to send their child to another school if theirs isn't making the required progress.

"Most parents are very comfortable with their administrators and teachers in their neighborhood schools," Boomer said. "Sending their child to a school across town, where they don't know what the resources are, that's kind of a scary thing."

Some parents are more interested in bolstering the resources in their children's neighborhood schools rather than shipping their kids to another building, Boomer said.

Boomer said local parents could lobby legislators for more money to promote equal funding at schools. She urged parents to pay attention to the act and to ask about its implications at their local districts.

Melea Smith, director of communications in Naperville Unit District 203, said she fields calls from parents who have questions about the No Child Left Behind Act.

"We need to explain to parents what this is about," said Smith, a board member for INSPRA. "I think people understand some segments of it."

Jennifer Bialobok, director of community relations for Lyons Township High School, said districts need to emphasize that standards and expectations now defined in the act could change, too.

"We need to let parents know what's true today may not be true seven years from now," she said.

The No Child Left Behind Act could change - or even be wiped out - if President Bush is not re-elected.

Federal officials recently have been listening more closely to districts' complaints about the act, Schiller said.

"They're listening," he said. "I believe the flexibility they're giving us now is because it's an election year."

Schiller said states have the option of refusing to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, but that Illinois would stand to lose at least $800 million in Title 1 funding, dedicated to remedial education programs, if it opted to do so.

"So many districts live and breathe off funds for Title 1," Schiller said.

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Business, Education, and Labor Task Force Unveils Strategy to Transform Teaching Profession in Illinois

Teacher Quality Is the Single Most Important Variable in Student Success

CHICAGO, March 22 /PRNewswire/ -- In an unprecedented collaboration, a task force comprised of top business, education and labor leaders announced a strategy to improve dramatically teacher preparation, recruitment and retention in Illinois. The Task Force on Teacher Preparation and Initial Professional Development today released its final report, entitled Improving Results: Transforming the Teaching Profession in Illinois.

"Years of educational research have confirmed what common sense would tell us -- that good teaching matters. In fact, teacher quality is the single most important variable in student success," said Arnold R. Weber, Northwestern University President Emeritus and Task Force Chair. "However, the manner by which we train, support and evaluate new teachers has not kept pace with that of other established professions."

The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, which represents the senior business community in the Chicago region and has a long-standing commitment to improving public education, sponsored the Task Force in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago and National-Louis University. The Illinois Board of Higher Education provided partial funding for the project. The Task Force Chair was Arnold R. Weber, President Emeritus of Northwestern University and former President of the Civic Committee, and the Vice-Chair was Stanley Ikenberry, President Emeritus of the University of Illinois and the American Council on Education.

The Civic Committee established the Task Force in response to ongoing shortfalls in student achievement in Illinois, especially among low-income and minority students, and concerns about the quality and supply of the teacher workforce in the state. "Given that over 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years of teaching and that over half of Illinois' middle school teachers and nearly a quarter of Illinois high school teachers lack either a subject matter major or a teaching certificate in the subject they teach, we believed it was critical to bring stakeholders together to try to address this crisis," said R. Eden Martin, President of the Civic Committee.

The report concludes that Illinois suffers from a severe shortfall in the training and supply of its teacher workforce. It sets forth research and data-based findings with respect to the wide variation in teacher education, inadequate clinical training, and outdated teacher human resource systems. The report acknowledges that there are many other factors that contribute to the shortfalls in student achievement, but that a successful response to the growing educational challenges of the 21st century must begin with a more expansive concept of teaching as a modern profession.

The Task Force report identifies four major challenges that must be met:

     1. Improve the basic academic and professional preparation of teachers;

     2. Transform the clinical training and support, beginning with initial

        teacher preparation and extending through the early years of practice;

     3. Enhance the professional conditions of teaching that help attract and

        retain talented candidates; and

     4. Develop new organizational capacity and administrative leadership for

        teaching and learning in Illinois.

"We must meet the challenge of raising student achievement, and we must start at the educational foundation -- the teaching profession," said Stanley O. Ikenberry, President Emeritus of the University of Illinois and Task Force Vice-Chair. "We are not taking aim at teachers or implying that they are the sole reason for poor student achievement. Rather, we are saying that greater investment in the education and training of teachers and improvements in the professional conditions of teaching will lead to greater student success."

The report contains detailed recommendations for meeting the four challenges:

     -- Colleges and university presidents should commit their institutions to

        improving teacher preparation and professionalism;

     -- The state should develop a comprehensive system of professional

        induction, support and assessment for new teachers;

     -- Districts and teachers should work together to develop career ladders,

        make compensation systems more flexible, and implement rigorous

        evaluation systems;

     -- The state should develop a network of local partnerships among

        stakeholders to implement improvements in the recruitment, training

        and retention of high-quality teachers.

The recommendations are intended to serve as a detailed, long-term policy framework to help build and retain a stable workforce of highly-qualified teachers in Illinois who are committed to improving student achievement through professional excellence.

"Tens of thousands of new teachers will be needed over the next few years. This is a significant challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. This report contains the roadmap for attracting, training and retaining the next generation of high-quality teachers," said Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. "It is incumbent upon our elected officials, business leaders, educators and parents to give every child in Illinois the opportunity to succeed in life."

A list of task force members is attached. For a full copy of the report, please contact Dan Lynch, Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, at 312-853-1203 or dlynch@civiccom.org .

The full report also will be available online at www.civiccommittee.org .

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Local educators not keen on idea of separating girls from boys

Rachel Izzo, Chicago Tribune

The battle of the sexes may be the war that goes on forever. It’s played out every day in the classroom, in the workplace and in the real world.

But now, the U.S. Department of Education is giving school districts the power to take away one of those battlefields by creating single-sex classrooms, grades and schools.

The department plans to propose amendments to Title IX — an anti-discrimination law put into place in the 1970s — to provide more flexibility for public school districts to establish single-sex classes and schools at the elementary and secondary levels. Title IX is best known for requiring equality in school sports.

The No Child Left Behind Act contains a condition that allows local education agencies to use local education funds, provided by the act, to establish programs to provide same-gender schools and classrooms in order to give students a chance to excel. At least 91 of 91,000 public schools in the nation offer some single-sex education now.

The revamping would give local school administrators the option to expand choices for parents by enrolling their child in a single-sex class, grade or school. Since Title IX was enacted, single-sex classes have been allowed only in limited cases, such as gym classes.

Supporters say the amendments support efforts of school districts to improve education outcomes for students and provide public school parents with many education options that respond to the education needs of their children, while at the same time ensuring appropriate safeguards against discrimination.

“I’m seeing so many adolescents that are failing academically every way,” said Kathleen Shea, a licensed professional counselor in La Salle County who went to an all-girls’ high school in LaGrange. “I

think everyone learns differently and that (separating the sexes) would be an additional help. Women’s cognitive skills are typically more emotional and male cognitive skills are less emotional. Emotionally speaking, with women,” said Shea, “I think their ‘sensories’ are broader. With boys it’s the ABC’s. With girls it can be many variables of the ABC’s.”

While research on single-sex schooling is limited, those who support the initiative say the environment produces a higher level of student achievement, better attendance and fewer discipline problems.

“This is a complex and sensitive issue that requires a considerable amount of consultations,” said Robert Paige, secretary of the Department of Education. “We are working with other federal agencies on this important issue, including the Department of Justice, and we believe it is important to receive input from parents, community leaders and interested education organizations. Our goal is to provide schools with as much flexibility as possible to offer students programs that meet their needs.”

Critics of the amendments worry about discrimination and say there is no evidence that the single-sex learning environment will help students excel in the real world. Illinois Valley educators are skeptical about dividing the genders.

La Salle-Peru Township High School principal Deb Nelson said she would need to see more research and supportive evidence for single-sex learning environments before she jumped on the bandwagon.

“We’re trying to educate our kids to be successful adults out in society and we don’t separate them out in society,” said La Salle-Peru High School principal Deb Nelson. “The jury’s still out.”

But many students, especially female students, have made up their minds on the ABC’s of learning. “If they say (girls and boys) should be separate because girls will do better that’s not right,” said sophomore Amelia Reichl. “They’re both equally smart so we should be together.”

Sophomore Amanda Morgan said men and women won’t stay separated forever, so putting them in different classrooms would be disadvantageous. “We’re going to compete against the guys when we’re older so we might as well start now,” she said.

Spring Valley superintendent Mark Cross said he believes the current system of co-ed classrooms works very well and the elementary students are achieving in that system.

“We would have to review the specifics of this very carefully,” he said, “but I’m not aware of any research of students achieving a higher level by being separated by gender.”

Due to the legislative exemption for single-sex admissions policies, a school district does not need to provide the department with a reason for offering a single-sex school. There is already flexibility in the regulations for allowing school districts to offer single-sex non-vocational schools as long as certain conditions are met, but the goal of the plans is to clarify what opportunities would be needed to provide for students of the excluded sex to guarantee equal opportunity.

Enrollment in a single-sex course would have to be voluntary, and if a school created a single-sex class in one subject, it would not be required to offer the other gender a similar class. However, the school would have to offer a coed version of the course.

Nelson wondered how she would explain offering a class to one gender and not the other to parents and community members. “How do you determine if you’re discriminating or not discriminating?” she said. “I could see a lot of problems with that.”

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Ryan's education policies on target

Opinion by Dennis Byrne, a Chicago-area writer and public affairs consultant

Apparently determined to establish himself as Illinois' own incarnation of the repulsive Democratic political consultant James Carville, David Axelrod immediately branded Jack Ryan, the Republican nominee for U.S. senator, as "too extreme."

Are we going to have to hear eight more months of this? Is Axelrod, also a Democratic political consultant, so dull-witted that he can't come up with anything more interesting, original or profound to say? Is it--as it probably will be--just the beginning of endless name-calling from both sides? Putting such labels on candidates is yet another sign that marketing savants are in charge, turning political campaigns dominated by issues into marketing campaigns dominated by identities.

A candidate's "issue guy" sits in the campaign's second chair, drafting barely noticed copy for the campaign's Web site. Important behind-the-scenes strategy sessions center on how to "brand" your opponent, and how to create "buzz" for your guy.

It's tiresome and sad--sad as I have said because it tends to push candidates into the mushy middle, encouraging them to avoid saying what they mean, and not doing what they say. It's a coward's way of running a democracy.

So, part of the buzz surrounding Ryan's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, is that he is intelligent, creative, progressive and independent--the long-sought dream of the lakefront liberal branch of the Democratic Party. On his merits alone, he out-muscled the organizational muscle of the aging Democratic machine. But when it comes down to issues, will the image hold against the reality?

Let's try one: Education.

Obama favors equalizing and shifting the financial burden of public education from the property tax to a "broader funding base," a traditional Democratic position. He would "fully fund" the No Child Left Behind Act and Head Start, promote early childhood education, expand college aid, fix school infrastructure and find more qualified teachers. The usual boilerplate.

Ryan also supports a certain amount of boilerplate, such as increased school, teacher and student accountability. But he added an extra, more personal dimension than the usual laying out of "programs" to be "carried out" by some bureaucracy. He gave up a lucrative financial career to teach at Hales Franciscan High School, an all-African-American, all-boys Catholic school on the South Side. Presumably, he personally had something to do with improving their chances of success. Some might regard his teaching there as something of a political stunt, but it certainly answers the often repeated question: What have you done personally to improve the world? On that score he ought not be criticized.

But what really separates him and Obama is Ryan's support of "school choice," the dispensing of financial aid directly to parents of disadvantaged students so that they will have a better opportunity to send their children to good schools. Such school vouchers increasingly are gaining popularity among minority and disadvantaged populations because they no longer lash their children to failed urban schools. What better way to get poor and minority students off the plantation than free them of the plantation's schools?

So, here is a touchstone issue between Ryan and Obama. School vouchers are strenuously opposed by Democrats and the special interests that support them--principally the teachers unions and the huge educational bureaucracy that oversees the failed urban systems. Breaking away from this traditional base of support would be truly a mark of creativity and independence for Obama.

For his position on vouchers, Ryan deserves kudos, not the label of extremist. If he truly were an extremist, he would campaign for the repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act. Come to think of it, that's not such an extreme idea. After all, for almost two centuries, it was the American consensus that education was strictly a local matter in which the federal government had no business meddling. I can't say that American schools have demonstrably or dramatically improved since the Great Society of the 1960s broke with precedent and started pouring billions of dollars into local schools.

So, now we have this law that has created a bureaucratic nightmare for local school districts and a testing hell for the nation's students. It has strengthened the mistaken notion that dumping more money into a failed system will solve its systemic problems. And it has created a huge federal bureaucracy that is its own special interest pumping for more cash. Someone should go to Congress and say: This law was a big mistake. Let's start over. That would be sensible, extremely sensible.

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Vote results signal need for school-funding reform

Bloomington Pantagraph

Tuesday's primary election was another signal of the need for meaningful school funding reform in Illinois. There were 89 tax referendums and 29 bond questions on ballots across the state. The 118 tax and bond questions were nearly a record, according to the state Board of Education.

Just the fact that so many districts had to go to their voters seeking more money is an indication of the depth of the problem. These obviously are not isolated situations. In fact, at least half of the state's 888 school districts are having financial difficulties to some degree.

The failure of more than half of Tuesday's measures -- 64 of 118 proposals -- to gain voter approval is another indication of the problems besetting our schools.

Pantagraph area school districts fared better than the state average. Of nine districts with referendums, including two questions in Olympia, only Olympia and Clinton District 15 voters rejected the proposals.

In some cases, voters were sending a message to their school boards to reduce spending, even though that could mean higher class sizes and cuts in athletics and the arts. But many voters opposed to local tax increases have voiced the opinion that it's time for the state to pick up a larger share of the burden. State money accounts for less than one-third of school funding in Illinois. Local property taxes and other local funding contribute more than 61 percent of the revenue for school districts.

The desire for more state funding might partially explain the support expressed in an advisory referendum pushed by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn that calls for increasing income taxes on individuals who make more than $250,000 -- using half the proceeds to increase per-pupil funding and half for property tax relief to homeowners.

Don't give too much weight to the specific plan. The proposal was only on the ballot in 22 of 102 counties and a few townships and municipalities. And there are numerous problems with his proposal -- particularly whether the districts that need the most help and the homeowners who need the most relief would benefit from Quinn's plan.

However, support shown for the proposal by voters in those 22 counties is an indication of the level of frustration with the current system, which creates great inequities between "property-rich" and "property-poor" districts.

"The disparity between the haves and have-nots is the worst in the nation," said Vickie Mahrt, a Normal-based Unit 5 teacher on the Coalition for School Funding Reform steering committee.

Grass-roots campaigns, such as the coalition's efforts to increase public understanding and awareness, will be crucial to convincing elected officials that addressing this problem can't be delayed by more studies that collect as much dust as accolades.

The drumbeat for change is getting louder. The results of Tuesday's referendums sounded like a crash of cymbals. Maybe that will wake up the governor and the Legislature.

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District 203 hits Blagojevich plan

Ken O'Brien, Chicago Tribune

The Naperville Community Unit School District 203 Board is urging legislators to challenge Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to dissolve the Illinois State Board of Education and transfer its duties to a new state-run agency.

District 203 Board President Dean Reschke and Supt. Alan Leis are sending a letter to two local state representatives and two state senators voicing concerns on proposed changes in supervising construction and purchasing benefits and supplies. The board decided last week to forward the letter after reviewing a draft from Leis.

Blagojevich has proposed gutting the independent State Board of Education of most of its responsibilities and turning them over to a new Department of Education, which would report to him. He also proposed centralizing state control of the purchasing of supplies, school employee insurance and construction management, which are the responsibilities of school districts.

In identifying the three concerns, Leis wrote that the board wants to "reiterate our strong advocacy for increased state funding for public education."

The board's first concern, however, is about the proposed creation of a statewide benefits purchasing center. The letter says the board is concerned about retaining local control and whether creating the center could lead to higher benefit costs.

Second, the board said that participation in a statewide purchasing center should be optional instead of being required. The board, however, does recognize that the state could use its buying power to get better prices on some items.

The Naperville board's third concern is about a plan to give construction responsibility to the Illinois Capital Development Board. That practice, the board noted, was in place when the district built Madison Junior High School in the 1970s.

The letter says that, although there were "initial savings from using this method, our experience indicates that this building has required a far higher degree of maintenance" than at the other four junior high schools in the district.

The board also encouraged legislators to "take a long and hard look" at the governor's plan. Board member Tim Costello, who teaches in Salt Creek School District 48 in Villa Park, opposes the proposal.

"The governor places the blame for failed education at the state board level, but they are not the ones that are teaching the students," Costello said. "They're an easy scapegoat."

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Schools could get $2.2 billion

But Blagojevich doesn't want state education panel handling it

Diane Rado and Ray Long, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune reporters Courtney Flynn and Molly Parker contributed to this report

The Blagojevich administration is dangling the prospect of $2.2 billion in new school construction grants over four years as well as more money for classroom instruction down the road if the governor gets his way in gutting the Illinois State Board of Education.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's aides said that once his education reform legislation is passed, the governor would be willing to discuss the long-simmering issue of school finance, but they offered no details on the subject.

The school construction money would put $550 million into districts during the fiscal year that begins July 1. It would be part of a broader $3.2 billion package of new appropriations that the governor was set to unveil Tuesday, including the launch of a five-year bond program for roads and bridges, according to the governor's budget documents.

The governor is recommending the distribution of the five-year $2 billion plan for transportation bonds be front-loaded. There would be $500 million appropriated next year and $600 million in both the second and third fiscal years. Blagojevich would appropriate $150 million each of the last two fiscal years, budget documents showed.

The debt service would be paid with revenues from the state's road fund, which contains money from gas taxes and license plate fees. Critics charge such a move would saddle future generations with debt, but supporters say now is the best time to act because interest rates are low.

Blagojevich's school construction and repair program would be a multiyear plan calling for $2.2 billion over four years.

But aides to the governor made it clear they do not want the school construction program overseen by the State Board of Education and prefer to put it under another state agency to save costs.

The governor's top priority this session is his proposal to take over virtually all functions of the independent State Board of Education, raising the prospects that lawmakers might be forced to support the plan or risk losing an increase in school funding.

Brenda Holmes, deputy governor for education, sent a memo last week to local school superintendents and school officials assuring them that Blagojevich would tackle funding issues--once he gets control of the state board.

"Creating a Department of Education is not a way to avoid school funding issues," Holmes wrote. "In much the same way that you prepare your local citizenry for a referendum, we want to ensure that current education funds are spent wisely before we ask our citizenry for additional revenue. Once the governor is accountable for the Department of Education, he will address the funding issue."

Victoria Eggerstedt, a school board member in Will County's Plainfield School District 202, said she was concerned that this year's school funds and future funding reform would be "held hostage" by Blagojevich's battle for control of the state board.

The governor's capital budget calls about $1.7 billion for roads and bridges in the fiscal year that begins July 1, about level funding.

Projects include work on the Kingery Expressway from Interstate Highway 80 to the Indiana state line in Cook County and for work on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Elsewhere in the budget, nearly $86 million is slated for unspecified grants to businesses, governmental units or other organizations in the budget of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, an agency long used for overseeing pork-barrel projects.

Other projects slated for new appropriations are $5 million for an airport, $6.7 million for the University of Chicago's Ricketts Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, $4 million for a biomedical research center at the Illinois Institute of Technology and $3 million for a Rare Isotope Accelerator Science Center at Argonne National Laboratory.

The governor's recommendations also include $450,000 associated with moving residents from the Tinley Park mental health center, which is closing, $1.6 million for Rockford Manufacturing Research and Technical Center, $1.2 million for work on the Capitol and $5.4 million to replace a horse barn at one of the state's fairgrounds.

After waiting 11 years for funding, the LaSalle Veterans home would get $12 million, two-thirds from the federal government, to expand a 120-bed facility to 200 beds, officials said. The overall capital proposal is more than $10.1 billion, but nearly $6.9 billion is reappropriated from previous years.

The $3.2 billion in new appropriations breaks down to nearly $2.1 billion, or about 63 percent, in state projects, and the rest would go to local communities, budget documents showed.

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Education called key to U.S. job recovery

By Kathy McKinney, Bloomington Pantagraph

BLOOMINGTON -- The only way the United States is going to replace jobs that have been sent overseas is through education.

That was the consensus Monday of the participants of an education symposium sponsored by the Illinois Business Roundtable at State Farm Insurance Cos. in Bloomington.

"Education is the underpinning," said Ed Rust Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of State Farm and chairman-emeritus of the Illinois Business Roundtable. "Not only of the country but the individual. The skill sets we have now are soon going to be obsolete."

"We really have to have a citizenship that is very well educated," said James B. Hunt, former governor of North Carolina and chairman of the Hunt Institution for Educational Leadership, at a press conference after the symposium, which brought together education and business leaders. A very educated citizenry is necessary to develop new levels of jobs, such as in biotechnology and nanotechnology, to keep the United States competitive with other countries, he said.

"If our children don't have a good and better education, we aren't going to be competitive. If we want to have the jobs, we have to make the investment" in educating our children, said Hunt.

"This is the challenge to our schools," said Hunt. "If we are competitive, we'll come back."

That's the intent of the "no child left behind" education initiative proposed by President Bush and approved by Congress, said Raymond Simon, assistant secretary of the federal Department of Education in elementary and secondary education. The new law holds schools and teachers accountable for the education of our children, he said.

Parents were urged not to be passive or complacent about their children's education by Ted Sanders, president of the Education Commission of the States.

"Be engaged. Be informed on referendums and other issues, and press local and the state government for the kind of spending needed," said Sanders.

One of the problems in Illinois is the vast differences in education in school districts. Parents whose children go to schools in affluent areas aren't aware of the problems encountered in poorer school districts, he said.

"There is a widening gap in our economy, and the biggest demarcation line is education," said Sanders. "You've got to have at least an associate's degree or higher."

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ISU grant will fight obesity

Paul Swiech, Bloomington Pantagraph

NORMAL -- Illinois State University will become an arsenal in the nation's war on obesity in young people when professors begin work to revamp physical education classes in Illinois.

The university will receive $165,000 in federal money to allow professors to work with a variety of urban, suburban and rural school districts to develop district-specific strategies to reduce childhood obesity.

U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican from Urbana, and ISU President Al Bowman announced the grant Monday to help launch a new program, Physical Education Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle Enhancement. The program is part of the "New P.E.," the physical-education reform movement that stresses teaching students how to live healthier lives rather than teaching them specific sports.

"This is the issue of the millennium in terms of health," said Johnson, chairman of the House Fitness Caucus. He said the program is a "harbinger of things to come as we make America more healthy."

Dave Thomas, the ISU professor of exercise science who is leading the program, said district participation is voluntary, but districts involved in developing the program's protocols have welcomed the help.

A goal is to teach students fitness for life, including healthy eating and exercise that could be done for the rest of their lives, Thomas said. Students could be exposed to different types of movement -- cycling, jogging, using exercise equipment, etc. -- to show how it accelerates their heart rate and benefits their health.

While conceding that $165,000 may last only a year, Thomas said he and his colleagues are searching for money from national foundations and local organizations that could help the program to continue. He and Johnson said a goal is collaboration between the university, schools, the federal and state governments, foundations, and local businesses and organizations.

Representatives of some school districts and the Illinois Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance -- the state P.E. teachers' association -- have met with Thomas and his colleagues in ISU's kinesiology and recreation and health sciences departments.

The program will begin in certain school districts in the fall.

What is done in each district will be determined by representatives of those districts as well as the professors.

"There's no one recipe that'll work in every district," Thomas said.

Money could go, for example, toward equipment and training to help P.E. teachers transition to the new P.E., rewriting parts of the P.E. classes' curriculums, making healthier foods available in schools, conducting nutrition and fitness seminars for staff and parents, arranging joint use of an up-to-date community fitness center and hiring instructors from the center.

As the program evolves, ISU will become a national clearinghouse for information on combating childhood obesity and on what works in P.E. classes, Johnson said.

ISU is a natural choice for the first-of-its-kind federal grant, Johnson and Bowman said. Illinois remains the only state that requires physical education classes, Johnson said. And ISU produces the largest number of physical education teachers in the state and already has partnerships in health and physical education with some schools, Bowman said.

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Put priority on preschool

State Journal-Register Editorial

School teachers have plenty of things to worry about these days. Tougher state and federal standards without much additional state and federal money. Students struggling so much with life, they invariably have major struggles with school. Budgets so tight that being a coach or adviser now also means being a fund-raiser and bookkeeper.

But at the top of far too many teachers' "worry list" these days is their concern about personal physical safety.

As was documented in a front-page story in The State Journal-Register on Monday, some Springfield teachers are having to deal with far more than back talk from students - some are fending off fists and flailing feet.

This is not a problem unique to Springfield. Sunday's Chicago Tribune front page told similar stories, and if you talk with educators from around the state, they will have stories to tell not only of student violence but of students who simply do not adapt well to the classroom.

There are no easy, or perfect solutions. Much of the problem stems from a lack of stability and support at home. Schools cannot be relied upon to solve this problem alone. Yet, we do know that education can make a difference, specifically early education.

One of the loudest voices advocating for pre-kindergarten education today comes not from the schoolhouse, but rather from the law enforcement community. While it may seem odd at first, cops as preschool education advocates actually makes a lot of sense.

Numerous studies have shown that children who are able to attend high-quality preschool programs not only do much better in school, they are far less likely to commit crimes, especially violent crimes. For example, a study in Chicago involving 100,000 3- and 4-year-olds that drew on data going back to 1967 indicates that children excluded from the preschool program were 70 percent more likely to have been arrested for a violent crime by the age of 18.

Springfield Police Chief Don Kliment and Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson are sold on the need for more resources being devoted to preschool programs statewide. "It's one thing where we can see (more money) is going to make a difference," said Williamson.

Both Williamson and Kliment are members of the advocacy group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois. The group has many proposals aimed at keeping kids out of trouble. However, at the foundation of their battle this year is their desire to see Gov. Rod Blagojevich live up to his promise to provide $30 million more to fund high-quality preschool programs across the state.

Last year, Blagojevich increased a block grant for early childhood education programs by about $30 million with a promise to match the increase this year and next. The additional $90 million will mean 25,000 more at-risk students would have access to preschool programs.

We realize the state's budget remains in dismal shape. We agree with Blagojevich that the state can't say "yes" to everyone and must prioritize. Funding for high-quality preschool programs most certainly should remain a priority, and the governor should deliver on his promise.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich has suggested the additional $400 million proposed for education for the upcoming budget year is up for grabs, the spending priorities to be decided by individual legislators. We know everyone has priorities - but we also know that few programs can back up their demand for more money with the proven results demonstrated by high quality preschool.

If we want better, less violent students in the future, we must invest from a very young age.

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Madigan raises concerns over gov's teacher certification plan

Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times, Springfield Bureau, 3/24/04

SPRINGFIELD -- In a potentially troubling sign for Gov. Blagojevich's proposed takeover of the State Board of Education, House Speaker Michael Madigan opposes a key provision of the plan involving teacher certification, a top aide confirmed Tuesday.

A hearing is scheduled today on legislation to set up an autonomous, teacher-run certification board that would strip the State Board of Education of one of its key functions.

To be licensed to teach in Illinois, applicants now have to be certified by a panel that reports to the State Board of Education. The system being contemplated would create an 11-member board, including six teachers appointed by the teacher unions. The board would issue certificates and decide whether teacher preparation programs at universities are up to par.

Madigan has concerns with this change, which is being pushed by the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, and plans to attend today's hearing on the plan.

"I don't think you need to have a majority of any particular licensing group to be the people being licensed," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. "It just seems fraught with risks."

An internal memo prepared by the speaker's staff and obtained by the Sun-Times indicated Madigan wanted university administrators to back him in opposing the certification proposal today and described the plan as creating "a sort of 'fox guarding the henhouse' scenario."

Brown said Madigan remains neutral toward Blagojevich's proposed takeover of the State Board of Education, but some supporters of that plan view the speaker's stance as an ominous development.

"I think it's going to send a real strong message to the governor. Let's face it, this is a part of his entire package, to put an independent certification board in place," said Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling), the certification bill's chief House sponsor.

"I don't see this as a good sign for the governor's plan," said Mitchell, a former school superintendent and backer of Blagojevich's proposal.

Madigan's opposition would amount to a devastating blow that could deny the governor one of his chief legislative priorities.

Some union members are perplexed by Madigan's apparent posture on the teacher certification bill, given that he voted in favor of identical legislation on three previous occasions, according to the IFT.

"This just doesn't make any sense to us, especially given the fact he's supported this in the past," union spokesman Dave Comerford said.

Blagojevich aides said they are unsure what the speaker's objections are to the certification bill but added the governor believes his takeover proposal has significant support in the Legislature.

"We don't know what is exactly on the speaker's mind, but we look forward to hearing from him," Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said. "We view the teacher certification component of the education plan as critical to the overall effort to reform education."

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Schools press state for funds

Springfield rally to draw districts struggling for cash

Stanley Ziemba, Chicago Tribune, 3/24/04

School board members, teachers, administrators and parents from across the state are expected to rally in Springfield on Wednesday to urge legislators to adequately and equitably fund Illinois' public schools.

The message that participants will take to the state capitol, event organizers said, is that the schools can no longer depend on voter approval of property-tax increases to bail out financially troubled districts. One-third of the state's districts operate in the red, organizers said.

Instead, it is time for the state to take responsibility for providing the bulk of financing for public education as mandated by the Illinois Constitution, they said. Not to do that will almost ensure that most Illinois public school children end up with an inferior education, they said.

"It is our hope that the rally and the large number of people that are expected will capture the legislators' attention," said Shirley McDonald of the Park Forest-Chicago Heights Elementary School District 163 board.

The rally, orchestrated by the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition and the Illinois Association of School Boards, is expected to draw many participants from districts having the most trouble making ends meet. Those include Hazel Crest Elementary School District 152 1/2 and Thornton Township High School District 205 and District 163, where voters last week rejected school tax rate increases.

Districts in Lake and McHenry Counties and in Joliet, Rockford, Elgin, Bloomington, Cairo and East St. Louis that are among the 297 on the Illinois State Board of Education's "financial watch" or "financial early warning" lists also are expected to be represented.

"We're in an especially precarious state because our district education fund taxing rate is at the highest level allowable under state law, and we don't desire to put an additional burden on our residents for property taxes," said District 163 Supt. Joyce Carmine.

"We're striving to provide a quality education for all our students, but it is becoming increasingly difficult," Carmine said, noting the district was forced to make $1 million in cuts last year and recently approved another $1 million in trims.

Chris Slowik, vice chairman of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, said the fact that Illinois ranks 48th of the 50 states in education funding and has a per-pupil spending range of $18,000 in the wealthiest districts to below $5,000 in the poorest is unconscionable.

The state and federal governments continue to adopt mandates under the No Child Left Behind law, further straining budgets, said Slowik, who also is organizational director of South Cooperative Organization for Public Education.

"Almost all legislators run as education candidates to get themselves elected, but once they get to the state legislature they always seem to come up with an excuse for not advocating change in the way the state currently funds public education," Slowik said. "The time for excuses is over. The time for our legislators to act is now."

The rally begins outside the capitol at 10:05 a.m. It is to be followed by meetings with legislators on ways to solve the school-funding problem.

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A good reason to bump up flat tax

Cindy Richards, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/24/04

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the guy with the Big Idea for fixing education funding in Illinois is Pat Quinn.

Quinn currently serves as lieutenant governor. He's had Big Ideas before -- shrinking the size of the bloated state Legislature, creating the Citizens Utility Board -- that have succeeded over the objections of political leaders.

If this one succeeds, it won't be because the governor supports it. Doesn't matter, really. Quinn has figured out a way to fix education funding without Gov. Blagojevich: Amend the state constitution.

Quinn is calling on legislators to put the question of whether the state constitution should require wealthy residents to pay more to support local schools on the November ballot in a binding referndum. His proposal must pass both the Illinois House and Senate by 60 percent before May 2. If 60 percent of voters approve it in November, it becomes law.

The November ballot initiative follows a resounding victory in last week's primary for a non-binding resolution asking voters:

''Shall the people of Illinois by referendum create an Education Trust Fund which would raise the state income tax only on those individuals who make more than a quarter-million dollars a year (less than 2 percent of all taxpayers) in order to improve education funding for every Illinois public school student and provide annual property tax relief for every Illinois homeowner guaranteed by the state constitution?''

Not surprisingly, three-quarters of us are willing to levy that tax on the 81,343 Illinois taxpayers who make way more money than we do.

In quintessential Quinn fashion, he is using the referendum landslide to prod reluctant legislators into action.

The Taxpayer Action Amendment would change the state's constitutionally mandated flat tax rate. Currently, we all pay 3 percent. This amendment would change that for income over $250,000. Every dollar over that amount would be taxed at 6 percent.

The tax would raise $1.15 billion, Quinn says. Half of that money would be sent out to local school districts, which would get an estimated $277 for each pupil. The rest would be distributed among the state's 2 million property taxpayers, giving each an estimated $208 per year.

Quinn's proposal even addresses the nagging lottery question: ''What ever happened to the lottery money? Wasn't that supposed to fund education?'' The state started the lottery in the guise of raising more money for schools. Instead, it was a shell game. Every dollar raised by the lottery was a dollar that no longer came from the state's general fund.

This proposal mandates that the new money is additional revenue that can be used only for education and property tax rebates.

School reformers, education advocates and school board members who attended a meeting on school finance this week said Quinn's plan doesn't go far enough. It doesn't end the state's system of funding schools primarily through local property taxes.

However, Barbara Holmes, Blagojevich's deputy chief of staff for education, said the governor doesn't believe the state is ready for sweeping reforms in school funding. First, taxpayers want to know whether the dollars already going to schools are being spent wisely.

That's why it's more important for the governor to create a new education department reporting directly to him, she said. Fine. Let him have it. It's important that the buck stop somewhere.

But accountability is just one piece of this puzzle. Money is the other. Commendably, the governor's budget proposal includes hundreds of millions more for education in tough budget times. But it's not enough. Property taxpayers are revolting -- only 46 percent of tax hike proposals passed in March. The other 54 percent of school districts are scrambling to cut staff, close schools and increase class size.

Without a sane system of education funding, we will continue to fail the children who depend on us.

Quinn's plan may not be enough, but it's more than anyone else is offering. The Legislature ought to give us voters the chance to consider this amendment.

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State lawmakers uneasy with construction spending

Doug Finke, Copley News Service, 3/24/04

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich indicated Tuesday that he wants to spend $3.2 billion in the next state budget on new construction projects that include everything from roads to schools to prisons.

However, Democrats and Republicans alike complained that Blagojevich's capital spending plan is short on details.

"It's not explained real well," said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. "It seems if they are going to spend that much money, they might at least tell us a little bit that's going on."

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, also has concerns, said spokeswoman Cindy Davidsmeyer.

"There's a list of projects, but we don't know where they all are," Davidsmeyer said. "We have questions, certainly, about that. We may also have some projects (some Democrats) believe might be a bigger priority."

Blagojevich's capital budget totals $10.1 billion, although only $3.2 billion of that is new projects. The rest are projects like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield that began earlier and are carried on the books until they are completed.

The $3.2 billion proposed for new projects in the next state budget is slightly less than the $3.3 billion that is part of the current budget. John Filan, director of Blagojevich's Office of Management and Budget, said the scaled-back program is more affordable for the state.

Highway construction and repair is about $1.7 billion of the capital budget. With few exceptions, though, most of the highway projects that will be undertaken next year weren't identified in the budget documents released Tuesday. Transportation Secretary Tim Martin said it will be one to two weeks before specific projects are identified.

Similarly, most of the school construction projects that Blagojevich wants to finance next year aren't identified in the budget. The governor wants to spend $550 million next year on those projects, but only a handful have been identified so far. Moreover, Blagojevich wants the state's Capital Development Board to administer the program rather than the state Board of Education. The CDB is run by Tony Rossi, formerly the clerk of the House under Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Senate Republican leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said the change is an indication that "everything becomes politicized here."

"The board of education went through and ... created a ranking (of projects)," Watson said. "That was fair. It was one that was felt equally pretty much throughout the state. This doesn't look like it's going in that direction."

About $86 million is set aside for "Opportunity Returns" projects in certain parts of the state. Blagojevich is splitting the state into 10 economic development regions and then directing money into them under the rubric of "Opportunity Returns."

Four regions - including the one around Springfield - still haven't had "Opportunity Returns" programs created for them. The $86 million will be available for projects in those four areas in the future.

Blagojevich also wants $15 million for the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for unspecified "prime sites" grants that can be used to lure businesses to the state.

Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, think the vagueness is deliberate to give Blagojevich a negotiating edge during the last two months of the legislature's spring session, particularly to get votes for governor's plan to virtually eliminate the Board of Education.

"It gives him the last 2½ months of session to call you in and say: 'You see this. That could be one of your schools (getting money), but you have to vote for my reorganization plan,"' Black said. "The reform movement escapes me in this plan."

Filan said no additional money is being directed to lawmaker's pet projects known as member initiatives. Blagojevich said only $450 million would be available for those projects. About $162 million has been spent so far, with an additional $287 million available. Julie Curry, Blagojevich's deputy chief of staff for economic development, said the governor's office continues to review 2,600 pending projects.

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Students probably won't have to worry about earlier ACT

Sara Burnett, Daily Herald, 3/24/04

It appears high school juniors won't have to worry next year about taking the ACT two months earlier than normal.

A State Board of Education committee said Tuesday it will recommend against a proposal to move the test date up from its mid-April schedule.

The move had been pitched as a way to return scores sooner to school districts, which use the data to determine if they need to offer extra tutoring help or provide students the option to transfer to a higher-performing school.

Last year, students took the ACT and the Prairie State Achievement Exam in April. It took until summer before results were returned to schools.

Districts then had 45 days to correct any mistakes they believed the state made in calculating individual or district-wide results. The final data weren't ready until December, and even then they were ripe with errors.

The result was some schools offered students the option of choosing a different school when they technically didn't need to; others should have but did not.

Many districts complained about the lag time. Some, however, also argued that moving the date up could cause a dip in scores.

The compromise plan to be pitched Thursday would keep the ACT date the same.

The state board would ask the processing center to return data first on math and reading scores - the two subjects used to determine if a school must offer choice. The rest of the data would be complete at a later date.

The board also plans to change the 45-day period for correcting data to a shorter timeframe, though that rule wouldn't go into effect until 2005.

State Schools Superintendent Robert Schiller said schools in some states get closer to one week.

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Teacher panel panned; Blagojevich backs off

Diane Rado and Molly Parker, Chicago Tribune

SPRINGFIELD -- Faced with growing resistance from educators and lawmakers, Gov. Rod Blagojevich opened the door for compromise Wednesday after suffering a setback on a key part of his initiative to overhaul the state's education bureaucracy.

Blagojevich showed some flexibility after House Speaker Michael Madigan revealed strong opposition to the governor's proposal for a new teacher certification board that would set teacher standards and oversee teacher licensing.

The current certification board is appointed by the Illinois State Board of Education. In contrast, the proposed certification board would be autonomous and dominated by teachers recommended by teacher unions.

"My reading of the bill tells me that if the bill were to become law, teacher unions in this state would control this process," Madigan (D-Chicago) said. "I'm not prepared to support that.

"All of you know that I have a longtime record of supporting unions and teacher unions, but I don't think teacher unions, in one way or another, should control the certification process"

The stance by Madigan, who made his position known in a lengthy committee hearing, means the certification legislation will go back to the drawing board--a blow to the governor.

Later, Blagojevich, who received $1.2 million in contributions from teacher unions in his 2002 campaign, signaled a willingness to negotiate as he praised Madigan as "thoughtful" and having "helpful suggestions."

"The [new certification] board has to be configured in a way that assures independence," the governor said. "So that's what the goal is, and there's probably no one single answer on how that should be configured."

Blagojevich added: "I would imagine that there will be some adjustments made in the proposal that we've offered."

The governor's overall education reform package calls for a new state education agency under his control, with the current independent State Board of Education relegated to being a think tank.

Local educators are skeptical, saying the overhaul would do little to help children or address fundamental school finance problems. Key lawmakers have raised concerns as well, including Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago).

When asked Wednesday if he had any indication that legislative leaders support his overall reform package, Blagojevich said lawmakers usually don't make commitments this early in the spring session.

But "I'm looking in the eyes of many of the legislative leaders and I like what I see," Blagojevich said, adding that he remains "cautiously optimistic" that his overhaul package will pass.

Blagojevich also distanced himself from a memo written last week by his top education aide, Brenda Holmes.

Holmes indicated to educators that Blagojevich would tackle long-standing problems with education finance in Illinois once he gets control of the state board. The wording raised concerns that this year's school funding and future funding reform would be held hostage in Blagojevich's battle for control of the education bureaucracy.

Blagojevich said Wednesday he didn't know about Holmes' memo until he read about it in news reports. He also dodged questions about fundamental finance reform, saying he is addressing funding issues by pouring more money into schools.

He reiterated he will not raise the state income or sales taxes--which education finance experts say would be necessary in any major funding overhaul that gives property tax relief.

Meanwhile, the House voted 86-25 to approve a bill inspired by a Wilmette man who shot an intruder in his home even though the North Shore suburb bans handguns.

The legislation would allow a court to consider self-defense in determining whether a person should be found guilty of violating the ordinance.

 The bill's main sponsor, Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), said the bill does not take away a municipality's right to ban handguns.

The bill received overwhelming support from Republicans and Downstate Democrats.

"The day government says I can't protect my home, my family, there's something wrong," said Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro).

But opponents, including many Chicago lawmakers, said the bill was little more than a backdoor way to let residents carry concealed weapons and that the National Rifle Association was trying to get around local gun bans.

House lawmakers also approved a bill to increase the homestead exemption to $5,000 and the senior homestead exemption to $3,000 throughout Illinois. The general homestead exemption would go up $500 in Cook County and $1,500 elsewhere. The senior citizen exemption would increase $500 in Cook County and $1,000 elsewhere.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville), said the measure allows the rest of the state to enjoy the same exemption level Cook County has enjoyed for more than a decade.

Further, the House passed a bill to impose a minimum fine on people who knowingly harm sports officials or coaches. The fine for the first offense would be $1,000 and $2,000 for repeat offenses.

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Gov stands by education plan

Some residents worry, as Blagojevich has been vague on funding the project since he announced it in January.

Aaron Chambers and Anthony Watt, Rockford Register Star

SPRINGFIELD — Education activists from the Rock River Valley and around Illinois converged here Wednesday and called on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to focus on generating more money for the state’s public schools.

More than 200 people rallied outside the Capitol and said the governor’s plan to simply shift the state’s education bureaucracy is misdirected.

“I hate to see that things are being cut away every single year in every single district,” said Carolyn Meingast, a math teacher at Harlem High School in Machesney Park. “That’s just the norm now. What’s going to be cut next year?”

Jude Makulec, a member of the Parent Council’s High School Advocacy Committee, a coalition of Rockford-area parent/teacher groups, said funding concerns should trump organizational matters.

“(Voters) don’t care that he wants to have everything under his thumb,” she said. “They care that their kids are getting what they need, and they aren’t with the way we are doing it now with property taxes.”

Blagojevich wants to strip the State Board of Education of administrative authority over education in Illinois, and create a Cabinet-level Department of Education that would answer directly to him. The General Assembly must approve such a change. Legislators are considering the proposal this spring.

Blagojevich has largely avoided discussion of school funding since announcing his education plan in January. Instead, he maintains the State Board of Education, which was established by the Illinois Constitution, has failed the education system.

The Legislature and local school boards, not the State Board of Education, dictate spending of public school money. But Blagojevich says the state must overhaul administration of education before calling on citizens to pay additional taxes.

“It seems to me we better get our own house in order before you are really in a position to ask the public to start making fundamental changes,” he said Wednesday during a news conference.

The state’s two major teachers unions, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, support the governor’s plan.

Reconciling the disparity in education funding generally is thought to require an increase in the state personal income tax. Under the current scheme, local property tax revenue covers the bulk of education spending. Blagojevich pledges not to raise the personal income tax or general sales tax.

Six of seven Rock River Valley legislators said they would support increasing the personal income tax or general sales tax, or a combination of the two, to improve education funding as long as property taxes are reduced by an equal amount. They are Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Sycamore, Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo, Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, and Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland.

Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, said only that he would consider such a move.

Calls to improve the state funding formula persist. The number of Illinois school districts in the worst financial shape grew by 80 percent this year. The State Board of Education’s watch list includes the Rockford and Oregon school districts.

Kasey Davis, a senior at Rockton’s Hononegah High School who attended the Capitol rally, said more funding would equal more teachers in the classroom.

“I really think we need more teachers,” she said.

“We have 40 to 45 kids per class, and they are talking about adding more.”

Blagojevich’s chief deputy for education, Brenda Holmes, last week wrote in a letter to local school superintendents that the governor would address funding if his plan is approved.

“In much the same way that you prepare your local citizenry for a referendum, we want to ensure that current education funds are spent wisely before we ask our citizenry for additional revenue,” Holmes wrote. “Once the governor is accountable for the Department of Education, he will address the funding issue.”

At the news conference Wednesday, Blagojevich insisted his administration already is working to improve funding. He would not validate the position Holmes portrayed in her letter.

“I’m not saying she’s wrong. I’m not saying she’s right,” Blagojevich said of his deputy. “What I’m saying here is we’ve been doing it.”

Blagojevich and the Legislature approved $400 million in new education spending as part of the budget for the current fiscal year. The governor proposed another $400 million increase in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

But that money appears to be insufficient to cover even the education programs the governor has called for, let alone projects sought by others. Blagojevich said the Legislature should set priorities and that he’d be involved in that process. He also echoed a major budget theme: closing so-called corporate tax loopholes.

“Maybe as this process unfolds we’ll find a few more corporate loopholes that the men and women here in Springfield are willing to close, and we’ll actually have more money for schools,” he said.

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers say they fear the governor could use the prospect of school construction grants to leverage support for his education plan.

On Tuesday, the governor proposed $550 million in school construction grants. Interested school districts would have to apply to the state for a share of the funds.

Republicans say the governor could trade grants for votes.

Blagojevich referred a question on the matter to Tony Rossi, executive director of the Capital Development Board, which would administer the school construction grants. Rossi said the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules would articulate standards for grant applicants.

“There won’t be any place for politics in the priority process,” Rossi said.

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Speaker questions governor's teacher certification plan

Ginny Skalski, The Associated Press, Daily Southtown

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said Wednesday he opposes a piece of the governor's plan to overhaul the state education system that would give unions more control over certifying teachers.

"I don't think that the teacher unions, one way or another, should control the certification process," Madigan (D-Chicago) said during an appearance at a meeting of the House Education Committee.

The proposal is part of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to gut the state Board of Education, which has the final say on whether teachers are deemed qualified. He proposes an 11-member certification panel, with teachers unions recommending six of the members, to take over that part of the state board's duties.

With Madigan opposed, the governor's proposed changes to the certification board would almost certainly fail in the House.

The Democratic governor said later Wednesday that Madigan had a point.

"It's a legitimate concern because it deals with the independence of the certification process for teachers," Blagojevich said. "I would imagine that, ultimately, that's an issue that will be resolved in a way that ensures independence. That's what everybody wants."

Blagojevich said he did not interpret Madigan's criticism as evidence that his larger education plan is in danger, and Madigan did not comment on the plan as a whole.

At least publicly, the four legislative leaders have been hesitant about the overhaul proposal, arguing it would give governors too much control over education. Blagojevich described that as the normal caution of leaders still trying to gauge the reaction of rank-and-file lawmakers.

"I feel good about the response I'm getting from them," Blagojevich said.

The State Teacher Certification Board is responsible for renewing, issuing and suspending teaching certificates. It also helps set teaching standards and qualifications for teachers and school administrators.

State schools Superintendent Robert Schiller said he was encouraged by Madigan's vocal opposition and hoped Madigan also will see importance of other duties now handled by the State Board of Education.

Supporters of the certification change say it would not be a major difference because teachers unions already have a big role in recommending who should sit on the certification panel. They also argue that reducing the paperwork involved in certification would help teachers concentrate on the classroom.

The state board currently appoints members, but Blagojevich proposes giving the governor that authority. Critics worry that universities, businesses and Chicago schools wouldn't have enough representation on the proposed certification panel.

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Rally demands school funding

Scott Miller, Bloomington Pantagraph

SPRINGFIELD -- Normal residents Sharon Kerr and Rich Schroeder put their shyness aside to take part in a rally Wednesday in Springfield to demand more money for education.

"We're usually really quiet," Schroeder, former president of the Normal Community West High School band parents group, said amid chants of "save our schools" and "school funding now."

Parents, teachers and school administrators from around the state swarmed on the steps of the State Capitol, flashing signs stating, "Raise My Taxes Please," "Save Our Schools," and "Got Funding?"

The Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition organized the event to demand state lawmakers raise per-pupil spending by $1,000, reduce the over-reliance on property taxes to fund education and close the funding gap throughout Illinois. Right now, the wealthiest school districts spend more than $18,000 per student while the poorest spend $5,000.

Kerr, mother of a student in the Unit 5 school district, and Schroeder came to speak with Central Illinois lawmakers about the Normal-based district's budget problems.

"We've lost teachers. The entire budget for music has been cut. They're cutting gifted education programs practically to the core," Kerr said. "The state has to step up and do something."

In addition, schools are a major part of a community's economic development, said Todd Barlow, current president of the band parents group.

"When employers move into a community, they look for school districts," said Barlow, who also made the hour drive to participate in the rally. "You have to have quality schools."

The rally came one day after Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed spending $2.2 billion over four years on school construction projects. The governor did not specify how the money would be allocated, however, and under his proposal, the Capital Development Board would determine how the money is spent, not the Illinois State Board of Education.

Blagojevich's proposal earned criticism from several state lawmakers as well the state's top education officials.

"This is a frightening proposition for school districts statewide," said state Superintendent Robert Schiller. Replacing "a fair process set into law by the legislature with a program that is discretionary can not possibly serve all of our schools equitably."

On Wednesday, the House Republicans denounced the governor's plans because, in part, local school districts would be locked out of the bidding process because they would be forced to use state architects and engineers for construction projects.

"Not only would this take control of these projects away from local school boards and turn them over to bureaucrats in Chicago or Springfield, it would also remove local architects, designers and construction companies from the process, hurting local economies and jobs," said House Minority leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

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Future teachers feel sting of state aid cuts

Patrick Corcoran, Palatine Countryside

A proposed state budget cut could swipe a lucrative and prestigious scholarship from a Palatine High School senior and 99 other college-bound students who dream of becoming teachers.

For Jillian Conrad of Palatine, a three-month application process, which included writing seven essays and having a face-to-face interview with scholarship officials, paid off when she found out in February she was selected for the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program. The scholarship award meant she could pursue her plans to study education and become a teacher.

But a few weeks ago, she received a letter saying the funding for the scholarship could be cut as part of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's newest state budget proposal.

Slashing the program would cost Conrad and her parents about $28,000: a four-year $5,000 scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and four $2,000 stipends for studying with some of Illinois' top teachers at DePaul University during summer breaks.

About 1,200 Illinois high school seniors were nominated for the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program and more than 400 applied. Out of the applicants, only 100 were selected.

Conrad, the only scholarship winner from High School District 211, said she received the good news and bad news in matching envelopes.

"I was honored when I got the packet in the first letter," she said. "When the next letter came, I thought it would be about the (upcoming) summer program. It was bad news, instead."

The second letter contained information about how to contact local legislators to encourage Blagojevich to reinstate the estimated $3.8 million a year it takes to fund the Golden Apple Scholars program.

Conrad said she already has contacted local politicians, such as state Rep. Suzie Bassi, R-54th, and state Sen. Wendell Jones, R-27th, and intends to work with a network of Golden Apple Scholars alumni to pressure Blagojevich to reconsider cutting the program. The scholarship is part of state-sponsored Golden Apple Teacher Awards; however, funding for those awards is not part of Blagojevich's proposed cuts.

The Golden Apple Scholarship isn't all about a tuition break for students who want to be Illinois educators. As part of accepting the scholarship, winners are obligated to spend their first five years after college graduation at elementary, middle and high schools in Illinois that are designated as schools in need, a commitment Conrad says she was more than willing to make.

Mimi Conrad, her mother, who will have two children in college next year, said the loss of the scholarship probably won't derail her daughter's plans to attend the University of Illinois, but it will make it tougher to pay for her education, and she is considering re-applying to other schools.

"We've cobbled together money for our daughter's education, but college prices are going up quite a bit and it gets to be extremely expensive," she said.

Tuition to the university runs anywhere from $7,000 to $8,000 a year for tuition alone.

Dom Belmonte, director of teacher preparation for the Golden Apple program, said the publicity about the proposed cuts has clued in voters and politicians to what the program is all about.

"While this whole thing has been crushing for people in the program, one thing of value that has come of this is clarification of what we do -- that we are not a scholarship program -- the notion of the program and its success as an advanced teacher preparation program," he said.

Belmonte said the program's results are tremendous: about 800 skilled graduates are teaching in needy Illinois schools.

"We take people who are dedicated to teach and prepare them to be successful and put them in classes right out of high school. The support they are given on a continuing basis comes from people who are master practitioners in education. The result is teachers who are inspired, talented, committed and successful," he said.

Politicians, scholars, alumni and staff members from schools where alumni teach are rallying around the program, and the support makes Belmonte hopeful that the General Assembly will restore its funding.

Besides the 100 graduating seniors who could lose scholarships, 400 current undergraduate students could lose their scholarships and 300 first- and second-year teachers could lose mentoring opportunities, Belmonte said.

The program began in 1988 with 15 students and a budget of $60,000 and has been funded by the state since 1993.

Mimi Conrad, a teacher herself, said the scholarship is well worth the state's investment because it helps produce top teachers for schools in desperate need of talented educators.

"The program is so fantastic. The students are taught and trained by Golden Apple winners and then commit themselves to a learning environment where teachers are needed most. These students are very interested in teaching and, for them, understanding this (funding) change is a challenge," she said.

Jill Conrad said she is taking the potential loss of the scholarship in stride; it's just another obstacle in reaching her lifelong dream of teaching.

"I've wanted to teach since day one. All the commitment and work would be worth it. Right now I'm also definitely worried about the money," she said.

She intends to work extra hours over the summer, saving as much money as possible for school. She also is considering applying to schools she passed on after receiving the scholarship to University of Illinois.

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Gov borrows, spends, hands bill to Ill. kids

Column by Chuck Sweeny, Rockford Register Star

We are such short-term thinkers these days that many of us probably cheered when we read that Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed Tuesday to spend $2.2 billion building new schools and repairing old ones.

Imagine the glee in Belvidere, where voters just defeated a school construction referendum. Maybe they’ll get that new high school they wanted after all.

If there are any Belvidere students reading this column, though, they should be warned that if the governor does send money for the new school, the bill for it and others throughout Illinois will likely come due about the time they’ve got a mortgage, two car loans (one car from each Wolf), a home equity loan, a kid starting college and aging Generation X parents to care for.

The governor has decided to balance the state’s budget by making a few cuts, raising a bunch of fees and taxes on businesses, but mainly by selling a whole slew of bonds.

Other governors have sold bonds, too, but not like this one. Blagojevich has deferred paying most of the principal on his bonds until the “out years,” as far out as 2033. It’s the Hindenburg of balloon mortgages.

Even before he fired off news releases Tuesday to announce his 2005 capital expenditure budget, with $3.2 billion in new spending projects, Blagojevich had already sold more bonds than any other governor, Republicans said.

“Last year, we borrowed close to $12 to $13 billion, it’s a record for any state,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford.

“Say what you want about former governor George Ryan, but at least his school construction program had a funding source, which was the increase in license plate fees,” Syverson said. With Ryan’s program, Rockford got a $20 million reimbursement for schools built in the 1990s under a U.S. District Court order. Blagojevich “hasn’t identified a funding source for his school building program,” Syverson said.

Blagojevich may have trouble getting his capital budget through the Legislature. He needs a 60 percent majority, and that means some Republicans have to vote yes. Will any do it? Syverson and Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Sycamore, are skeptical.

“There’s got to be accountability. With the list of projects presented to us Tuesday, you can’t make heads nor tails of it. Are these existing projects, new projects? Are they paid for by old bond sales? New bond sales? It’s not clear,” Burzynski said.

“I can’t justify voting for new bonding programs to pay for computers and automobiles when the life of the bonds is 25 years. It’s just unconscionable,” Burzynski said.

Chalk that up as a “no” vote.

Unfortunately, Republicans who vote no probably won’t get their long-delayed pork project funds released. Burzynski has some $10 million worth, including $7 million for Northern Illinois University.

“It has been suggested that if some of us (Republicans) support the budget measure, that some of the funds for our projects will be released,” Burzynski said.

Syverson, who has $2 million in frozen pork, much of it for social service agencies, said that he, too, wants more funding details on the capital budget.

“My vote will be parochial. If Rockford’s going to get the projects we need to help our social services, build roads and boost our economy by creating jobs, then I’ll consider voting for it,” Syverson said.

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Board Blasts Governor's Education Plan

Matt Adrian, Southern Illinoisan

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois State Board of Education members lambasted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's $400 million education spending plan Thursday, saying it did not meet the needs of Illinois students.

The board discussed Blagojevich's lump sum spending for fiscal 2005 and begrudgingly suggested how the money should be divided among increasing local schools' portions of state aid and funding special education.

"All this is are guidelines. We are not endorsing this," said Richard Sandmark, chairman of the board's finance and audit committee.

The board is suggesting that the state consider increasing the general state aid by only $150 per pupil, this would cost $249 million. Special Education could be allotted $117 million. The proposal would split up the remaining funds into grants for reading and bilingual education.

In his budget address, Blagojevich announced plans to put $400 million into education. The governor declined to earmark the funds for specific programs, instead leaving it to the General Assembly to set spending priorities. Last year, Blagojevich said he wanted to move toward a $250 per pupil spending every year.

To meet that goal, the ISBE estimates it would eat up almost all of the $400 million set aside.

"We're killing schools in Illinois of having any type of growth," said board member Beverly Turkal.

The ISBE estimates the cost of fully funding special education and the $250 per pupil spending at more than $600 million.

Other board members said the agency should not even consider making any recommendation in protest.

"They have to decide which kids they will underserve. We won't do it for them," board member Gregory Kazarian said.

Rebecca Rausch, a Blagojevich spokeswoman, said the administration doesn't have plans to spell out how the $400 million should be spent.

"He has thoughts on where the spending should go," Rausch said. "But the legislature is encouraged to discuss on how the money should be spent."

Rausch said the governor has been meeting with legislators to discuss the education funding.

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Why schools are in bad shape and getting worse  

Sara Burnett, Daily Herald

The number of Illinois school districts with serious money problems nearly doubled last year, while about 20 percent of schools were forced to take action to improve academic performance, the state board of education said Thursday.

But if you think that's bad, just wait till next year.

That's when state education officials estimate tougher academic standards could land at least 1,400 more public schools -- including hundreds in the suburbs -- on the state's academic warning lists, forcing them to revamp curriculum or allow students to transfer to higher-performing schools.

The state could take control of 47 consistently low-performing schools, 45 of which are in Chicago.

Educators also expect to see a jump in the number of districts on the "financial watch" list, used to identify districts in the worst financial shape.

State education officials said Thursday both crises can be blamed, at least in part, on a cut in state funding and Illinois' over-reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools.

"We know these schools need special attention and intervention," State Superintendent Robert Schiller said, "(but) we're working on a shoestring in this state."

Opponents of a change in school funding argue districts run into trouble because they spend frivolously or overpay staff.

"Shoveling more taxpayer money into the over-funded government schools doesn't fix the real problem," Jim Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, said this week.

Schools make the academic "early warning" list if students overall or subgroups broken down by race, low-income, disabled, migrant or limited-English, do not perform well enough on standardized tests for two consecutive years.

If those schools receive federal funds, they must provide extra tutoring and offer students the choice to transfer to a different school. All schools on the early warning list also must approve an improvement plan that focuses more on reading and math.

The list released Thursday, which refers to the 2002-03 school year, shows 280 of the state's roughly 4,000 schools made the "academic early warning" list.

That could change next year, when state officials expect a good portion of the roughly 1,700 schools that failed to meet standards this year will do so for the second year.

And because state standards will increase each year after that, the list is likely to do nothing but swell unless there are sharp jumps in standardized test scores.

If schools fail to meet standards for four or five consecutive years, they move to the more serious "academic watch" status. This year, 335 schools were on that list, state officials said.

If a school fails six years in a row, it is designated in "state intervention status." The state may remove the local school board, reassign students or remove administrative staff.

No schools are on that list for 2002-03, but officials said 47 schools could move onto it if their test scores do not improve this school year.

Twenty-two schools moved off the warning list by exceeding standards for two consecutive years. About 70 other schools are still appealing their results on standardized tests and are not yet on any of the state's academic lists, Schiller said.

The financial list places each of the state's 898 public school districts into one of four categories based on financial health in the 2002-03 school year. "Financial recognition" status is the best, while "financial watch" is the worst.

The number of districts in financial watch grew from 87 to 156 this year, according to the state board.

The next-most serious category, "financial early warning," also grew, from 135 to 156, while the number of districts in "financial recognition" fell from 431 to 356.

In all, 33 percent of the state's districts fell into one of the two worst designations.

Though there is no state law to enforce it, the state board requires districts in financial watch status to provide a three-year projection of funds, establish a finance committee, complete a staffing plan and personnel inventory, and provide enrollment projections for the next three years, along with other reports.

The board uses several criteria to determine a district's status, from cash on hand to indebtedness and the balance in the district's teacher retirement fund.

The list is meant to inform the public on the status of their district and to get school districts who may be struggling to take a closer look at their situation, said David Wood, director of the state board's operations department.

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Lists of troubled schools grow  

Some charge state not doing its part

Diane Rado and Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune

The number of schools in severe academic trouble skyrocketed to 335 this year from 49, prompting state officials to question whether Illinois is doing all it can to help schools that repeatedly fail state standards.

"If we don't deal with this, I can envision some parent filing a lawsuit suggesting we haven't done our jobs," said Illinois State Board of Education member Ron Gidwitz.

Schools in Chicago and its suburbs topped the annual "academic watch" list, which named 256 Chicago schools.

Schools are cited mainly because the majority of students haven't passed state tests for four years in a row.

Another 30 academic-watch schools are in south Cook County districts with large populations of disadvantaged children; another 19 are in Lake, Kane and Will Counties.

The bad academic news was followed by bad financial news, with the state board also releasing a list of financially troubled school districts on Thursday.

In Chicago and suburbs, 44 districts were placed on "financial watch," the worst category of fiscal health for districts that run up deficits, borrow excessively and drain cash reserves.

Statewide, the number of financial watch districts soared to 156 from 87, signaling a deepening school finance crisis in Illinois.

Local school officials reacted with indignation to the financial watch list, saying it represents finger-pointing but little promise of a solution to Illinois school-finance problems.

"So what if we're on a watch list. I'd like to put Illinois on a watch list," fumed Supt. Alfonso Vega, whose tiny school district, Burnham 154 1/2, saw its financial designation plummet from healthy to "financial watch."

"It doesn't mean anything to us. It's not going to get us any more money," Vega said.

At the Capitol Thursday, the state House passed legislation to increase basic state aid for students by $250, to $5,060 per pupil from $4,810. The measure still must pass the state Senate.

But the price tag for the increase would be about $400 million, the total increase recommended by Gov. Rod Blagojevich for public schools for the budget year beginning July 1. That would leave little room for increases in school programs funded separately, such as transportation, textbooks and special education.

"None of us agrees that $400 million is sufficient," state Board of Education member Dean Clark said Thursday.

Funding for programs that assist schools in academic trouble also has been inadequate, said Lynne Curry, director of planning and performance at the state board.

The board set up assistance centers in six regions this year to help troubled schools improve curriculum and teacher quality.

That program must expand as the number of schools in serious academic trouble rises, she said.

The number of schools on academic watch represents about 8 percent of schools statewide. "To me, that's a scary number," said Curry.

Part of the increase stems from a change in the way the state determines a school's standing, she said.

In the past, schools were judged on how many students passed a variety of tests. If fewer than 50 percent of students passed two years in a row, the school was placed on "academic early warning." If the school continued to fail for two more years, it was placed on academic watch.

After the 2003 state tests, schools were judged on more strict standards put in place under No Child Left Behind federal education reforms. Under those reforms, 40 percent of students in all racial groups have to pass state tests in reading and math, a more difficult hurdle.

Nearly 300 schools that had been on early warning in 2002-03 moved down to the academic watch list this school year, a striking shift downward, Curry said.

But Peter Cunningham, spokesman for Chicago Public Schools, said the new list serves little useful purpose, especially given that it is based on 2003 test data.

"We don't need another list from the state to tell us which of our schools are struggling. We know which of our schools are struggling."

This year's round of state testing begins Monday, he said. "We don't know why they are releasing this list now. We don't know what they want us to do with it."

In other business, the state board decided against moving up testing dates next year for the Prairie State Achievement Examination given to high school juniors. That test includes the ACT college entrance exam. The board had considered pushing up the exam by nearly two months to avoid delays in getting back test scores.

But local school officials complained, saying that reduced time to prepare students. The board set the test dates at April 27 and 28, 2005, similar to this year.

The ISAT test given to grade school pupils will be moved up three weeks next year, to March 7-18. The board members said they heard no opposition to moving up ISAT testing.

The state Senate passed a bill Thursday requiring all high school students to take the Prairie State tests before graduating. Some districts have restricted low-performing juniors from taking the tests.

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Principals say parents should rate teachers  

Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times

A schoolyard brawl is brewing in the Chicago Public Schools, and there are no students involved in this one.

This time, it's principals against teachers. And Thursday, all gloves were off, as the key players in Chicago schools clashed over who should grade whom, and who holds blame in addressing escalating crimes by students against teachers.

The rating war began earlier this month when the Chicago Teachers Union announced it was mailing 33,000 surveys asking teachers and paraprofessionals to rate the strengths of their principals.

"If accountability is good for principals, it should be good for teachers too," Chicago Principals & Administrators Association President Clarice Berry retorted Thursday as the association suggested at a news conference that if teachers can rate principals, parents should rate teachers.

"We're unhappy with this. We're asking [CTU President] Deborah Lynch to withhold the results until we've had a chance to look at it," Berry said. "You know in other cities where this teacher survey of principals is used, a component is that parents rate teachers. We're just curious as to why CTU is only importing part of the process. Why not the entire process?"

Says Lynch: "Good principals shouldn't be worried about this principal evaluation by teachers. I'm getting lots of feedback from our members who are very glad that we're doing this survey."

Add to the controversy the CTU's new campaign to stem escalating violence in public schools.

The union said a survey last summer found most teachers who left the system ran from the violence, and many cited lack of support from principals on teacher safety and security.

Violent crime by students against teachers has risen steadily for the past four years. In 2000-2001, there were 940 incidents of aggravated battery, assault, sex crimes, threats of violence, vandalism and theft.

Such crimes had risen to 1,370 in 2002-2003, with CPS officials battling the rise by putting more metal detectors, X-ray machines and security guards in troubled schools, as well as with more aggressive expulsion of problem students.

Principals took issue with teachers' complaints of scant support. Some teachers charged that their principals discouraged reporting violence because of concerns about the school's image.

"We want to get reports. We need a more accurate idea of what's really going on, to know where to apply our limited resources," said schools safety and security chief Andres Durbak.

Berry said the problem lies not with principals but with the lack of alternative school programs for violent children.

"In the last six months, 651 students have been expelled. That's a direct indication that principals have indeed been pursuing the removal of violent children from schools and children who bring in drugs and weapons," Berry said.

So where is CPS on all this? "This is between the teachers and the principals," says spokesman Peter Cunningham.

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Principals' union upset with survey  

Teachers' views to be on the Web

H. Gregory Meyer, Chicago Tribune

The head of the Chicago school principals' union Thursday called on teachers not to release results of a potentially embarrassing survey of their bosses.

But Chicago Teachers Union President Deborah Lynch immediately responded that far from withholding the information, the union will post the survey results for the public to see on its Web site in mid-April.

Earlier this month the teachers union considered sharing the survey results only with its members. The survey was sent to 33,000 teachers and teacher aides in the Chicago Public Schools system and is due back April 1.

But they've since decided to let anyone with an Internet connection read the feedback, Lynch said.

In addition to 26 questions on subjects ranging from leadership to showing sensitivity to cultural diversity, the performance survey gives principals an overall grade, from A to F, as on a student report card. That's especially irksome to Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association.

"I'm asking her to withhold the distribution till she comes to the table . . . so we can make an assessment," Berry said. "We don't believe there's validity to the grades that principals are going to get. Exactly what does an A constitute? What does a B constitute? It's a very subjective kind of thing."

Berry and Lynch met once to negotiate aspects of the survey, and Lynch said she agreed not to post results from schools with response rates lower than 15 percent.

But as for Berry's public request Thursday to put results on hold until principals and Chicago Public Schools officials have vetted them, Lynch declined.

"My accountability is to my membership," she said. "My members are going to get the results first."

Berry said the anonymous survey allows teachers to take unfair potshots at unpopular principals. She singled out similar surveys in the Rochester, N.Y., and Milwaukee school districts as places where results were of questionable value. The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association has conducted two surveys, in 2002 and 2003, said Pat O'Mahar, assistant to the executive director of the Milwaukee union. This year the union is taking a hiatus because of contract negotiations, but "we're going to continue to do it in the future," he said. But the Milwaukee union avoided overall grades for principals out of fears of over-simplifying complex factors, O'Mahar said. And after posting the results on a public Web site in 2002--which were reported on the front page of a local newspaper, principals' names included--in 2003 the union made the results available to members only. Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, also defended his union's survey, which has been conducted intermittently for two decades and gives grades. "If [giving a grade is] good enough for kids, why wouldn't it be good enough for adults?" Urbanski asked.

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Students regret possible loss of Golden Apple scholarships  

BY NICHOLAS WISELOGEL, Wheeling Countryside Staff Writer

The way things look now, earning a prestigious scholarship may do nothing more for Rolling Meadows High School senior Shaun Conway than make his college education more expensive.

Conway was planning to go to Michigan State University when, in February, he learned he won a scholarship from the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program. Since these scholarships are only for state schools, Conway quickly changed his plans and was set to attend Illinois State University.

When he found out March 6 that funding for the Golden Apple program could be pulled, he decided again to attend Michigan State. However, the 17-year-old Rolling Meadows resident missed the March 1 federal financial aid application deadline.

"I finally sent out my information on March 9, but now I might get considerably less aid than if I sent it in on time," Conway said. "I might be at a great disadvantage."

Funding for the Golden Apple Scholars could be cut as part of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's newest state budget proposal. Slashing the program would cost Conway and his parents about $28,000: a four-year $5,000 scholarship and four $2,000 stipends for studying with some of Illinois' top teachers during summer breaks.

A network of Golden Apple Scholars alumni, along with local legislators state Rep. Suzie Bassi, R-54th, and state Sen. Wendell Jones, R-27th, plan to pressure Blagojevich to reconsider cutting the program. The scholarship program is part of state-sponsored Golden Apple Teacher Awards; however, funding for those awards is not part of Blagojevich's proposed cuts.

The program isn't all about a tuition break for students who want to be Illinois educators. As part of accepting the scholarship, winners are obligated to spend their first five years after college graduation at elementary, middle and high schools in Illinois which are designated as schools in need.

Buffalo Grove High School senior Michelle Dituri, 17, of Arlington Heights said that although she was shocked to learn that she may not receive the money she was initially awarded, the decision will not affect her decision to attend Illinois State in the fall.

"It will not change any of my college plans," she said. "But it was definitely very unsettling to hear it at first."

Wheeling High School senior Jenny Lagunas, 17, of Wheeling, also said the decision should not alter her college plans.

"It's very upsetting, but I've talked to my parents and we've decided that we are going to have to make plans without relying on the scholarship," she said.

Lagunas said Blagojevich's decision to cut the program is all the more disappointing because of the time she and the other scholars spent applying for the award. She said she had to write seven essays and gather three letters of recommendation, all of which were due last June.

Of the initial 1,200 students nominated by their schools this year, about 400 applied and 100 were then chosen.

Negative publicity

Dom Belmonte, director of teacher preparation for the Golden Apple program, said the publicity about the proposed cuts has clued in voters and politicians to what the program is all about.

"While this whole thing has been crushing for people in the program, one thing of value that has come of this is clarification of what we do -- that we are not a scholarship program -- the notion of the program and its success as an advanced teacher preparation program," he said.

Belmonte said the program's results are tremendous: about 800 skilled graduates are teaching in needy Illinois schools.

"We take people who are dedicated to teach and prepare them to be successful and put them in classes right out of high school. The support they are given on a continuing basis comes from people who are master practitioners in education. The result is teachers who are inspired, talented, committed and successful," he said.

Politicians, scholars, alumni and staff members from schools where alumni teach are rallying around the program, and the support makes Belmonte hopeful that the General Assembly will restore its funding.

Besides the 100 graduating seniors who could lose scholarships, 400 current undergraduate students could lose their scholarships and 300 first- and second-year teachers could lose mentoring opportunities, Belmonte said.

The program began in 1988 with 15 students and a budget of $60,000 and has been funded by the state since 1993.

Not losing hope

As for the five-year commitment Golden Apple Scholars have to make after graduation to teach in disadvantaged schools, Lagunas said, "I really had no second thoughts about that. I love children and I want to be there for them, not only as a friend but also as a mentor."

All three Golden Apple Scholars from High School District 214 schools said they think there is still a chance that the program will be saved.

"I have faith in the program," Dituri said. "Even if I don't get a scholarship, I'm very proud to be a Golden Apple Scholar and would still like to take part in whatever is left of the program."

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Teachers to grade themselves?  

Chicago Tribune Editorial, March 26, 2004

Since the day Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed to dismantle the State Board of Education and place education policy directly under the governor, skeptics have voiced suspicions that the plan was merely a way to hand greater power to teachers unions.

After all, the argument goes, the state's teachers unions, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, contributed $1.2 million to his 2002 campaign.

That's not necessarily fair, but that is reason for Blagojevich to tread carefully on any move that gives the appearance of payback.

And that's one reason there were howls in Springfield over a Blagojevich-backed plan for a new board to control the rules and procedures for certifying teachers in the state. The board would be controlled by the teachers unions. The plan would require that six of the 11 members come from the teaching ranks--three from the IEA and three from the IFT.

Currently, the State Teacher Certification Board only has advisory powers. It reports to the State Board of Education. The advisory board would be replaced by a more powerful body that would set teacher standards, revoke teachers' licenses for unprofessional conduct and employ an executive director and staff.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat with close ties to unions, was right to blow the whistle on a plan for teachers to police themselves. "I don't think teachers unions, in one way or another, should control the certification process," Madigan said this week.

It's a matter of logic that no oversight board should be controlled by those it oversees. Beyond that, teachers unions have often been resistant to innovative ideas such as alternative certifications to allow non-teachers to change careers and offer their talents in the classroom and requirements that they receive ongoing education as a condition to retain their certificates.

There are other troubling aspects to the plan. Though a good deal of the work done by the board concerns teacher preparation programs, the new board would reduce the role of university faculty. Currently, five of the 19 members of the advisory teacher certification board come from universities. In the new plan, only two out of 11 members would come from universities.

Fortunately, it appears that Blagojevich is willing to back down. In comments Wednesday, he said he expects some changes to his program.

The governor has run into some stiff opposition to his plan to strip power from the State Board of Education and take over the state's education structure--an idea that this page has supported.

If he hopes to shake up the education status quo, he will have to convince people that his motives are only to improve education, not to empower his political allies.

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NATIONAL

Big city schools show gains in state tests

Items compiled from Tribune news services

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Pupils in the largest urban public school systems showed improvement in reading and math in the first year under the federal education overhaul, according to a coalition of urban schools.

The Council of the Great City Schools reviewed state test scores from 61 urban school districts in 37 states by comparing 2002 and 2003 results.

The report being released Monday found that 47 percent of the 4th graders in the study scored at or above proficiency in reading--a gain of almost 5 percentage points from 2002. For math, 51 percent of the pupils tested at or above proficiency, nearly 7 percentage points better.

For 8th graders, scores rose about 1 percentage point in reading and 3 percentage points in math.

The scores covered the first year of the No Child Left Behind law, a centerpiece of President Bush's education agenda.

Michael Casserly, the council's executive director, said "people have been hard at work on these issues for the last couple of years."

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Not left behind

Changes in education plan will help teachers meet standards

Birmingham News

The intentions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act clearly are good. Among other provisions, the act, pushed by President Bush and passed with strong bipartisan support two years ago, establishes broad federal testing for elementary and middle-school students and requires that teachers be designated "highly qualified" if they teach core subjects like math, science, social studies and English.

However, where No Child Left Behind is concerned, the Bush administration is learning that a one-standard-fits-all mandate from the federal government doesn't always work well in education.

The latest problem is the requirement that teachers be "highly qualified" in the areas they teach. The goal, of course, is commendable. Teachers should know the material they are called on to teach our children; they should be experts in their subjects and competent in the classroom.

But what happens in small, rural schools, where teachers may teach a variety of subjects? While a biology teacher may be "highly qualified" in that subject, the teacher also may be called on to teach chemistry classes as well. The teacher may be acceptable in chemistry, but the teacher's education and background is biology.

Fortunately, the Bush administration isn't looking at the No Child Left Behind Act as set in stone. As changes are needed, the regulations are adjusted. This week, the administration loosened rules for teachers in rural schools where student populations are smaller than metropolitan areas.

Teachers in such small-town schools, including rural schools in Alabama, now have three years, until 2007, to meet the tougher teaching standards. Teachers in all systems who teach different kinds of science now have fewer tests to take before being declared "highly qualified."

In Alabama, the changes could cover 50 of the 129 school systems, while about a third of the school systems nationwide are considered rural.

The adjustments in the No Child Left Behind Act make sense. Many public schools need higher standards to meet, as do many teachers, but it is important that those standards not be impossible to meet.

This week's changes will help.

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No Child Left Behind: Lame tests, unwarranted sanctions

Bard Barker, The Modesto Bee

"I will not divulge the contents of the tests to any other person through verbal, written or any other means of communication."

This is a pledge on the "Security Affidavit" signed by everyone who helps administer the high-stakes California STAR Tests to public school students.

Hopefully, the test officials, resplendent in their majesty, do not consider this document part of the test -- I just divulged a bit about divulging. The affidavit helps to ensure that test proctors (formerly known as "teachers") do not permit test-takers (once known as "students") to have prior knowledge of the questions.

I suspect there's another reason for secrecy. If the questions were revealed, the public might understand how tragically lame these standardized tests are.

"Lame," in this context, is a concept used by educational professionals to mean utterly dreary, brain-numbing, disconnected, bogus, draconian nonsense that sucks the last morsels of joy from the learning experience. But let's not get technical.

Did I mention that the unrelenting barrage of standardized tests is bad for children? Drill-and-grill test preparation is worse. Even the most obsequious teachers and administrators know that test mania has reached absurd levels; they just won't say it out loud. Meanwhile, students suffer.

Conservative policy-makers used to promote local control and decentralized decision-making; now, they're for some kind of Soviet-style mandated system. Master bureaucrats push prepackaged, trickle-down, paint-by-number curricula followed by a battery of standardized tests and punitive sanctions. How did this happen?

The American public does not want lockstep pedagogic uniformity. A new poll by the National PTA shows that parents consider school funding, teacher quality, parental involvement and class size to be significantly more important than state-mandated testing. The parents are right. So why all this high-stakes pressure?

Compounding the testing mess are the sanctions set by the No Child Left Behind Act. Five years running, Mark Twain Junior High in west Modesto has achieved a 9 or 10 in similar-schools rankings. This score is as high or higher than any other junior high in Stanislaus County.

But wait -- under NCLB, similar-schools rankings don't matter. It doesn't matter that we're located in a poor neighborhood where nearly all of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. It doesn't matter that a huge chunk of our students come from homes where English isn't spoken. It doesn't matter that our school has an overflow of special-needs students.

Despite the hard work of students and staff, and consistently good test scores, our school faces sanctions. The convoluted system of measuring "Adequate Yearly Progress" has rigged our school (and hundreds of others) for failure. This system is flagrantly unrealistic and outrageously unfair.

Schools don't need more fill-in-the-bubble testing. They need good teachers, supported by parents and administrators who are given the autonomy to engage students in positive and creative ways. Standards should include higher-level thinking skills, and student progress should be measured with a variety of assessment tools.

If we don't fix this testing mess, the stakes become stratospherically high.

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Nation's schools remain unbalanced

Hundreds of desegregation plans have been abandoned

Thomas Hargrove, Scripps Howard News Service

America's public schools, after decades of struggle to achieve racial and ethnic balance, are tilting back toward separate institutions.

Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision requiring schools to integrate their classrooms, children of color today are much more likely to be in mostly minority schools than they were a decade ago.

With little fanfare and scant publicity, federal judges and school policy makers have abandoned hundreds of desegregation plans written in the 1960s and 1970s.

The public largely is unaware of the change, according to a recent national poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Sixty percent of Americans say it is "very important" that "students of different races attend classes together." Most incorrectly assume their local schools are integrated.

A study of U.S. Department of Education records conducted by Scripps Howard News Service found that racial isolation — the percentage of children of color enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more — has risen in at least 36 states between 1991 and 2001, the most recent year for which reliable data are available.

In all, 6.6 million of the nation's 18.9 million black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian children in 2001 were enrolled in public schools that were 90 percent minority or more. That means 35 percent are racially isolated in their classrooms.

"These patterns are not the result of current illegal practices by school districts," U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said in an interview. "The reasons are complex and sociologists and demographers can help us figure it out. Some of the causes involve housing patterns and economic factors."

But several prominent experts on race in public schools are quick to blame the nation's political and judicial leaders for making a quiet policy change.

"We're in a major process of re-segregation," said Gary Orfield, co-director of Harvard University's Civil Rights Project, which tracks school segregation patterns by school districts. "There is a cowardice about this issue. People are afraid to talk about it because it is so sensitive. So we are slipping back into separate-but-equal schools, a policy we tried once without success."

The Scripps Howard study found that students of color were most likely to be enrolled in one-color schools in the states of Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York and North Dakota. They were least likely to be racially isolated in Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire and West Virginia, all states with small minority populations.

The study looked at records from 67,577 public schools, comparing their racial enrollment reports from 1991 and 2001. Of these, 414 schools had mostly minority student populations in 1991 that became mostly white a decade later while 5,506 schools shifted from majority white student populations to mostly minorities.

Put another way, the reshuffling of student populations has been so profound in America that the racial character has entirely changed for one out of every 11 public schools during the 10-year period of the study.

"Folks should be screaming from the rooftops about this issue. We have not achieved what we set out to achieve," said Elise Boddie, director of school desegregation cases for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York City.

Boddie's group once oversaw more than 300 desegregation cases; now only about 50 are still active.

Most desegregation cases have been dismissed under a "unitary status" declaration, meaning the original conditions of dual-school systems no longer exist. Often judges reluctantly make this declaration, noting districts are so overwhelmingly of one race that little can be done to stop racial isolation.

Boddie said she sees little reason to celebrate come May 17, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that declared separate but equal school systems are inherently unequal. "We'd rather pay lip service to Brown than really seek and preserve educational quality for minority children," she said. "And now there is no political will to pursue integration."

Washington, D.C., and the state of New York lead the nation with their percentages of minority children in mostly minority schools, with 90 percent and 55 percent respectively.

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Requirements Test School

School for Deaf faces extra challenges in meeting testing standards

Noemi Herrera, Kansas City Star, 3/24/04

While students learning English as a second language in Olathe schools have struggled to meet state testing standards, children like fourth-grader Justin Meador face an even bigger barrier.

Justin had virtually no language skills when he enrolled at the Kansas School for the Deaf eight years ago. He is among a group of students — making up 60 percent to 70 percent of the state school's population — who enrolled without a fully developed language, said Larry Finn, school improvement coordinator.

Nevertheless, the state school, like all public schools, is expected to meet requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act or face penalties.

“I wish the law said all students will reach their ‘potential' because potential varies for every student,” Finn said. “I hate to put all kids in the same box. Judging our multipurpose school on the basis of one test is not fair.”

The Kansas School for the Deaf failed to meet reading requirements in 2003. The Olathe district also failed to make adequate yearly progress in 2003 because one group of 61 English language learners did not reach a benchmark score in reading.

Results from this year's testing, now under way, are expected May 15.

At the school for the deaf, all students are English language learners. For deaf students who come from a home where English is not spoken, English becomes a third language, behind American Sign Language (ASL) and the language spoken at home.“We have some students who come to us with a fully developed language, American Sign Language,” said Finn, who has worked at the school 30 years.

It is the students without a fully developed language who must deal with enormous barriers.

Justin, who came to the school with limited language, is profoundly deaf and has a heart defect.

For students like him, the foremost objective is to teach American Sign Language. As students slowly build strength in ASL, teachers begin to teach English.Deaf children can be without a first language if they have a disability in addition to being deaf, such as autism, Finn said. But the more common reason is because the deafness was not identified early enough, he said.

Justin's deafness was identified immediately after birth, but he was not exposed to ASL during his early years at home. Like many deaf people, Justin was born into a hearing family.

From the moment of birth, children should be in an environment where language is accessible, said Sandie Kelly, education consultant for the school for the deaf.

“From birth to about 8 years of age, a child develops skills in social language and academic language,” she said. “When a child has not had the opportunity to fully develop these skills, academic success can be very difficult.”

For children whose families do not speak English, the learning process can become more complicated for teachers and confusing for students.

Kelly used an example of a student with a hearing, Spanish-speaking family.

“When they (students) are at home and see only Spanish, but at school they're seeing only English, you can see how very confusing that can get,” she said.

Teaching English to a deaf student is complex because it entails eight components: fingerreading, fingerspelling, reading English text, writing English text, typing English text, lipreading, speaking and listening.

Kelly Grove, whose daughter Mary is a third-grader at the school, understands the difficulty of teaching English to a deaf child.

“ASL is a completely different language than English,” she said. “To understand a written question, you have to understand the English language.”

Because Mary began learning ASL before she came to the school, she is doing well learning English, “but she's beginning to write it and she's struggling,” Grove said.

Despite the challenges in meeting No Child Left Behind standards, Finn credits the state with recognizing the difficulty his school has in making adequate yearly progress.

Students at the school for the deaf are classified by the government for testing purposes as a disabled subgroup, which gives the school some testing accommodations, such as special lighting, enlarged text and modified test language. But Finn said no test is perfect.

By 2013-14, the No Child Left Behind Act mandates that all children meet proficiency standards in reading and math. This year, 57.3 percent of students in grades 5 and 8 must meet standards in reading and 53.5 percent of grades 4 and 7 must meet math standards. In grades 9-11, 51 percent of 11-graders must meet proficiency standards in reading and 38 percent of 10th-graders must meet math standards.

“We need to meet the law whether we agree with it or no,” Finn said. The state has done everything possible to help the school make requirements – more training, more time to improve scores, curriculum support and strategies, Finn said.

Finn points out not all deaf students perform academically lower than hearing students.

“We have students who can meet and exceed hearing student standards,” he said. “My only objection: It's difficult, if not impossible, to get 100 percent of anything. To have 100 percent of students proficient by a certain year is unattainable.”

Although the school did not make the required yearly progress standard based on last year's reading tests, parents Grove and Meador stand by the school.

“It's a very special school,” Grove said. “We have to keep it in perspective. We can't be making blanket statements for all children.”

Meador calls the school a miracle place because of its staff and programs, and because the school teaches kids who have disabilities in addition to deafness.

“They have done well in addressing kids like my son,” she said. “There are very bright kids in there.”

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Panel gives 'no' to No Child law

John Welsh, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, 3/24/04

A top U.S. Department of Education official lobbied Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday in an attempt to put out the growing fires of rebellion against the No Child Left Behind Act.

The effort, which failed to block an anti-No Child Left Behind measure, represents an increasingly aggressive response by the Bush administration to a movement by state legislatures to speak out against the federal law.

"It is an election year, after all,'' said Kathy Christie, vice president of the Education Commission of the States.  “The volume of reaction has been building the past couple of months. It's been aggressive on both sides.''

Signed into law two years ago by President Bush, No Child Left Behind remains his signature education program. Supporters of the law say it forces states to look at new ways to address the achievement gap of long-neglected groups of students including minorities, handicapped and English language learners. But critics complain that its increased use of testing and the labeling of underperforming schools created a confusing and unfair way to assess schools.

The bill under consideration Tuesday by the Senate Education Budget Division would remove Minnesota from No Child Left Behind beginning July 1, 2005. Sponsored by Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, the bill was approved on a divided voice vote with strong support from Democratic-Farmer-Labor members of the committee.

"It allows the state of Minnesota to take a breath from No Child Left Behind,'' Bachmann said. "We have never seen anything like it — this level of federal intrusion into the classroom.''

But Ken Meyer, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said such measures are an overreaction. He added that if Minnesota were to opt out of the law, it would jeopardize $209 million in federal funding.

"I challenge you to get both sides,'' Meyer said. "There is much more flexibility in the law than people realize.''

Legislative bodies in at least a dozen states have passed bills critical of No Child Left Behind. The Minnesota House debated the issue for several hours last week. U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige visited Minnesota last month to sell the program to teachers and administrators.

Meyer works for the federal agency's Office of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs, which describes itself as a "rapid-response team to deliver the Secretary's and President's message on urgent issues,'' according to the agency's Web site.

"There is so much misinformation floating around. My job is to correct that misunderstanding,'' said Meyer, one of three federal officials at Tuesday's committee hearing. "The philosophy of the president is that he wants to engage the legislatures. He understands the critical nature of getting good information out there.''

But Meyer's testimony Tuesday may have contributed to misinformation on the topic, according to a memo released several hours after the hearing.

At one point in a hearing, lawmakers were discussing whether the performance of different subgroups of students could put a school on the state's underperforming list. For example, say a school's Hispanic students missed their target in reading one year but made it the second year. If the school's black students missed the reading target the second year, Meyer said, the school would not face second-year penalties because the Hispanic students improved.

Committee staffers disagreed and requested an opinion from the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Within hours, the office concluded Meyer had gotten it wrong.

The point may seem arcane, but it is a critical one for schools trying to get off the list of underperforming schools. Angry about the confusion, senators said Tuesday evening they were planning to contact Meyer for clarification.

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14 states seek more flexibility in No Child Left Behind law

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

School leaders in more than a dozen states, including California and Connecticut, want the federal government to redefine a key standard in President Bush's education-reform law, which punishes schools that don't improve children's basic skills quickly enough.

Meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill, state superintendents from 14 states called for changes in the No Child Left Behind law, saying schools should be allowed to use other means for calculating whether students' skills are improving.

Under No Child Left Behind, virtually all students, including low-income, minority, disabled students and recent immigrants, must substantially improve in math and reading each year if their school is to stay off a "needs improvement" list. The federal "adequate yearly progress" system demands that all students read and do math proficiently by 2014.

The system has been praised for holding schools accountable, but critics say the 2014 goal is arbitrary and will penalize schools with high populations of minority and poor students.

"We want a more accurate indicator of public education in our state," California superintendent of public instruction Jack O'Connell said in an interview. "The static, arbitrary bar is very inflexible and is not a measure of improvement or growth."

O'Connell said California's testing system, adopted in 1999, requires that schools move 5% of all students into the "proficient" group each year. He and other state chiefs maintain that such a "growth model" would work better, and want Congress or the Department of Education to change the law to allow it or models like it.

Thirteen other states — Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington — joined California in calling for the change, during the annual legislative conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The group has not taken a position on it.

According to O'Connell, 403 of California's 9,087 public schools have met state requirements over the past two years, but failed to make adequate yearly progress under the federal law.

Schools that don't make adequate progress for all students must offer free tutoring or transportation to a better-performing school. "My concern is that we're going to be spending so much money on transportation and not education," O'Connell said.

Education Secretary Rod Paige responded in a statement that the 2-year-old No Child Left Behind "must be given a chance to work.

"The law simply says that all fourth-graders should be able to read and do math on grade level. This isn't a so-called mandate. Rather, it's common sense.

"Regrettably, there are some who would prefer to weaken accountability standards, regardless of the children who will be left behind as a result. Let me be very clear: Changing the law to satisfy the concerns of the system at the expense of children learning is misguided and wrong.

"The law is, after all, the No Child Left Behind Act, and to do anything less is unacceptable and irresponsible to our nation's children," Paige's statement said.

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Schools stepping up efforts to reduce teacher turnover  

AP, March 25, 2004 

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- In the sink-or-swim approach that first-year teachers have endured for decades, Sabrina Scott-Feggins was hired, thrown into a classroom and told to teach. There was no guidance, and little help.

Times have changed. Instead of watching other new teachers struggle through the same process, Scott-Feggins is now a full-time teacher coach, advising and monitoring young educators.

It's a method being used in a growing numbers of school systems nationwide to stem the tide of young teachers quitting early in their careers for reasons that include lack of support, low pay and discipline problems among students.

"There are times I might have walked out the door if she wasn't here," said Sandra Callahan, 28, one of 17 first-year teachers mentored by Scott-Feggins, who taught elementary school for nine years before becoming a coach. "You might think 'Oh my God, I can't do this,' and she puts it into perspective."

The new approach of easing rookie teachers into their jobs is beginning to replace the long-standing habit of coping with the never-ending shortage of teachers by simply recruiting new ones.

"That change in understanding has begun in just a year," said Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. "They're adopting the right strategies."

"There is a growing recognition of the importance of retention," said Richard M. Ingersoll, an education and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "Traditionally that hasn't been the case. It's always been an easy-in, easy-out occupation."

A study by Ingersoll found that a third of new teachers quit within three years and almost half quit within five.

Incentives to stay

North Carolina this year began studying strategies to reduce its 10,000 yearly vacancies. Florida announced its intention to cut turnover by half. Virginia started a mentoring pilot program.

"It does no good to bring a lot of teachers into the system if many of them feel overwhelmed and leave," said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

School districts offer gym memberships and child care assistance as incentives to stay. Others subsidize car and home loans.

Pittsburg, California, passed a zero-interest home loan program for new teachers this month. "It's a retention effort aimed at anybody who will come to our school district and is a good teacher," said Vice Mayor Nancy Parent.

But young teachers are more interested in having coaches than monetary incentives, said Melinda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union.

"For a long time teaching was a sink-or-swim type of profession," Anderson said. "The mentoring programs are helping with that."

Philadelphia hired 65 teacher coaches this year, and schools chief Paul Vallas said the district's retention rate has risen from about 80 percent to 93 percent. A new standard curriculum and twice-monthly professional development sessions also aid young teachers.

"We're training them and then we're nurturing them," he said. "From all the anecdotes I've gotten it's been very positive."

Carroll estimates that a teacher who quits after one year costs $13,500 in lost recruitment and training. After three years, the cost is $50,000.

A good mentoring program costs about $3,000 per teacher.

A new study by Ingersoll, using National Center for Education Statistics data, shows that using mentors works: About 40 percent of new teachers with no support leave after one year, while only 17 percent of teachers with a mentor and additional community support quit.

"It's the investment you need up front to see results on the back end," said Tomas Hanna, director of teacher recruitment and retention for Philadelphia.

Hanna said Philadelphia's mentors have made it their mission to not lose a teacher.

"A new teacher coach can cut down on the time it takes to scan a new environment and be successful in it," Hanna said. "Teachers are saying if it wasn't for my teacher coach, I wouldn't still be here."

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