SPRINGFIELD -- Reneging on a campaign pledge not to expand gambling,
Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed Thursday to more than double the number
of slot machines and gaming tables in Illinois.
The governor made the surprise announcement at a high school in Oak Park during a speech in which he called for increasing education
Even though the proposal would increase the number of slot machines
and gaming tables in the state from 11,000 to more than 23,000, gubernatorial
spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor does not consider this an expansion
of gambling because under the plan no new communities would receive
But during his campaign for governor, Gov. Blagojevich signed a pledge
saying he would not support expanding the number of gaming positions
on the state's nine gaming boats.
Ms. Rausch said the additional gaming positions would not necessarily
be divided evenly among the state's floating casinos. Just how they
would be allocated would be left to the Illinois Gaming Board. If demand
is greater than the number of positions available, an auction would
be held, she said.
Bill Renk, a spokesman for the Casino Rock Island, said the governor's
plan is encouraging news but would not likely have much impact initially
on the state's smallest casino.
"Right now, we don't have any place to expand," he said. He
said if the Illinois Gaming Board approves a planned relocation of the
casino to the intersection of Interstate 280 and Illinois 92, it might well take advantage of the additional gaming
position that the proposal would allow.
Since entering office, Gov. Blagojevich has faced staggering budget
shortfalls. The governor's proposal would generate $300 million in additional
revenues, Ms. Rausch said. But she added the governor would veto any
measure to increase the number of the state's casinos.
This puts him at loggerheads with some powerful political forces --
namely Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who wants a land-based casino in
the city, and Senate President Emil Jones, who also wants new floating
casinos in Waukegan and the south Chicago suburbs.
Cindy Davidsmeyer, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jones, said he is encouraged
by the governor's recognition that the state needs more money but remains
undeterred in his plans to push for additional casinos.
Quad-Cities lawmakers embraced the governor's plan.
"I know a lot of people might disagree with me, but I will support
this bill. One of my main issues when I came to Springfield was to bring more money to education," Rep. Patrick
Verschoore, D-Milan, said.
He added that he considers gambling to be a self-imposed tax. "You
don't have to go, and people who go there are going on their own accord.
People don't like their services cut," he said.
"I'm not a big gaming person," said Rep. Mike Boland, D-East
Moline, "but unfortunately we have to come up with the money from
somewhere, and we don't have many options without an increase in sales
or income taxes."
Gov. Blagojevich's rationale for expanding gambling is to boost education
spending, something he has promised to do every year since taking office.
In his state budget address, he called for $140 million in new money
for the state's schools. By expanding gambling, he could pump another
$300 million into education for next year. The increase would boost
per pupil funding -- or the minimum amount the state spends on each
student -- by $240, to $5,204 annually.
SPRINGFIELD - Local school administrator reaction was mixed to Gov.
Rod Blagojevich's new proposal to increase state graduation standards.
Blagojevich proposed new graduation requirements Thursday that he claims
would better prepare students for college and the workforce.
The governor's plan would require two years of science, two intensive
writing courses, four years of English and three years of math, including
algebra and geometry. Blagojevich also said he wants more high school
students to have access to college courses.
Currently the Carbondale school district does not meet Blagojevich's standards.
The district requires only two years of math and three years of English.
"Anything that would raise the standards is going to be good for
education," said Steve Sabens, the Carbondale school district superintendent. "How that could
be implemented would be the challenge for the governor and school districts
across the state."
Additional staffing would be needed, which in turn would require more
funding, Sabens said.
Tim Bleyer, superintendent for the CartervilleSchool
said his high school currently meets the proposed math, science and
"The state has lagged behind what school districts are already
doing," he said.
For the past few years students have also been able to take courses
"That has been a very popular thing for us in Carterville,"
Bleyer said. "We have a lot of kids graduate from our school with
15 or 16 hours of junior college credit."
Bleyer's major concern with the governor's plan is the new intensive
writing course requirement. Most of his students already meet or exceed
writing requirements through their English courses, he said.
"Now does this mean we are going to have to offer a separate writing
course on top of an English course? And if so, of course, that's going
to require adding staff," he said.
MassacCounty is another local school district that already has in
place most of the proposed requirements. One change in the district
would be adding geometry as a requirement.
"We're pretty solid on this plan. I think it's a good thing,"
said Danny Stevens, MassacCounty superintendent. But Stevens wants schools to be compensated
for changes they make.
"I expect some funding to come along with that. If that doesn't
happen of course it's going to be difficult to meet the standards."
The Illinois State Board of Education has run the governor's plan past
ACT, Inc., the company that creates the standardized test all 11th graders
are required to take, said agency spokeswoman Rebecca Watts. According
to ACT officials, 38 percent of the 116,500 Illinois students, who took the test last year would not have
met the new high school graduation standards, she said.
If approved by the General Assembly, requirements will start being phased
into curriculum in 2008.
The governor also said Thursday he wants to increase the number of slot
machines and other games at the state's nine riverboats to bring in
more education revenue. In February Blagojevich proposed $140 million
in new education dollars, and expects the gambling expansion to bring
$300 million more. TOP OF PAGE
Illinois should contribute $6,405 per student to educate its
schoolchildren next school year--almost $1,500 more than it spends now--an
influential group of state education advisers recommended Monday.
The Education Funding Advisory Board stopped short of saying how to
pay for that increase, estimated at $2.3 billion, and declined to engage
in the politically dicey debate of how to fund schools.
Still, the board's recommendation adds an important element to the school-finance
debate that is growing more intense in Springfield and around the state as most school districts struggle
Voters go to the polls Tuesday to consider nearly 100 referendum proposals
to raise local taxes for school operations or issue bonds for school
building projects, mostly in the suburbs around the Chicago area.
On Wednesday a state Senate panel will review proposals to overhaul
the way Illinois pays for schools, including increasing the state income
tax and reducing reliance on local property taxes that create disparities
between wealthy and poor districts.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich opposes raising income or sales taxes, and last
week proposed expanding gambling in Illinois to provide another $300 million for schools. But even
that figure, coupled with $140 million previously recommended by the
governor, falls short of the increase proposed Monday by the advisory
board that he appointed.
Still, the board's recommendation is a credible one that "we hope
will buttress the governor's efforts to put more money into the foundation
level," said Elliot Regenstein, Blagojevich's director of education
The "foundation level" is the key measure of the state's support
for public schools, the basic aid that should be guaranteed every child.
The figure does not include local property taxes that largely fund schools,
state grants for special programs or federal dollars.
The Education Funding Advisory Board arrived at a foundation level of
$6,405 per student for 2005-06 by using a complex model that evaluates
how much it takes to run schools efficiently and ensure children perform
at grade level and above. The analysis also took into consideration
annual increases in salaries and benefits that school districts have
The per-student aid figure this school year--$4,964--is a "national
embarrassment," said Bindu Batchu, campaign manager for a statewide
initiative to reform school finances.
"I think it shows that we are in an abysmal situation in this state,
where we are shortchanging children across the state in the kind of
education we're delivering," she said.
While per-student funding has increased to $4,964 from $4,560 during
Blagojevich's term, Illinois still ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of
contribution to public education.
Groups favoring school finance reform proposals urged the advisory board
as late as Monday to support reforms that would reduce reliance on local
property taxes and pump up the state's contribution to schools.
But chairman Steve Demitro, a lawyer, said the board's powers are limited
under state law, including recommending a per-student foundation level
and a few other tasks.
After the meeting, however, Demitro did not rule out discussions on
school finance reform in future board meetings.
Prior to Blagojevich's recent appointments, the Education Funding Advisory
Board made broad recommendations about school finance reform, including
reducing property taxes and increasing the state income tax to pay for
The new board's recommendation of $6,405 "is an obligation that
can only be met by increasing revenues. How it's done is up to the legislature
and the governor," said Arthur Berman, a board member and former
"I am sure that if I looked at the speeches of all of them, legislators
and the governor, they would have used the phrase `education is my top
priority."' Berman said. "We have given the legislators and
the governor the dollar figures necessary to provide an adequate education
for every child in the public schools of Illinois. And when I say adequate, I'm not talking about a Mercedes-Benz,
I'm talking about a Chevrolet.
"I want them [politicians] to live up to their campaign speeches
and to take care of our children." TOP OF PAGE
State to track
New information system: Allows educators to easily record, access and
By Teresa Black, Courier News Staff Writer, 4/5/05
State-level educators will be able to look up each public school student's
standardized test scores, suspensions, citizenship status and mother's
maiden name next year with the implementation of a new information system.
A centralized database cataloging more than 2 million Illinois students will help the state better comply with reporting
requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, state officials
At some local schools where as many as 40 percent of students enroll
or leave during the school year, such as Carpentersville's Golfview
Elementary, the change could make for easier access to student records
but more administrative data entry.
Not to mention questions about privacy and security.
"Other than if my kids' grades and attendance are linked to that
number ... I've got issues," said Golfview Principal Craig Sundstedt,
who also serves as Community Unit School District 300's student assessment
Local schools in pilot
Statewide assignment of randomly generated student-identification numbers
is scheduled to begin in August. About 80 school districts, including
303 and WestAuroraSchool
129, were selected for the pilot phase and are set to start compiling
assessment data in June. District 303's director of media and technology,
Anne Fleming, said the new database would be a streamlined source for
data that now must be gathered from various areas for staff to create
reports. "By the state having all this data, they could generate
that all themselves," Fleming said. The use of individual records
also will help follow a student's progress over time and "provide
better quality data to drive more enlightened policy decisions resulting
in enhanced educational opportunities for all children," according
to the Illinois State Board of Education's Web site.
The tool will aid districts and schools in using state data, improve
accuracy and help get state report cards for schools out sooner, ISBE
spokeswoman Becky Watts said.
The system will include several hundred data fields, many for indicating
native languages such as Gujarati, Gaelic and Mandingo, according to
the ISBE's Web site.
There is also an entry for the mother's maiden name of a student to
eliminate confusion among children with identical first and last names.
Eventually one section will document a student's discipline and behavior
record, such as weapons possession charges, alcohol- and drug-related
offenses, suspensions and expulsions.
Country of citizenship, race, homelessness, free or reduced lunch status
and assessment test scores also will be recorded electronically.
Safety a concern
Golfview's Sundstedt said he is keeping an eye on the project because
District 300 has been preparing to purchase its own new student data
system, which would need to be compatible. He expressed some reservations
about including biographical instead of just education-related data
in the state database, citing privacy issues. Watts said addressing security and privacy concerns are a
"It's very, very safe," Watts said.
Similar systems have worked well in other states like Ohio, Watts said.
The system will make things like tracking high school graduation rates
more accurate, she said, because the data tracks individual students
not just percentages of aggregated groups.
And when a student moves into a new school district, an administrator
will be able to look the student up using a name and birth date, Watts
said. Districts enter data through the state's Web site, but it's password-protected.
Electronic storage of records will cut down on the time requesting files
from other districts and receiving them in the mail, Sundstedt said.
One of the first questions he has about a new student, especially in
Carpentersville where there are many bilingual pupils, is the child's
reading level in English, Spanish or both languages.
Now a staff member and the student have to spend several hours on placement
tests to determine exactly where reading levels fall.
"It would save that kid at least a day's worth of school,"
Sundstedt said about the new database. TOP OF PAGE
A troupe of home-schooled children in LakeCounty brings history to life
By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter, 4/5/05
Dressed in a royal blue dress, Faith Johnson, 13, stepped into the spotlight
and without hesitation transformed herself into the 18th Century poet
A polished performer, Faith recalled how her lips and hands trembled
and her knees knocked the first time she brought the words of the former
slave to life on stage.
"I tried to be calm and breathe," Johnson said about her recent
appearance in "A Generation Remembers," a play highlighting
famous African-Americans. "I'm not used to being in front of a
lot of people I don't know."
Faith is a member of an acting troupe made up of about a dozen home-schooled
children who write, produce and perform plays in LakeCounty. They are among a growing number of African-American
students whose parents have opted to pull their children out of traditional
schools in favor of home-schooling, experts say. The troupe, and other
groups like it, allows children to enjoy the extracurricular part of
school while being taught at home.
"Every day, more and more black families are starting to home school,"
said Joyce Burges, a founder of the National Black Home Educators Resource
Association based in Baton Rouge, La. "There is no way an African-American
child can get a good education in an overcrowded classroom. There are
too many children that fall through the cracks. It's really sad, and
now parents feel that they have to do something."
According to the NationalCenter for Education Statistics, 850,000 children were home-schooled
in 1999, the last year figures were available. Of that number, almost
10 percent were African-American.
"A lot of African-Americans didn't know home-schooling was an option
," Burges said. "At one point [blacks] represented only 1
percent of home-schoolers."
The main sign of growth is the number of support groups that have cropped
up around the U.S., she said. Organizations such as Mocha Moms and the
Network of Black Homeschoolers help parents learn how to educate their
children and provide support groups and meetings, Burges said.
Her organization was created five years ago and now has chapters throughout
the country, she said.
Nicole Cartwright of North
is the director of "A Generation Remembers," which was written
by her daughter Crystal, 20, who thought it was a creative way to get
her home-schooled friends to celebrate black history.
"During Black History Month, most kids only learn about Martin
Luther King and Harriet Tubman," Crystal Cartwright said. "I
thought it would be nice to do something different and learn about different
types of people."
The actors researched their characters, including jazz singer Billie
Holiday; Ellen Craft, a former slave who passed as white to escape to
freedom; and Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave and seamstress who sewed
dresses for Abraham Lincoln's wife.
The play is mostly a series of monologues in which actors tell stories
in front of a slide show. In a few scenes, they mingle with each other
to discuss the Freedom Train and portray an African-American church
on a Sunday morning.
"It's nice to show people what we home-schooled kids can do,"
Crystal Cartwright said. "We can do more than just win the spelling
Nicole Cartwright started her support group to make sure home-schooled
children don't miss out on the performing arts and cultural growth.
"We wanted our children to know that even though they are home-schooled,
they are not limited in what they can do," she said. Home-schoolers
increasingly are exposed to such extracurricular activities as plays,
bands, sports, even the prom, says Margaret Kahn, a home-school liaison
with Parents Educating at Home, based in Southfield, Mich.
"You are getting more people with talents and gifts to share who
are home-schooling," Kahn said. "The other side of it is:
Now there are many programs and products and services that are filling
the voids we had in the past."
"I enjoy acting," said Faith Johnson, a soft-spoken 8th grader
at a recent dress rehearsal for Cartwright's troupe at BonnieBrookBaptistChurch in Waukegan "Most people ask me if I get to socialize. This
is my social group."
Faith's mother has home-schooled her since she was in 2nd grade so she
could get more one-on-one attention.Joshua Renson said his mother yanked
him out of public school in 7th grade, after one too many fights. He
said he never tried to participate in a play--until now.
Joshua plays Dr. Ben Carson, a brain surgeon.
"My legs were shaking the first time I got up there," he said.
"There was a huge crowd. But after a while you don't look at the
people, you look over their heads." TOP OF PAGE
DECATUR - The culprits left behind broken beer bottles and two
broken plate glass windows.
And John White's forensics team is on the case.
on Easter night, vandals threw two full Heineken beer bottles at the
windows of White's classroom. The police are on the case, too, of course,
but at the LSAHigh School, advanced chemistry class is taught as forensic science,
and White and his students couldn't let a golden opportunity pass them
"We're trying to figure out if we can shed some light on what happened
out here," White said, while his students measured, photographed
and collected evidence from the crime scene.
Thanks to the popularity of the "CSI" programs, White said,
almost everyone is interested in forensic science, and he thought studying
it would make it more interesting and give students a chance to see
a practical application for chemistry.
"Essentially, they're doing chemistry on all those shows,"
White said. "This gives them a chance to teach advanced chemistry
principles that are used in analyzing evidence, some of the sophisticated
techniques they use, and it gives us a chance to have some fun."
In the lab, several girls were checking the pieces of broken beer bottle
for fingerprints. Rather than use the black powder and brush so familiar
from TV crime shows, the girls sprinkled powdered iodine into the plastic
evidence bags and waited for prints to appear. "Iodine fuming,"
as this method is called, reveals latent prints more completely than
powder and even reveals prints powder misses, said student Beth Haupt.
Jordan Baker researched broken glass patterns on the Internet - "CSI"
fans will know the break pattern can reveal a great deal - and with
his information and photographs taken from every angle, the students
already have concluded the beer bottles were full when they struck the
Lead investigator Michael Wilkerson, a junior, assigned his classmates
to teams to make sure every angle was covered.
One class member was at the school when the vandalism happened. Tabitha
Pennekamp was practicing volleyball in the gym while her father and
another man were working elsewhere in the building. The men heard a
crash and found the broken windows, but a search of the grounds failed
to turn up the perpetrators.
"When we saw this, we scrapped the current lesson plan and decided
to devote some time to this," White said. TOP OF PAGE
With advocates for children with disabilities in an uproar, Gov. Rod
Blagojevich has proposed restoring $1.1 million to statewide special
education programs that were scheduled for dramatic cutbacks in June.
The amount is only a fraction of about $7 million in cuts scheduled,
but advocates were nonetheless hopeful.
"Certainly if we can get some funding restored, that would be wonderful,"
said Kathy Gould, director of a well-regarded state autism training
program that is set to lose more than $500,000 of its $732,600 grant
by the end of June, despite a dramatic rise in autism in Illinois.
At the same time, Gould and other advocates remain cautious because
the $1.1 million is tied to the governor's controversial proposal to
expand gaming in Illinois to raise more money for schools, which is subject to
"What if that doesn't happen? What if the extra funding isn't generated?"
asked Cheri Sinnott, director of the IllinoisServiceResourceCenter, which assists schools and families that have deaf children
with emotional, behavioral and mental problems. The center's $460,000
grant is scheduled to be eliminated in June.
The Tribune wrote late last month about cuts to 41 state grants that
help schools and families work with the state's most vulnerable children.
For example, a statewide network of consultants who work on behalf of
students with severe emotional and behavioral problems will lose $2.4
million of its $3.8 million in grants.
The Illinois State Board of Education said a law that took effect in
August requires it to redirect money to local districts that have to
cover extraordinary expenses for some disabled children.
The law, in combination with other factors, drained the pot of federal
money that had been used for the state grant programs, which supplement
the work of local districts and are not likely to be duplicated, local
The impact of the new law on the state grant programs was not widely
known, even to lawmakers who approved the bill and the governor, who
allowed it to become law.
Elliot Regenstein, the governor's top education aide, said he learned
about the situation when advocates for deaf children appeared at the
Illinois State Board of Education meeting in mid-March to express concerns
about the cuts.
The governor's office began working with the board to determine an amount
that would provide essential services to those with the greatest need,
Regenstein said. The figure arrived at was $1.1 million. State education
officials have not yet determined how that money will be divided, but
Regenstein said a competitive process might be used.
"From our standpoint, we really view this as a way to try to right
a wrong," he said. "This is something important to the governor,
to help serve people who have significant needs."
The governor will be reminded of those needs Wednesday, when busloads
of advocates for autistic children descend on the capital for a rally
and other events to draw attention to autism. The group plans to lobby
to restore funding for the state grants.
Autism cases have surged in Illinois over the last several years, with the number now reaching
about 8,100, said Gould, of the training program called the Illinois
Autism/PDD Training and Technical Assistance Project.
That compares with only 1,960 young people between the ages of 3 and
21 who were receiving special education services for autism in 1996-97. TOP OF PAGE
Dist. 203 considers
optionof previewing student
By Kari Allen, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 4/6/05
Following a debate at NapervilleCentralHigh
district officials and an attorney confirmed Tuesday that administrators
legally can preview student publications before they go to print.
The question remains, though, whether administrators actually will pursue
the policy in the future, said Tom Paulsen, Naperville Unit District
203s associate superintendent for operations.
Officials are considering whether administrators should ask, as they
see fit, to review high school articles before theyre printed.
Staff members of Naperville Centrals award-winning newspaper,
the Central Times, and newspaper adviser Linda Kane oppose the practice,
often called prior review.
Kane, in fact, says she will resign as a journalism teacher and newspaper
adviser if administrators plan to review articles before theyre
If the district uses prior review, Kane said she will finish this school
year as the Central Times adviser and a journalism teacher and
then return next school year simply as an English teacher. She has been
the Central Times adviser for 16 years.
Kane and newspaper staff members worry prior review would lead to censorship.
But administrators say they need to protect students who might be adversely
affected by articles in the student newspaper.
We want to give as free a journalistic experience as possible
and protect our community, Paulsen said.
He said administrators plan to meet again soon to talk about whether
they should preview any student publications in the future.
Our practice over time has been only in very, very rare circumstances
to question whats being published, Paulsen said.
But a debate started in February, after Principal Jim Caudill asked
to preview a story the Central Times staff was writing about a band
volunteer charged with luring a 15-year-old female student into an Internet
relationship and attempting to coerce her into taking nude photographs
Caudill had several concerns about the story, including whether the
girl would be named. She was not.
He asked staff members and Kane to see the story in advance and they
refused. Staff members did answer his questions about the article, though,
If we get questions from the administration, I dont have
a problem with that, she said. TOP OF PAGE
In his eight years as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, Art George has
only heard of two or three instances in which an airplane's cabin has
lost pressure and oxygen masks have fallen from the ceiling. Sometimes
they fall when a pilot lands the plane a little harder than he'd like
to land it, said George, but the masks rarely fall because cabin pressure
has been lost.
Still, George explained to a group of RanchViewElementary
students Tuesday why those masks are important, even though the likelihood
they'll be used is remote.
As an airplane's altitude increases, air pressure decreases, which means
molecules of oxygen are spread further and further apart, George said.
Above 10,000 feet, they're too far apart to breathe normally, he said.
"You can't breathe fast enough or deep enough to get enough oxygen
to your body," he said.
Which is why the engines that fly some planes up to 41,000 feet above
sea level also pressurize the air inside the plane's cabin at the level
found at 8,000 feet, George said. It's also why your ears might start
to hurt once the plane descends below 8,000 feet, he said.
George visited Ranch View fifth-graders in Cathy Kaduk's honors math
class once a week for the past month as part of Southwest Airlines "Adopt
a Pilot" program. The purpose of his visits is to help the students
make connections between their current study of fractions, decimals
and percents, and the basic principles of flight or the different responsibilities
of an airline pilot.
So before the students studied how air pressure factors into flight,
they mapped the distances of a few of George's scheduled flights and
compared them to the actual distances he logged in his flight book.
And after they studied air pressure, they tackled the principles of
centrifugal and centripetal forces using a model of an A-10 Warthog,
which is what George flew for 21 years before he retired from the U.S.
Air Force as a lieutenant colonel and joined Southwest.
George said he hopes his visits will encourage students interested in
flight to pursue possible careers in the industry.
"Anybody can be a pilot," he told the students. "I proved
that." TOP OF PAGE
You can say this for Gov. Rod Blagojevich: he's a schemer. Or at least
he has a few schemers working for him.
The latest concoction is a proposal to increase education funding by
more than doubling the number of slot machines and gaming tables in
Illinois casinos. It's a bad scheme.
Last week the governor proposed boosting the number of "gaming
positions" - slot machines and gambling tables - allowed on the
nine existing "riverboat" casinos from about 11,000 to approximately
24,000. It was estimated the additional stations would raise $300 million
a year for schools.
The plan may be a response to those who criticized the governor's budget,
which added a paltry $140 million to elementary and secondary education.
To make the idea a bit more politically acceptable, the proposal also
includes stricter standards on high schools, including requiring more
credits for graduation, as well as more math, science and English courses.
About $30 million is directed to fund the tougher requirements.
By the governor's way of thinking, the plan allows him to provide more
money for education without breaking his pledge not to expand gambling.
He's been under a lot of pressure to do just that, especially from Chicago-area
lawmakers who want licenses for three more casinos, including one in
"I'm drawing a line in the sand," Blagojevich said. "They
can talk about it until the cows come home. I'm simply not going to
support it, and I'll veto anything that expands gaming where it doesn't
The operative phrase, of course, is "where it doesn't exist."
Doubling the number of slot machines and tables, in the governor's mind,
isn't an expansion of gambling if they are located in existing casinos.
There are lots of problems with the governor's idea, not the least of
which is that casino owners are looking for an incentive to go along
with it. In exchange for adding the slots and the tables, the casinos
want the state to lower taxes on their operations. It is legitimate
to wonder how much the lower taxes will eat into the additional revenue
projections. It's also legitimate to wonder where the saturation point
for gambling is. Is there really enough gambling interest to support
more than double the number of slots and tables in Illinois?
But the biggest question is whether gambling is the best way to support
education. The resounding answer is "No." It is unreliable
at best, unconscionable at worst. We shouldn't want to fund something
as basic as schools by encouraging more people to play the slots.
The governor's proposal may allow him to keep his promise not to raise
income taxes, but it fails to address the fundamental problem with education
funding in Illinois - the reliance on local property taxes. The only way
to fix that problem is to make the shift to a system supported by income
State-sponsored gambling in Illinois began with the lottery, which was supposed to help fund
education, so we've been traveling down this slippery slope for some
time. The governor's last scheme makes that slope a little slicker.
TOP OF PAGE
SPRINGFIELD -- High school senior Sean Dickson came to the state
Capitol Wednesday to tell politicians how cuts in school funding play
out in real life.
After voters shot down a tax increase last year, his district cut the
school day at Hononegah High School in Rockton by an hour, forcing students
to take six rather than seven classes and forgo elective courses that
make them competitive for college. Class sizes have shot up as well.
Without more money, Dickson said, "our schools are going to continue
in this miserable state." The audience broke out in applause for
the 17-year-old, who testified before the Senate Select Committee on
Education Funding Reform.
Dickson's eloquence underscored the plight of schoolchildren in deficit-ridden
districts, but it didn't move lawmakers closer to agreement on how to
overhaul Illinois' beleaguered school finance system.
In fact, finding a solution to the funding problems seemed elusive Wednesday,
with the Senate hearing showing just how contentious and divisive education
finance reform, which includes tax increases, will be this year.
Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago independent, announced the results of a March poll,
which he said showed overwhelming support for his legislation to raise
state income and sales taxes to increase school funding, and reduce
local property taxes. The poll was paid for by supporters of those reforms.
But those results were questioned by Sen. J. Bradley Burzynski (R-Clare),
who said the poll understated the size of the income tax increase required
under the reforms.
The poll questioned voters about a "2 percent increase in income
taxes" to help pay for the reforms. Meeks' legislation, however,
proposes that the state income tax be increased to 5 percent from 3
percent, a 66 percent increase, Burzynski said.
Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), a supporter of the reforms, agreed
that there was a problem with the question. "But I think what this
poll shows is that there is general support for an income tax increase,"
Gov. Rod Blagojevich opposes increasing the income or sales taxes. Instead,
he has proposed expanding gambling in Illinois to increase school funding.
The governor's gambling proposal would raise $300 million for schools,
which would add to the $140 million in new school funding that he previously
recommended for next school year. But Senate President Emil Jones, a
major proponent of expanding gambling, said Wednesday that he doesn't
think the governor's plan would go far enough to help schools.
"It doesn't make too much of a dent," said Jones, who supports
a recent recommendation by an education advisory board to increase funding
by nearly $1,500 a student, which would cost the state $2.3 billion.
The Chicago Democrat also is the most powerful supporter of school finance
reform proposals that reduce reliance on property taxes. He said "the
possibility is always there" that such reforms will be approved.
But the governor's opposition to raising taxes--what supporters see
as a key ingredient of school finance reform--sparked concern at Wednesday's
Sen. Todd Sieben (R-Geneseo) spoke about "the lack of gubernatorial
leadership" as lawmakers try to move forward on school finance
reform that includes politically difficult tax increases.
"How can we possibly move this issue forward and how will people
have the courage to vote for a 66 percent increase ... if the governor
continues to say he will veto it?" Sieben asked.
Meeks replied: "If this is the right thing to do ... then we don't
need the governor. If the governor won't do the right thing, that's
what the General Assembly is for."
School superintendents talked about the need to reform a system that
relies heavily on local property tax dollars rather than state funds.
Supt. Michael Jacoby, of GenevaSchool District 304 in KaneCounty, said a 92-year-old woman in his district told him she
has supported school referendum measures for 50 years but doesn't think
she can do so any longer.
Jacoby said the woman told him, "I think I might lose my home."
The woman explained that she is on a fixed income and can't keep up
with the property taxes on her home, which have risen in value.
"There are many, many individuals who are wondering if they can
support education because supporting education from a property tax perspective
doesn't work with their income," Jacoby said.
"We do need to make the transition ... if nothing else, to be more
fair to those people struggling to keep their homes."
Mayor Daley said Wednesday he couldn't care less whether Gov. Blagojevich
approves a casino for downtown Chicago. The mayor said he has only two funding priorities for
the spring session: CTA and schools.
"I really don't care [about a Chicago casino]. Just get the money for whatever he's going
to do for education and public transportation. That's what we want.
Forget about everything else. That's No. 1. That's all we want. We want
money for education. I want money for public transportation. Simple
as that," he said.
"If I don't get a casino -- if the city doesn't get a casino, so
be it. Who cares? We were trying to help the state. The state has other
means to help themselves. But you have to help education and transportation.
They can't disregard that. The real issue of Illinois is education and transportation."
Joined by other chief executives
Pressed on whether he has given up on a downtown casino viewed as the
long-term salvation for Chicago's budget troubles, Daley said, "No, but it's not
Flanked at a City Hall news conference by the mayors of Evanston and Oak Park, whose residents rely on CTA service, Daley urged lawmakers
to explore the possibility of raising the RTA sales tax. Chicago and suburban CookCounty currently pay a 1 percent sales tax that goes to mass
transit. In the collar counties, the RTA sales tax is 0.25 percent.
The mass transit funding debate has centered around the possibility
of changing the funding formula that determines how transit money is
distributed between city and suburbs and about raising the RTA sales
tax in the collar counties.
Gov's veto threat
Last week, Blagojevich proposed doubling the number of slot machines
and table games at Illinois casinos -- a move he said would generate $300 million
in new money for cash-strapped schools. But he made it clear that he
would veto any plan for new casinos, including the mega-casino that
Chicago has coveted.
That's apparently why Daley was so willing Wednesday to kiss the Chicago casino goodbye. With a $2 billion-plus state budget
deficit, top mayoral aides firmly believe the governor needs the pot
of gold generated by a Chicago casino more than the mayor does. If Blagojevich believes
otherwise, he'll either have to put up or shut up.
Asked whether he would support a gambling-for-education plan that specifically
excludes Chicago, Daley said, "That's his [the governor's] problem.
Not mine. I'm not the head of the gambling industry. He is. That's up
to those senators and legislative leaders. They can do anything they
want. That would be up to them -- not me. That's the golden goose that
Illinois has found." TOP OF PAGE
In a post-election scene that's become the norm, school administrators
across the Chicago suburbs returned to work Wednesday saying they may
have to cut more teachers, programs and even the school day.
Of the 109 school tax and bond issues on ballots statewide Tuesday,
only about 36 percent passed, according to the Illinois State Board
of Education. Many of the districts have faced election rejection several
Gurnee District 56 voters turned down an education-fund tax-rate increase
for the seventh time, and officials again will look to cut from a budget
already trimmed of funds for foreign-language and gifted classes, art,
music, nurses and custodians.
Glenbard High School District 87, in the west suburbs, will cut 40 teachers,
and in south suburban Thornton Township High School District 205, officials
may cut sports teams after laying off 113 teachers in the last year.
"Schools are in a desperate financial situation, and they have
few places to go. Property-tax payers are sending a clear message that
they can't be the ones to bear the brunt of funding Illinois schools," said Bindu Batchu, campaign manager for
A+ Illinois, which supports reducing property taxes and increasing funding
for schools through higher state income taxes and sales taxes.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office countered that those would be other unwanted
taxes and that legislators should instead pass his plan to add $300
million in school spending by doubling the number of slot machines and
other casino games.
Some people who voted against school referendum measures attributed
the widespread loss to resistance to higher taxes and distrust of school
"It's not that [schools] don't have the money, it's that they are
spending it the wrong way," said Shawn Depke, who voted against
a tax increase for Gurnee District 56 because he thinks teacher and
administrator salaries and benefits are bloated.
After the district failed to get a tax-rate increase approved, with
52 percent of voters saying no, Gurnee Grade School Principal Colleen
Pacatte isn't sure what's left to slash.
"I've seen us dismantle just about every program that was a feather
in our cap," Pacatte said. The district has cut $2.3 million from
its budget in the last two years.
In LakeCounty and on the NorthShore, four of the 15 referendum questions passed. Community
Consolidated District 46 in Grayslake lost its bid for a tax-rate increase
for the fourth time, and Lake Villa District 41 lost for the second
A surprise LakeCounty winner was GrassLakeSchool, which educators threatened to close if voters didn't
approve a tax increase on the sixth try.
Deerfield voters approved a tax increase despite a pre-election mailing
that told residents that schools don't need additional tax money because
students have accomplished parents and good genes.
"You always have people who want to take a cowardly cheap shot
at the last minute, thinking they will win the day," said Deerfield
District 109 Supt. Lawrence Pekoe.
He said the success was due to a grass-roots effort that included coffee-shop
discussions and meetings at senior citizen homes to tell voters why
the 35-cent tax-rate increase was important. The measure won with nearly
64 percent of the vote.
"In a season of losses, this is a community that not only won but
won by a landslide," parent Jeff Rothstein said.
Voter reluctance was widespread, and school officials--including many
newly elected board members--will be charged with finding ways to cut
from thin budgets.
Of the 11 school referendum questions in the west suburbs, three passed.
Glenbard High School District 87 voters rejected a tax increase for
the second time. About 54 percent opposed the 33-cent increase.
The district reduced its deficit to $27.2 million by imposing fees,
cutting extracurricular programs and cutting staff.
The district's 9,000 students will be the first in DuPageCounty to have six class periods a day instead of seven.
"I'm not sure where our public was; maybe they didn't think they
were going to do the cuts," said Bill Wright, president of the
Glenbard Education Association.
School referendums in WillCounty fared slightly better, with successes in 9 of 23 districts.
Referendums in North Palos Elementary District 117, OrlandSchool District 135, KirbySchool District 140 and Summit Hill District 161 all passed.
But at TroySchool
30C, a 3,700-pupil elementary district that failed to pass a tax increase,
several programs will be gone by fall, including art, music, computer,
technology labs, remedial reading and gifted programs, said business
manager Al Gegenheimer.
Many of those programs already have been cut in Crete-Monee
District 201-U, including physical education, music, Spanish, journalism
and art. Supt. Roberta Berry hoped the referendum measure would allow the district
to restore the programs, but voters turned it down.
Bond referendums fared worse than in any year since 1973, the first
year for which data are available from the State Board of Education.
Nearly 59 percent of bond measures failed.
Voters in IndianPrairieSchool
204 in Naperville rejected a request to sell $130.5 million in bonds to
build a third high school, among other plans. Yorkville Community Unit
District 115 in KendallCounty lost a bid to issue $49 million in bonds to fund construction
In north suburban Mundelein, voters rejected three bond questions totaling $26 million
that would have allowed school officials to expand the high school cafeteria
and music department, set up a working cash fund and restructure debt.
Said spokeswoman Kelley Happ: "The voters have spoken, so we live
with the results." TOP OF PAGE
No Child Left Behind
rules could be relaxed
Education chief hints test policy to change
By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporters Darnell
Little, Tracy Dell'Angela and Diane Rado contributed to this report,
In what could lead to broad changes in the Bush administration's education
reforms, federal officials said Thursday they are open to relaxing requirements
for states that show a commitment to improve.
The plan, outlined Thursday during a meeting between Education Secretary
Margaret Spellings and state school chiefs, may help defuse a growing
rebellion against No Child Left Behind, a law criticized as unfunded
and an intrusion into state control.
Education officials are adamant that the cornerstone of the law--having
all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014--will not
But, among other things, Spellings' policy shift could make it easier
for school districts to pass state tests under the 2002 law by increasing
the number of students who can take a modified test because of disabilities.
Some sanctions for failing to meet state standards, including a provision
that children in failing schools be given the opportunity to transfer
to better ones, could also be relaxed. Chicago Public Schools leaders,
for example, would prefer to allow students to be tutored before offering
them a transfer as mandated by the law.
"Many of you may have your own issues," Spellings told state
officials. "We are willing to consider requests, as long as the
results for students are there and the principles of the law are followed."
Spellings' announcement opens the door for states to ask for greater
flexibility in everything from how they measure student progress to
when they must offer student transfers, but she stopped short of saying
what changes she would approve.
She hinted that she would be open to measuring academic achievement
by tracking individual students, instead of by comparing grade levels
from one year to the next. Educators say the current approach fails
to measure student progress.
For federal officials to consider changes, states will have to show
they are following the rules of No Child Left Behind, including testing
students every year in grades 3 though 8, reporting results by student
subgroups, and hiring qualified teachers, Spellings said.
"They absolutely have to put some skin in the game," she said.
"I am not going to prejudge what issues will be raised by states,
but I will be open-minded."
The announcement comes as about 15 states are challenging the law. Utah leaders, for example, will vote later this month whether
to give priority to Utah's education laws and forgo about $1 million in federal
Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the first state to sue,
contending the law illegally requires communities to spend more money
to comply than the federal government provides.
Ottawa Township High School District 140, 80 miles southwest of Chicago, sued the Education Department in federal court in February,
arguing that No Child Left Behind conflicts with the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act, which requires individual academic plans
for special education students.
State Supt. Randy Dunn said he would like flexibility in testing procedures
for special education and limited-English students. He also would prefer
that students have a longer track record with a particular school before
their test scores count in measuring that school's success.
"We hope there is some willingness for them to work with us,"
Dunn said. "We are very much in favor of the approach that Secretary
Spellings is taking and her willingness to demonstrate flexibility."
Spellings said she would concede on at least one area: how special education
students are tested.
The secretary would consider allowing 3 percent of tested students,
or about 18,000 in Illinois, to take a modified test, perhaps with simpler questions,
to measure progress. That could raise a school's overall performance.
Spellings said she will issue guidelines to help states identify and
appropriately test students with disabilities.
The current law allows up to 1 percent--those with the most significant
cognitive abilities--to be assessed at their instructional level rather
than grade level.
Judging from special education students' past performance, they are
more likely to succeed on an alternative assessment. About 53 percent
of special education students passed the alternative reading test last
year, compared with 28 percent who passed the standard elementary and
middle school reading test.
There were 142 Illinois schools last year that failed to meet state standards
only because of the performance of special education students. Schools
are judged not only on schoolwide scores, but also on the performance
of subgroups, such as minority, poor and special education students.
But Ottawa Supt. Thomas Jobst, whose district is suing federal officials,
said allowing more special education students to take an alternative
test still isn't acceptable. The change would only affect a fraction
of the more than 87,700 special education students tested in reading
"They are missing the point," Jobst said. "You are still
saying that 97 percent of special education kids have to be at the same
place, at the same time as their non-special education peers."
Former special education teacher Deborah Zech, director of student services
in Palatine-based School
District 15, said new flexibility will help students caught in
the middle--those who aren't severely disabled but are not up to taking
the regular test.
Those children suffer at test time, she said.
"I have seen (special education) children taking that test just
break down in tears," said Zech. "The expectation is still
for children to make progress, and that's fair. But let's test them
Advocates for disabled students reacted more cautiously Thursday, saying
No Child Left Behind for the first time held schools accountable for
the performance of their special education students.
Meg Heron-Blake, a director at the Learning Disabilities Association
of Illinois, said she fears that shifting more students into alternative
testing will lessen focus on how these children perform.
"The point of these tests is to bring some accountability, and
we want our schools and our teachers accountable for our students,"
Xavier Botana, director of No Child Left Behind programs for Chicago
Public Schools, said he hopes federal officials also allow schools to
offer free tutoring to students before offering them a chance to transfer
to a better-performing school.
The transfer option--the first sanction that kicks in when a school
has not met standards for two years in a row--has faced difficulties
because few slots are available at better schools.
While educators cautiously praised more flexibility, others cautioned
that the plan to treat states differently could raise questions of fairness
and political favoritism, said Patricia Sullivan, director of the independent
Center on Education Policy.
"The message today is if you are doing a good job, we will give
you additional flexibility," Sullivan said. "One of the concerns
is how transparent will that process be? If this isn't a transparent
process and one where everyone is treated fairly, politics can come
into play." TOP OF PAGE
SPRINGFIELD A new poll released on Wednesday showed more
than two-thirds of voters around the state support education funding
reform legislation that would increase income taxes, reduce property
taxes and provide more money for schools.
But the chances of such a measure becoming law are slim. Gov. Rod Blagojevich
has repeatedly vowed to veto any increase in the income or sales taxes,
and those lawmakers who do back a tax swap disagree on how exactly it
The poll, conducted last month, asked 600 likely voters about SB 750,
which is sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks, I-Chicago, and state Sen.
Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago. The bill would increase the personal income
tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, increase the corporate income tax rate
from 4.8 percent to 8 percent, add a sales tax on services and end certain
corporate tax breaks.
The money raised would be used to increase the per-pupil minimum funding
level from $4,964 to $6,092; provide $2.4 billion in property tax relief;
offer a tax credit to ensure that the bottom 60 percent of Illinois
wage earners see no net tax increase; allocate an extra $400 million
to higher education; provide $44 million more for special education;
and offer $1.5 billion to help balance the state budget.
State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, has introduced a separate bill, SB
1484, which is a scaled-back version of the same idea.
Winkel's bill would increase the individual and corporate income taxes
by the same amount, but would not expand the sales tax or end existing
business tax breaks.
The legislation would increase per-pupil spending by $1,000 to $5,964;
provide $3.2 billion in property tax relief, and offer an extra $500
million a year to universities and community colleges.
Winkel said his plan offers the best chance of obtaining the veto-proof
majority that will be needed to accomplish major education funding reform,
noting there is little support among Senate Republicans for an expansion
of the sales tax or eliminating the business tax breaks targeted by
But supporters of SB 750, including Ralph Martire of the Center for
Tax and Budget Accountability, said that legislation offers a better,
more comprehensive solution to the state's education funding problems,
while also addressing the structural deficit.
State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, has introduced a third option, SB
81, that would allow individual school districts, by referendum, to
impose an income tax on district residents in order to offer a 50 percent
reduction in property taxes for education.
Any of those bills would need a three-fifths majority in both the House
and Senate in order to become law over the governor's expected veto.
Meeks appeared to welcome the challenge.
"We don't need the governor," he said. "If the governor
won't do the right thing, that's what the General Assembly is for."
Many school and labor groups are strongly backing SB 750, and say such
major reform is a top priority this legislative session.
"Our educational programs are at risk," said Marleis Trover,
president of the Illinois Association of School Administrators and Vienna superintendent of schools. "One more Band-Aid cannot
sustain the system."
But business groups, including the Illinois Business Roundtable and
the National Federation of Independent Businesses, oppose the tax swap
"There's a lot of skepticism among small-business owners,"
said Kim Maisch, Illinois state director for the national business federation.
"Our members are wary of enacting a permanent tax increase in exchange
for what they see as potentially fleeting property tax relief."
Blagojevich has proposed adding gambling positions at existing casinos
and skimming cash from hundreds of special state funds in order to increase
education funding in the coming school year by $440 million. The proposals
from Winkel and Meeks would both boost school funding by more than $1.5
billion. TOP OF PAGE
Large school superintendents
back tax swap to solve funding woes
By Jan Dennis, AP, 4/8/05
PEORIA A group of school superintendents who oversee more than
half the state's students lined up behind a proposal Thursday that would
boost income taxes and trim property taxes to solve a financial crisis
they say has left 80 percent of Illinois' public schools in debt.
The tax swap is just one proposal lawmakers are considering for increasing
education funding, and the governor has said he opposes it.
The superintendents, however, questioned the reliability of the other
school finance plans. Increasing school funding through gambling, higher
cigarette taxes or other variable sources won't generate enough money
and are only a patchwork solution to a problem that has lingered for
more than three decades, officials of the Large Unit District Association
"We cannot depend on the political will of year-to-year funding
to fund these districts," said Robin Miller, executive director
of the association, which represents the state's 54 largest school districts.
Bloomington Superintendent Robert Nielsen said the tax swap would provide
stable, long-term funding for schools. He urged Blagojevich and legislators
to approve the switch, even though it could be politically unpopular.
"We will stand by them as they are criticized for thinking outside
the box," Nielsen said.
Elliot Regenstein, Blagojevich's top education aide, said the governor
agrees that schools need more money, but "we disagree with them
about whether the people of Illinois are ready for a substantial tax increase."
The association applauded Blagojevich for setting aside his campaign
pledge against gambling expansion. The Democratic governor last week
proposed more slot machines and gambling tables at existing riverboat
casinos to increase school funding by $300 million, up from the $140
million increase he originally proposed.
But the group says schools need at least $600 million next year to halt
years of spending cuts that have forced schools to increase class sizes
and eliminated programs ranging from music and foreign language classes
to sports and other extracurricular activities.
The group says the answer is a tax swap bill that was debated this week
by a special Senate committee. It would collect $7.4 million by raising
income taxes, adding sales taxes for consumer services and ending business
tax breaks, then reduce property taxes around the state by $2.4 million.
Schools would get more than $2 billion to boost state aid from the current
$4,964 per pupil to an amount closer to the $6,405 per pupil that an
education funding advisory board says is needed for adequate education.
"It has to be better than the present system," said Geneva
Superintendent Michael Jacoby. "The present system is completely
Jacoby said the tax swap would also quell a growing revolt over spiraling
property taxes. He said his district was among 70 of 109 school referendums
to fail Tuesday and now faces another round of program cuts.
"The voters are telling me this is enough. We have to have systemic
changes in funding structures in Illinois that move away from property taxes," he said.
Senate Republicans have criticized the tax swap plan, saying it also
would raise $2 billion for other government services that would be rife
with opportunities for waste. Another bill has been proposed that would
increase taxes just enough to cover school funding needs.
Senate President Emil Jones supports the tax swap. Blagojevich, also
a Chicago Democrat, has vowed to stick to a campaign pledge to not raise
Blagojevich increased school funding by a total $860 million during
his first two years in office, but proposed an increase of only $140
million this year. Under pressure to boost that level, he dropped his
opposition to some gambling expansion last week to pump more money into
Roberta Berry, superintendent of Crete-Monee schools, called the governor's
funding increase over the last two years "sleight of hand."
She said general state aid increased, but money for special education
and other programs declined, so her district received less state money
last year than the year before.
"There's no better investment we can make than in the future of
our children, and it's time for the leadership in Springfield to start turning around our state's dismal record of
supporting our children and our schools," said Chicago Superintendent
face loss of federal funding
Area vocational school gives 'sense of pride'
By Phyllis Coulter, Pantagraph, 4/8/05 BLOOMINGTON -- Gene Garrett has been teaching TwinCity high school students building trades for three decades,
but now he's worried about the future.
"Students have a sense of pride. They remember the houses they
build," said Garrett, head of construction trade projects at BloomingtonAreaVocationalCenter.
He was out of the classroom recently, teaching students how to hang
dry wall. This project house, at 1314 N. Mason St., is the 28th built or renovated in cooperation with
the city of Bloomington's community development department.
How many such houses will be built in the future isn't clear.
Federal funding for vocational education may be cut, and local educators
say that threatens the future of youths learning in fields ranging from
building trades to hairdressing, dietetics and health care. The U.S.
Department of Education, however, argues the programs have failed.
Mark Anderson, who teaches computer-aided design at the BloomingtonAreaVocationalCenter, said vocational education is too important to lose.
"We'd feel it as a country" if vocational programs were cut,
"Three out of five students in Illinois participate in some form of career and technical education
in public high schools," said Steve Poznik, director of the BloomingtonAreaVocationalCenter.
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Act expired June 30, 2004. Intensive lobbying saved the Perkins Act's $1.3 billion
in funding for one more year, but now the proposed 2006 budget would
eliminate it again.
President Bush proposes diverting that money into the High School Intervention
Initiative, a program that would extend the No Child Left Behind Act's
concepts of standardized testing and emphasis on basics to the high
The Bush administration zeroed out vocational funding in its 2006 budget
plan because it believes the federal vocational education program is
"It has produced little or no evidence of improved outcomes for
students despite decades of federal investment," a budget summary
on the U.S. Department of Education Web site stated. "In its
final report to Congress in June 2004, the National Assessment of Vocational
Education found no evidence that high school vocational courses themselves
contribute to academic achievement or college enrollment."
Local districts would have more latitude on how the money is spent under
the high school initiative, and they still could fund existing vocational
programs, the Web site indicated. Vocational-education advocates fear
the demands of other priorities will mean their programs will lose.
Poznik said he and others hope funding for the Perkins Act, which dates
to 1984, can be saved again.
Technical and career training reach some students who would otherwise
be missed and help others along their career paths, Poznik said, citing
a study of the Chicago Public Schools. The study shows the graduation
rate is higher and attendance better among students who participate
in technical education.
The BloomingtonAreaVocationalCenter, which is adjacent to BloomingtonHigh
offers 14 programs, including automotive technology; criminal justice
and law enforcement; culinary arts; and health occupations. The center
serves high school students in McLean and DeWitt counties.
Students must be enrolled in high school to take courses at the vocational
Federal funding makes up about a third of the BloomingtonAreaVocationalCenter's budget. That means the center stands to lose about
$318,000 in the school's almost $1 million budget.
The construction trades program could receive a double hit because the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budget stands to lose
other money that helps community-based building projects.
Local officials expressed cautious optimism for the Perkins Act money
because lawmakers reinstated funding last year, but they still want
people to campaign for it. They see a temptation to divert funding into
meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind Act and President Bush's
proposal, which calls for more testing in high schools.
"I feel we need to stay vigilant with our letter writing,"
Car dealers, home builders, hairdressers, the food service industry
and health-care providers likely will inundate Congress with reasons
to keep education programs that train young people to work in those
areas, he said.
Anderson's students have won many awards as a result of the computerized
architectural design course he has taught for 15 years at the center.
One of his students, BHS senior Tim McAvoy, expects to attend the University of Michigan next year to study architecture and play football. Vocational training
has given him a head start, he said.
"It would have been a different high school experience without
it," said McAvoy, who has won awards for his architectural work.
Erik Miller, a BloomingtonHigh
senior who studies animation and graphic design, said he would like
to see this opportunity continue for other students. He said the two-hour
classes, access to expensive software and experienced instructors make
a big difference.
"Every (computer) program we have is well-used," Miller said.
Larry Daghe, regional school superintendent for DeWitt, Livingston and
counties, said he believes many vocational and adult education programs
are safe for the next year, but the following year he is not certain.
The money isn't finished moving around in the federal budget, he said.
For example, lawmakers who feel high school students are "being
tested to death" may oppose more spending on those programs and
favor funding vocational education instead.
Education has been front-page news and page-turning drama of late. To
hear the media tell it, there is a new civil war going on between the
federal government and the states. But the truth is that having this
discussion is a healthy development and one I applaud.
At the heart of the story is the No Child Left Behind Act -- a law that
asks one thing: that our public schools teach students to read and do
math at grade level. It is imperative that we turn out young adults
who can compete with the rest of the world in the global marketplace
of ideas and talent.
So why all the noise about No Child Left Behind, and why now? There's
no question that the law has been revolutionary: It calls for accountability
for increased student achievement. And as with any change, particularly
one that affects some 3.5 million educators serving 50 million students,
there will be a period of adjustment. But it continues to be the right
policy at the right time.
There is indeed a compelling national interest in education. The federal
government has a role to play. Just as the Brown v. Board of Education
decision moved to end unequal education because of race, the federal
government can now help ensure that states provide a quality education
to every student.
Under No Child Left Behind, students and parents are given options.
Thanks to the law's insistence on assessing all students regardless
of their race or background, teachers and administrators have been able
to find out which students are learning and which need extra help and
attention. And if schools continue to underserve their customers, the
law calls for intervention and assistance. The needs of the student,
not the system, come first.
No Child Left Behind is the law of the land. My goal as secretary of
education is to help states continue to implement it, and to stabilize
and embed this positive change. I understand some aspects of the law
have been more difficult to implement than others, which is why I have
signaled a willingness to work with states to make it fit their unique
local needs. That's why each and every state has developed its own accountability
plan: No two states are alike, and neither are their plans.
But some bright lines must be drawn. Annual assessments are nonnegotiable,
because what gets measured gets done. This is the heart of accountability.
The data must also be reported by student group -- African Americans,
Hispanics, those with special needs, etc. -- so that those who need
the most help aren't hidden behind state or district-wide averages.
Some states have asked for waivers from the law. Some have sought to
exempt whole grades or student groups from annual assessments. Others
have sought to keep some students' test scores under wraps. That is
simply unacceptable. It undermines the very purpose of the law. Perhaps
not coincidentally, some of these same states have the largest achievement
gaps in the nation, with minority students lagging dozens of points
-- whole years, really -- behind their white peers.
In states where the law has been embraced, it is working. Teachers,
principals, superintendents, parents and children have all chosen to
roll up their sleeves and meet the challenge. As a result, children
are achieving, and the achievement gap in the early grades is closing.
In those states, public confidence in public education is soaring.
Now we must expand the promise of No Child Left Behind to our high schools.
Its principles of accountability, flexibility, choice and research-based
practice can help restore value to the high school diploma, making it
a ticket to success in the 21st century. There is a growing consensus
behind high school reform. Never before have so many groups -- governors,
business leaders, children's advocates -- been so united on the need
I am heartened that so many states are seriously considering innovative
ways to reform our high schools. But this must become a national effort.
That's why President Bush has proposed a $1.5 billion High School Initiative
to ensure that every student graduates prepared for college or the workforce.
We need to encourage students to take challenging coursework, and to
assess our high school students every year, so that teachers can intervene
before a problem sets in and sets a student back for life.
Three years after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed, more children
are learning and children are learning more. This law is a bipartisan
expression of the fact that we as a nation no longer find it acceptable
to let some children remain in the shadows, without the skills to achieve
the American Dream. Instead of trying to go back to those days, we should
go forward and take the next step. Let's work together, in the same
bipartisan fashion as we did three years ago, to help our high school
The writer is U.S. secretary of education. TOP OF PAGE A Lucrative Brand of Tutoring Grows Unchecked
Susan Saulny, New York Times
Propelled by the No Child Left Behind law, the federally financed tutoring
industry has doubled in size in each of the last two years, with the
potential to become a $2 billion-a-year enterprise, market analysts
Tutors are paid as much as $1,997 per child, and companies eager to
get a piece of the lucrative business have offered parents computers
and gift certificates as inducements to sign up, provided tutors that
in some cases are still in high school, and at times made promises they
This new brand of tutoring is offered to parents by private companies
and other groups at no charge if their children attend a failing school.
But it is virtually without regulation or oversight, causing concern
among school districts, elected officials and some industry executives.
Some in Congress are calling for regulations or quality standards to
ensure that tutors are qualified and that the companies provide services
that meet students' needs.
"The potential here is unbelievable, and it's not being regulated
by the states or the Education Department," said Patty Sullivan, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based
research group that released a study in late March examining the tutoring
programs. "We're pouring a lot of money into it, and we're not
sure it works. To the extent that it is going to grow, we've got to
get a handle on it."
Critics are particularly concerned about aggressive marketing tactics,
like the offers of computers, gift certificates and basketball tickets,
though they acknowledge that such practices do not violate the law.
Students are not required to enroll in a tutoring program. The option
is merely offered at poor schools that have been deemed "failing"
for two years in a row. But because families can choose from a list
of state-approved providers, some tutoring groups have reacted by engaging
in aggressive solicitations.
School officials in Clark
County, Nev., the district that includes Las Vegas, had to call security to remove tutoring providers from
a school where they were soliciting families too aggressively, the Center
on Education Policy found in its report. The parents, many of whom did
not speak English, said they felt that they were being pressured to
sign things against their will, according to the official who called
the school police.
In New York
City, where more than 81,700 students are being tutored,
complaints about inappropriate incentives led officials to start an
inquiry into all the providers about six months ago. It is expected
to be completed by the summer.
The law's silence on such issues is not an oversight.
"We want as little regulation as possible so the market can be
as vibrant as possible," Michael Petrilli, an official with the
federal Education Department, told tutoring company officials at a recent
business meeting organized by the education industry.
In fact, hundreds of new companies and community groups have been established
to take advantage of the law, joining more established names in test
preparation and tutoring like the Princeton Review, Kaplan and the HuntingtonLearningCenter. Across the country, there are more than 1,800 "supplemental
educational services providers," as they are called in the law.
Experts say these groups will earn as much as $200 million this school
year, with about 30 percent of that going to the big national companies.
And the revenue is only expected to grow, as more schools are labeled
as failing under national law and more parents take advantage of tutoring
programs. Only about 11 percent of eligible students are now being tutored.
Experts point to the potential for fraud as a major issue. But so far,
most of the problems reported appear to reflect poor management. In
March, for instance, the Chicago school system asked Platform Learning Inc., the nation's
largest federally financed tutoring company, to leave seven of its schools
because of numerous lapses - including repeated absences by tutors -
leaving hundreds of struggling students without extra help just before
the Illinois Standard Achievement Test. TOP OF PAGE
State, schools debate curriculum
A proposal encourages districts to adjust classes required for high
school students to graduate.
Madelaine Jerousek and Jonathan Roos, Des Moines Register
High school - the timeworn institution and cultural fabric of many Iowa communities - is under scrutiny at the Statehouse this
Recent proposals call for higher expectations and more challenging curriculum.
And, as it has before, the discussion is returning to old themes of
greater efficiency and school consolidation.
"We want to make sure the high school experience is rigorous. Are
we asking enough of kids? In some districts we are and in some districts,
I'm told, we're not," said Sen. Joe Bolkcom , an Iowa City Democrat.
But in a state where local school boards control most education decisions,
educators resist a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing high school.
"Iowa prizes indepen- dence," said Steve Hanson, OttumwaHigh
principal. "There's a challenge to give high levels of skill to
all students. How to get there is something that requires differentiation.
They're judgment calls that you can't legislate or impose from the outside."
Recent far-reaching - and controversial - education proposals endorsed
by Gov. Tom Vilsack and a select group of 12 legislators include:
Establishing an education commission that would recommend to
the 2007 Legislature a minimum size for school districts and high schools.
Encouraging all districts to set higher performance standards
for students by adjusting graduation requirements and creating more
opportunities to take advanced courses.
Requiring districts of all sizes to collaborate on ways to become
more efficient and share academic programs or business operations.
Driving the debate is the concern of some state leaders that small high
schools are unable to offer the breadth of advanced courses that bigger
schools do. There also is the belief that if districts of all sizes
become more efficient, they can concentrate more of their resources
Vilsack said the proposals are intended to challenge schools. "There
really needs to be an honest, frank conversation about education,"
State education data show size does matter. Students are more likely
to take advanced math and science classes and the nationally recognized
Advanced Placement courses in larger school districts.
For example, just 10.3 percent of students took calculus or trigonometry
classes in districts with fewer than 250 students in 2003-04, while
more than double, 22.8 percent, took advanced math in districts of 1,000
to 2,500, according to state data.
The challenge to beef up high schools will only grow in districts with
declining enrollment, which often lack resources to hire more math and
"We're at the max of what we can do," said Linda Hoskins,
AlbiaHigh School principal. "We say we're going to increase rigor,
but we have to find people to teach those classes."
Large districts also must find ways to make high school more personalized
by improving academic advising, reducing the number of students per
teacher and making curriculum more relevant to students' lives, state
education officials said.
All schools must demand more, too, Vilsack and education leaders said.
The majority of Iowa school districts required two years of math and science
to graduate in 2003-04, the most recent year data are available. And
even those districts with higher requirements rarely mandate that students
take the most rigorous courses available.
Meanwhile, governors in Wisconsin
and Illinois have proposed adding another year of science and math
to statewide graduation requirements.
Legislation approved by the Iowa Senate last month sets a lofty goal
for school districts to get more students into college-preparatory classes,
but it contains no penalties for failing to achieve the goal.
The goal is that by July 2009, 80 percent of graduating seniors will
complete a model core curriculum based on recommendations of Iowa City-based
testing company ACT: four years of English and three years each of mathematics,
science and social studies.
About two-thirds of graduating students from Iowa took ACT's college entrance exam last year. Within that
group, 66 percent met ACT's recommended curriculum.
According to the testing service, only three in 10 Iowa students are ready for college and the workplace. Part
of the problem is low expectations for students.
Senate File 245 "is a first step" in making sure high school
students are challenged academically, said Sen. Paul McKinley of Chariton, Republican co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
"Our students have to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.
If they are to succeed, they need the tools that a more rigorous curriculum
brings," McKinley said.
State education Director Judy Jeffrey and members of the state Board
of Education are meeting with leaders from nearly every district in
the state this spring in hopes of jump-starting a conversation about
improving high schools.
"I'm hoping they'll be much more flexible places, where students
are working toward individual goals, where we have higher expectations
and that high school is a place where we are graduating kids who are
prepared," Jeffrey said.
Would changes be effective?
But in a state that believes decisions about education should be made
at the local level, opinions vary widely about how to fix high schools.
Not all educators believe raising graduation requirements will make
a difference, for instance.
"Merely requiring more math courses, requiring more science courses
isn't necessarily the path that has to be taken," said Hanson,
the principal at Ottumwa, which requires two years each of math and science to
Hanson said strengthening curriculum across the school will better prepare
students for college and work.
Maureen Griffin, a chemistry teacher at EastHigh School in Des Moines, said she has reservations about a proposal the school
board will vote on Tuesday to require students to take three years each
of math and science. Students must take two years of each subject now.
"We want them to be successful in society, whether it be the college
track or the workplace," Griffin
said. "Should we be beefing up the current curriculum to produce
better thinkers? Or do we make another requirement, another hoop to
Some worry that asking students to take more math and science will mean
the students can take fewer elective courses, like art, orchestra or
journalism. Those kinds of classes are valuable, too, educators said.
While the high school discussion is just beginning in many districts,
others have adopted new graduation requirements that will go into effect
with next year's freshmen.
The Ventura school district will require students to take three
years each of science and math, with at least one year of algebra.
"We felt that in order to give our students a better opportunity
at competing after high school, we needed to expect more of them so
they're ready for work and postsecondary education," said Superintendent
Dan Versteeg. TOP OF PAGE
Hue knew? Red pen out of favor with teachers
Ben Feller, AP
WASHINGTON -- Of all the things that can make a person see red,
Principal Gail Karwoski was not expecting parents to get huffy about,
well, seeing red.
in Trumbull, Conn., Karwoski's teachers grade papers by giving examples
of better answers for those students who make mistakes. But that approach
meant the kids often found their work covered in red, the color that
teachers long have used to grade work.
Parents objected. Red writing, they said, was ''stressful.'' The principal
said teachers were just giving constructive advice and the color of
ink used to convey that message should not matter. But some parents
could not let it go.
So the school put red on the blacklist. Blue and other colors are in.
''It's not an argument we want to have at this point because what we
need is the parents' understanding,'' Karwoski said. ''The color of
the message should not be the issue.''
In many other schools, it's black and white when it comes to red. The
color has become so symbolic of negativity that some principals and
teachers will not touch it.
Sales of purple increase
''You could hold up a paper that says 'Great work!' and it won't even
matter if it's written in red,'' said Joseph Foriska, principal of Thaddeus
Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh.
He has instructed his teachers to grade with colors featuring more ''pleasant-feeling
tones'' so that their instructional messages do not come across as derogatory
''The color is everything,'' said Foriska, an educator for 31 years.
At Public School 188 in Manhattan,
25-year-old teacher Justin Kazmark grades with purple, which has emerged
as a new color of choice for many educators, pen manufacturers confirm.
''My generation was brought up on right or wrong with no in between,
and red was always in your face,'' Kazmark said. ''It's abrasive to
me. Purple is just a little bit more gentle. Part of my job is to be
attuned to what kids respond to, and red is not one of those colors.''
Bic, Pilot Pen and Sanford are making more purple pens in response to
rising sales. TOP OF PAGE
AUSTIN - An Apple computer executive has been a key player
in crafting legislation that could provide a lucrative new market for
his company's wireless laptops Texas middle- and high-school students.
Tom Burnett of Austin, who is manager of strategic initiatives for Apple's
education division, helped write a report that became the foundation
for House Bill 4, which promotes the use of technology including laptop
computers, electronic textbooks and online testing.
"If we're successful, Texas
will have one of the most aggressive educational technology programs
in the nation," said House Public Education Committee Chairman
Kent Grusendorf, the author of House Bill 4.
Bill in committee
The bill, which is pending in the committee, would provide at least
$200 million a year in new technology funding for schools to buy laptop
computers and educational software.
HB 4 would rewrite state law to shift the focus from traditional textbooks
to electronic materials such as Web sites and CD-ROMs, and would streamline
the textbook review process so that the materials could be quickly updated.
It also would allow schools to use alternative materials.
Grusendorf, an Arlington Republican, said he invited Burnett and other
potential vendors in 2003 to begin a study of how Texas could use technology to improve student success.
Burnett became one of three authors of a report called "The Texas
E-Learning Initiative." The report recommended the Legislature
increase the school technology allotment from $30 per student to $300
and specify how the money could be used.
Multiple use of laptops
HB 4 includes those provisions and specifies wireless laptops as one
use for the technology grants. Other uses include electronic learning
software, library and research tools, electronic assessments and professional
development for teachers.
Grusendorf said the legislation was not written to benefit any company
but to help students and teachers take advantage of technology.
"I would not carry a bill that favored any particular vendor,"
Grusendorf said. "That's absolutely the worst thing we could do."
Educator groups are reserving judgment on HB 4 until the final version
is unveiled, which could happen next week.
Richard Kouri with the Texas State Teachers Association said it does
no good to provide electronic materials unless students have computers.
He said that schools also are concerned about costs. The state pays
for textbooks, but HB 4 would require districts to put up $50 per student
to qualify for the $300 grants.
"We see HB 4 as a bit of an iceberg," he said.
Grusendorf said his bill would open up the market for educational materials
beyond the textbook publishers who now dominate.
"Small suppliers have a hard time competing in the Texas market because it's so costly and there are so many
barriers to entry. This bill would significantly increase the competitive
nature of providing educational materials," he said.
Burnett said he could not comment on his involvement with HB 4. Apple
has a partnership with the state of Maine to provide laptops for students.
Dell backs measure
Representatives from other computer companies, including Dell, were
involved in a broader technology group that Grusendorf put together.
"We're supportive of the bill," said Colleen Ryan, a spokesman
for Dell. "From our vantage point, it's an opportunity to innovate
Texas classrooms and help bring Texas schools into the 21st century."
The other two members of the steering committee that wrote the E-Learning
report were Jon Fleming, former president of TexasWeslayanUniversity, and David Anderson, former curriculum director for
the Texas Education Agency who now is a lobbyist for textbook and educational
Anderson said his clients include Harcourt, an education publishing
company, and Wireless Generation, a developer of online tests.
Anderson said he "tried to keep a neutral hat on" while
working on the report and keeping his clients' interests in mind.
Anderson said technology can be helpful to students in studying
foreign languages and science. But he said there is "something
about reading a Shakespeare sonnet in print." TOP OF PAGE
Seattle study of
kids links bullying to TV
By Julia Sommerfeld, Seattle Times staff reporter, 4/5/05
Preschoolers who watch lots of television are more likely to become
bullies later on, Seattle researchers say. And the risk increases by the hour.
The finding adds to the list of social ills child-development experts
have already linked to the tube, including obesity, attention-deficit
problems, violence, smoking and sleeping difficulties.
"These are all hot-button issues for parents," said Frederick
Zimmerman, study author and assistant professor at the University of Washington's School of Public Health.
For each hour of TV watched daily by kids at age 4, the risk of bullying
in grade school increased 9 percent, the study concluded. This means
youngsters who watch the average amount of television 3.5 hours
a day are more than 30 percent more likely to bully others than
kids who watch no TV.
The results are based on surveys filled out by parents as part of a
larger, long-term study of children's lives across the nation. Researchers
compared the television-viewing time of about 1,300 kids at age 4 with
later bullying when kids were ages .
About 13 percent of the grade-schoolers were deemed bullies, based on
reports from their mothers who took the survey. These kids watched an
average of five hours of daily television. They also received less cognitive
stimulation a score that means their parents took them on fewer
outings and didn't read to them as much.
Other studies have found that about 30 percent of kids report being
involved in bullying either as the bully or as the target.
"Bullying isn't just bad for the victims," added Karin Frey,
a researcher at the Committee for Children, a Seattle-based nonprofit
that developed an anti-bullying curriculum used in schools.
Research shows that grade-school bullies suffer in the long run: They're
more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and be involved in street and
dating violence, according to Frey, who's also an educational psychologist
The study, published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics
& Adolescent Medicine, evaluated only how much TV the kids viewed,
not what they were watching.
"Violence in TV isn't just 'The Sopranos,' " Zimmerman said.
"Kids' TV often has a particularly bad kind of violence
the humorous kind," he said.
Zimmerman doesn't allow his own toddler to watch any TV or videos and
says his study backs the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation
that children under 2 watch no television and that older kids be limited
to one to two hours a day. TOP OF PAGE
President Bush's federal plan to improve education is under renewed
attack from multiple states, including one whose officials are preparing
a lawsuit in protest.
In Utah, a legislative interim committee approved a bill Tuesday
that would give priority to state education goals over requirements
in the federal No Child Left Behind law.
That comes two weeks before the full Legislature meets in a special
session to discuss it and more than a month after the governor asked
lawmakers to hold off so he could meet with federal officials. It also
came the same day Connecticut announced plans to sue the federal government over the
In a news release Tuesday, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
announced he's preparing legal action against the U.S. Department of
Education "for imposing million of dollars worth of illegal unfunded
mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act."
This is the second year Utah has
considered action on the federal law. In 2004, Rep. Margaret Dayton,
R-Orem, sponsored a bill to opt out of the federal law. She dropped
it after federal education officials threatened to pull more than $100
million in federal education funding to the state. During the regular
session this year, Dayton sponsored the bill that puts state programs ahead of
Mike Lee, attorney for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., said Tuesday that this
year's bill should not jeopardize any federal funding.
But it was held by the Utah Senate after Huntsman asked for time to
negotiate with federal education officials. He set the April 19-20 special
session to discuss the bill.
The state, so far, hasn't gotten the flexibility from the federal government
it asked for, said Tim Bridgewater, Huntsman's education deputy. He
said Huntsman would sign the bill if the Legislature passes it this
"I think some substantive things have happened," Bridgewater said of the negotiations with federal officials. "We've
been asking for X,Y,Z. We're going to get X in some form, there's movement
toward Y and then we're probably not going to get Z."
The U.S. Department of Education is expected to make an announcement
Thursday about increased flexibility for special education students
in NCLB requirements. That could mean more Utah schools will meet the standards under NCLB.
Last Friday, the state Office of Education submitted the state's Utah
Performance Assessment System for Students to the U.S. Department of
Education to replace NCLB requirements. The difference between the two
achievement-gauging programs is that NCLB compares one group of students'
test scores to the group of students in their grade the year before.
UPASS compares students' scores against their own scores the year before.
"It's the difference between a movie and a snapshot," said
Patti Harrington, state superintendent. "A movie, such as UPASS,
is a more accurate portrayal."
David Shreve, senior committee director for the National Conference
of State Legislatures, said NCLB is a "flawed yard stick of student
performance." He said NCLB not only compares apples to oranges,
it compares this year's crop of apples to next year's crop of oranges.
There are 35 states taking some sort of action on the federal education
law, but not many states have taken it as far as Utah in terms of pursuing a law saying the state makes more
sense than the federal government, Shreve said.
But Connecticut has gone the furthest of all.
"This (what Utah's doing) is mild compared to what they're doing in Connecticut," he said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures set up a task force to
study NCLB. The group ended up with 25 conclusions and 43 recommendations.
It decided NCLB is not flexible and is stifling innovation; it's narrowing
curriculum and forcing specialists to lose their jobs, and the law is
focused on compliance and regulation.
In his news release, Blumenthal said the U.S. Secretary of Education
had refused Connecticut's request for flexibility in allowing alternate
grade testing; the option to compare students' progress over time, not
against other students; allow special education students to test at
their own level, not at their grade level; and let non-English speakers
have up to three years, instead of one, to learn English before testing
them in English.
Those requests are similar to Utah's requests.
The task force also decided NCLB violates the spending clause of the
U.S. Constitution with ever-changing conditions and is coercive, because
of the federal interpretation of the consequences for not participating
-- loss of funding. TOP OF PAGE
Connecticut to Sue U.S. Over Cost of Testing Law
By SAM DILLON, New
The State of Connecticut will sue the federal government over President Bush's
signature education law, arguing that it forces Connecticut to spend millions on new tests without providing sufficient
additional aid, the state's attorney general announced yesterday.
Although a handful of local school districts, in Illinois, Texas
and other states, have filed legal challenges to the law, known as No
Child Left Behind, Connecticut would be the first state to do so.
Its suit would open a new chapter in a struggle between states and the
federal government that has seen legislatures lodge various protests
over the law, and at least one state education commissioner, in Texas, issue an order this year that appeared to directly
contradict a federal ruling.
Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat,
said he was announcing his plans now because he was going to be contacting
attorneys general in other states, in the hope that they would join
the suit. He said he expected to file within weeks.
"The federal government's approach with this law is illegal and
unconstitutional," Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview. He declined
to predict whether any of his colleagues in other states would join
his action, but he said he was finding "fertile ground."
"There is burgeoning unhappiness among both Republicans and Democrats,"
Mr. Blumenthal said. "The dissatisfaction is felt across the country
and is across the board, politically. So I can pretty much call any
of my colleagues and get an earful."
Legal scholars said that previous lawsuits brought against the federal
government over so-called unfunded mandates had had mixed success. But
Connecticut's suit could gain traction because the No Child Left
Behind law includes a passage, sponsored by Republicans during the Clinton administration, that forbids federal officials to require
states to spend their own money to carry out the federal policies outlined
in the law.
The federal law requires Connecticut to spend some $112.2 million to
expand its testing program and to help local districts carry out other
federal requirements over the next three years, while Washington has
appropriated only $70.6 million, leaving the state with an unfunded
burden of $41.6 million, Connecticut's commissioner of education, Betty
J. Sternberg, said in a report issued last month. In a statement issued
yesterday, D J Nordquist, a federal Department of Education spokeswoman,
said Connecticut had based its planned suit on flawed accounting and
she called Mr. Blumenthal's announcement "a sad day for students
"The basis for the state's lawsuit appears to rest on a flawed
cost study of the No Child Left Behind act that creates inflated projections
built upon questionable estimates and misallocation of costs,"
Ms. Nordquist said.
She added, "It is very disappointing that officials in Connecticut are spending their time hiring lawyers while Connecticut's students are suffering from one of the largest achievement
gaps in the nation."
Connecticut is not the only state to have charged that the federal
government is not paying for all the requirements it is imposing on
school systems under the three-year-old No Child Left Behind law. And
many states also complain that the federal law interferes with states'
rights and their own efforts to improve schools.
In Utah, the House of Representatives, for example, has passed a measure
that would require Utah officials to give higher priority to the state's
educational goals than to the federal law, and the Utah Senate is to
vote on the measure at a special session this month.
Connecticut currently tests public school children in grades four,
six, eight and 10, while the federal law requires all states to administer
standardized tests in every school year from three through eight. Expanding
Connecticut's testing program to cover grades three, five and seven
will force the state's Department of Education to spend $8 million of
its own money over the next three years, Dr. Sternberg said in a report
to Connecticut's General Assembly last month.
In preparing the lawsuit, Mr. Blumenthal said he had relied heavily
on Dr. Sternberg's educational views.
"I'm the lawyer, she's the educator, and we have a good partnership,"
Mr. Blumenthal said. "Our legal action will vindicate the policies
that she has advocated so eloquently in recent months."
In a letter to Margaret Spellings in January after her designation as
education secretary but before her confirmation, Dr. Sternberg noted
Connecticut's "effective 20-year history of testing in alternate
years," and requested that Connecticut be relieved of the requirement to expand the testing.
Annual testing, Dr. Sternberg wrote, "will cost millions of dollars
and tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students'
In a reply faxed to Dr. Sternberg on Feb. 28, Secretary Spellings refused
that request, saying that "annual testing is important." The
secretary followed up with a March 20 opinion article in The Hartford
Courant that chided Dr. Sternberg for requesting the waiver, saying
many Connecticut students "would welcome the chance to be tested
only every other year, but the adults in charge of their education surely
That article angered many Connecticut educators and parents, to judge from letters to the editor and e-mail
messages received at the state's Department of Education, and one of
those offended was Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, who wrote Secretary
Spellings on Thursday.
"As Connecticut's governor, and as a parent who deeply values high-quality
education for every child, I was offended by your commentary,"
Governor Rell's letter said. "You disparaged the knowledge and
judgment of Connecticut educators who - with the full, bipartisan support of governors and legislatures
over more than 20 years' time - have conducted a highly effective student
testing program since 1984."
Governor Rell also said Secretary Spellings's Feb. 28 letter "included
incorrect information, data stated in misleading ways and a suggestion
that Connecticut might consider not adhering to federal law" and
was "hardly becoming to the federal Secretary of Education."
Yesterday, the governor's spokesman, Dennis Schain, said: "On the
one hand the Department of Education fails to provide states with the
funds needed to implement the law and on the other, it resists requests
"Governor Rell understands there are reasons for bringing the lawsuit
but believes the best solution for our children is for the federal government
to grant states flexibility." TOP OF PAGE
TOKYO -- A walking childlike robot from Japanese automaker
Honda Motor Co. is entering classrooms to help teachers demonstrate
the wonders of science.
The 51-inch-tall, bubble-headed robot named Asimo has already shown
it can jog, walk up stairs, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple
conversations. It has worked as a guide in showrooms and visited schools
as Honda's ambassador.
But this is the first time it's being used in science classes as part
of the official school curriculum, Honda said.
In a demonstration for reporters at a Tokyo museum Wednesday, a teacher explained to students how
the robot has sensors inside its body to maintain balance, and the robot
displayed how it can keep its balance by tilting its body while standing
on a swaying platform. A wooden figure standing next to it collapsed.
The teacher also explained to students that weight is transferred from
the heel to the toe when a person walks, and moved the robot in slow
motion to demonstrate.
Asimo, which is similar to the Japanese word for "foot," will
help teach thousands of students at elementary and junior high schools
who visit science centers in two Japanese cities as part of their education,
Honda and city officials said.
"Adults must work harder to make learning about science more interesting
for children," said Mamoru Mohri, an astronaut who heads the National
Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.
Honda has been working with the museum for three years to arrange for
Asimo to take part in science classes, said Kiyotaka Tanaka, a Honda
official overseeing the robot project.
Japan leads the world in robotics. Various Japanese companies,
including electronics makers Hitachi Ltd. and Sony Corp., and Honda
rival Toyota Motor Corp. have developed entertainment robots. TOP OF PAGE
U.S. to change No Child Left Behind law
By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer, 4/6/05
WASHINGTON -- A fundamental change in how the Education Department
enforces the No Child Left Behind law could affect the education of
millions of students as states seek federal approval on everything from
teacher quality to the measuring of student progress.
For example, the department plans to give certain states more freedom
in how they test hundreds of thousands of children with milder disabilities,
Bush administration officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Only states that can prove progress or a strong commitment to improve
will be seriously considered for that flexibility, the officials said.
The idea is to get something in return for offering such flexibility,
said one official familiar with the changes, such as increased learning
and "narrowing the achievement gap." Shrinking the test-score
gap between white and minority students is a central goal of the 2001
law, which aims to get all children to grade level in reading and math
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policies
had not been formally announced. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings
has invited top school officers from the states to Mount Vernon, Va., on Thursday to unveil the enforcement approach and
the special education policy. Education Department leaders declined
comment until then.
The new enforcement approach is the first significant change under Spellings,
who helped write the law as Bush's domestic policy chief in the White
House before becoming secretary in January.
Spellings has determined that the Education Department hasn't focused
enough on the big picture -- whether students are learning -- when it
reviews and approves state education plans. States must get approval
if they want changes in how they hold schools accountable.
As examples, the department now plans closer review the states' progress
in graduating students, showing gains in early reading and providing
report cards to the public.
"If they're going to judge states' efforts on meeting the intent
of No Child Left Behind, then I think it's going to be a great move
and something everyone will be in support of," said Scott Young,
senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"It would put more focus on results, not on making sure states
comply with certain regulations."
The bipartisan conference of state lawmakers has criticized the Bush
administration over the law, calling it a coercive act that sets unrealistic
goals for some hard-to-reach students. One state, Connecticut, became the first on Tuesday to pledge a federal lawsuit
over the law.
Yet the department's plans to give states different treatment based
on good behavior raise political and legal questions, said Patricia
Sullivan, director of the independent Center on Education Policy. Administration
officials said lawyers have cleared the idea.
"Who is going to decide whether you have a different level of commitment
than another state?" Sullivan said. "Will it matter whether
you're a red or blue state? Will it matter whether you have something
pending in your state legislature to send the federal money back?"
On the special education policy, the department already allows schools
to test 1 percent of students -- those with significant cognitive disabilities
-- at their instructional level rather than their grade level. That
has been the only testing exception.
Now the department will also allow flexibility for students who are
not severely disabled but who have not been able to reach grade level
because of disabilities such as moderate mental retardation or severe
emotional disabilities. Schools will be allowed to give alternate tests
for an additional 2 percent of kids, aimed at covering these "gap"
The tests may be geared toward grade-level content but presented in
a different way, or they may be based on a different academic level
deemed appropriate for an individual student. The department will be
looking for models that ensure progress and align tests to content.
Put together, the change means 3 percent of all children -- that's roughly
30 percent of all children with disabilities -- will be allowed to be
tested on standards geared for them.
States have been clamoring for that flexibility. But several advocacy
groups for the disabled are angry about the change, saying it weakens
the promise to leave no child behind.
"It doesn't make sense to decide there is a group of kids who will
never make grade level," said Ricki Sabia, associate director of
the National Down Syndrome Society Policy Center. "We hold great
exception to that concept." TOP OF PAGE
cuts slack to states that play ball
BY BEN FELLER, AP, 4/8/05 MOUNT VERNON, Va. -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings came into
her job promising to deal with horror stories from states about the
No Child Left Behind law. Now state leaders say she appears to be delivering
on the promise -- with a catch.
Spellings pledged Thursday to take a more sensible approach to enforcing
the law, starting with allowing many more children with disabilities
to be held to different academic standards. The flexibility isn't open
to all states, only to those that prove they are committed to President
Bush's education law, mainly by raising test scores.
''States that understand this new way of doing things will be gratified,''
Spellings told state school chiefs and other education leaders invited
to hear her announcement.
''It makes sense, plain and simple,'' she said. ''Others looking for
loopholes to simply take the federal funds, ignore the intent of the
law and have minimal results to show for their millions of dollars in
federal funds will think otherwise and be disappointed.''
She will favor states that don't challenge principal points of the law
-- yearly testing of students in reading and math in grades , and public reporting of scores for all major groups
State leaders contend the law sets unreasonable and rigid standards
for many children. Connecticut plans to file a federal suit over the
law, Utah is poised to pass a bill giving priority to its own education
goals, and other states are clamoring for change. TOP OF PAGE
Utah will press its NCLB challenge
Feds ease up: State lawmakers welcome a new flexibility, say it's not
By Ronnie Lynn, Salt LakeTribune, 4/8/05
Utah will press forward with legislation challenging No Child
Left Behind - despite an announcement Thursday that Washington will be more flexible and responsive to states' complaints
about the sweeping federal law.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told state superintendents
that they will have more room to comply with the law providing that
their efforts are aimed at improving student achievement, hiring highly
qualified teachers, and closing the achievement gap between minority
and white students.
So what does that mean for Utah,
which has led a nationwide rebellion against the measure's mandates?
It means state officials welcome the flexibility, but there is not enough
of it - yet.
"We have achieved some of our objectives, but not all," said
Tim Bridgewater, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s education deputy, who was in
Washington for the announcement. "I expect a robust discussion
on the remaining issues [today] and next week."
Sen. Orrin Hatch's office issued a statement Thursday saying Spellings
would visit Utah April 15.
Despite the promise of ongoing negotiations, state lawmakers say they
intend to proceed with an April 19-20 special session to consider a
bill to put Utah-designed standards ahead of NCLB requirements. The
Utah measure says the state will comply with NCLB as long
as it doesn't conflict with state education priorities or require state
"We're hoping to hear from states that have ideas they want to
try, and we want to encourage their creativity and innovation,"
said Kerri Briggs, a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of
Bridgewater and other state officials are still angling for concessions
on how to measure school quality, teacher-quality standards in rural
districts,and teachers for
incarcerated youth - and how to hold schools accountable for academic
achievement among English learners.
Some lawmakers worry that the changes Spellings announced Thursday don't
go far enough.
"I'm encouraged that [Spellings] is listening to states, but I
don't think that has any bearing on our special session," said
Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who sponsored bills challenging the law
the past two general sessions. "They [the feds] are still involved
in a state's rights issue. They're in the wrong arena."
The bill has overwhelming support in both houses, and Huntsman probably
will sign it if it passes, Bridgewater said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey declined
to speculate on how the department would respond if the bill passes.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater applauded Spellings' concessions on standards of special
"We have won [that] battle," he declared. "We think that
will dramatically change the number of schools that meet" NCLB
standards for student progress. TOP OF PAGE
MYRTLE POINT, Ore. - One day after jazz band practice, 14-year-old Peter
Wilsons band teacher pulled him aside.
The instructor wanted to know whether Peter, who is home-schooled alongside
his three brothers, liked being taught by his mother, and why he didnt
come to public school full-time, instead of just for music.
The teacher seemed uncomfortable bringing it up, and the conversation
was brief, Peter said. When he got home, he told his parents.
Mark and Teckla Wilson, who are raising their four sons in Mark Wilsons
roomy childhood home in this former timber town, soon found out to their
annoyance that the teachers questions were part of an effort by
the Myrtle Point school district to persuade home-schooling families
to give the public system a shot.
Enrollment has been dropping steadily as timber jobs have dried up,
and Oregons budget cuts have left Myrtle Point facing a $675,000
gap for next year. Since Oregon bases its state school funding on enrollment, every
home-schooled child Myrtle Point can woo means an extra $5,000 or so.
An estimated 100 youngsters living in the district are home-schooled.
Already, 18 percent of the nations 1.1 million home-schooled students
are enrolled at least part-time in public school, usually for specialty
courses such as music, art or science that are more difficult for parents
to teach at home. But that is usually the parents choice, not
the result of a recruitment effort by strapped-for-cash public schools.
In Myrtle Point, the district is trying to phase in some courses that
could prove particularly appealing to home-school parents, such as forestry,
ecology and computer science.
Superintendent Robert Smith said the school system is also willing to
adjust the curriculum - for example, by allowing discussion of creationism
in biology class, or biblical literature in English courses.
Were not setting up a church steeple. But students want
academic freedom enough to encourage different things, and that should
not be stifled by relying on exclusive treatments, Smith said.
Myrtle Point, with an enrollment of 779, is not the only district pursuing
such a strategy.
Walla, Wash., school officials have launched plans for a new learning
center that they hope will attract at least 30 home-school students,
to help cope with a projected $200,000 in budget cuts next school year.
A school district in Fort
Collins, Colo., started a program aimed at drawing home-schooled youngsters
into the system with two days a week of art, science and music. In 2003,
it earned the district an extra $203,341 in state funding.
There are no guarantees the strategy will work.
Many home-school parents are fiercely loyal to the lifestyle, and to
the educational benefits they see for their children. Some want to protect
their youngsters from the peer pressure and drugs they fear are rampant
in public schools. Others, like the Wilsons,
home-school their children in part for religious reasons.
I like instruction where the instructor, not just the body of
knowledge, is important, Teckla Wilson said. Home-schooling
allows you to work out the pace that is best for them. And, we are Christians,
and for me, it is important that I teach them to think with a biblical
After Mark Wilson complained, Myrtle Point officials told teachers not
to try to recruit home-schooled students directly. Instead, parents
got letters inviting them to a dinner to hear about the new classes
the school is adding.
Lynn Potter was one of about 30 home-school parents who went to the
dinner; her daughter, who plays in the band, was even part of the evenings
entertainment. She said she is grateful that her children are allowed
to participate in music and sports, but that there is nothing the district
could say to get her to give up home-schooling.
There would be the moral issues that our children would have to
face with all the others who arent taught the way they are,
she said. Its a lot of work, it is hard, but I am committed
to five more years of home-schooling.
The fate of the school has provoked plenty of discussion in the town
of 2,700 and prompted a tart opinion column by school board member Dal
King in the weekly Myrtle Herald.
Families who home-school or choose to send their kids to other
districts, we need your full support, not just whats convenient
for you, King wrote. While you may have good reasons, please
do your part by enrolling your kids full-time in the district and dont
just cherry-pick music or sports.
The Wilsons, whose son plays drums and other percussion instruments
in the jazz band, took offense at that.
We do this at some cost to ourselves, Mark Wilson said of
home-schooling. If the kids were all in school, my wife could
get a job. To think that by offering us a few courses, by dining us,
they could get us to say, Oh, never mind, is unrealistic
on their part. TOP OF PAGE
It looks as if the coming hearings on the Kansas science standards will be a one-sided event.
Proponents of intelligent design have lined up 23 witnesses including
one from Italy and another from Turkey to support their point of view.
But scientists who defend evolution apparently are boycotting the hearings,
said Alexa Posny, assistant commissioner for the state Department of
As of Thursday, the state's deadline, only one scientist had agreed
to testify and his appearance had not been confirmed, she said.
We have contacted scientists from all over the world, Posny
said. There isn't anywhere else we can go.
The hearings, tentatively scheduled for May 5-7 and May 12-14, were
set up by the conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education.
Board members say they want the public to hear more about intelligent
design, the theory that some aspects of life and its diversity are the
result of planned processes, not chance or necessity.
The president of Kansas Citizens for Science, who had called for the
boycott, said he was pleased Thursday to hear it was being honored.
Intelligent design is the latest form of creationism, Harry McDonald
said, and has no place in a science classroom.
In addition, he said, he thinks board conservatives have made up their
minds to support a proposal from the intelligent design side that calls
for students to learn about the weaknesses of evolution.
Intelligent design is not going to get its forum, at least not
one in which they can say that scientists participated, McDonald
said. We have learned too much to continue participating in this
The board's conservative Republican chairman, Steve Abrams of ArkansasCity, called the boycott and the assertion that the board
had decided the issue bull malarkey. The hearings will take
place even if evolution's defenders choose not to show, he said.
If they've got the guns on their side to defend it (evolution),
then why not defend it? Instead, what they are going to do is take potshots,
they are going to do the one-liners, they are going to do the 30-second
sound bite instead of coming in and trying to testify and defend a position
that they say is the only position in the world.
The state board voted 6-4 in February to set up a three-member subcommittee
to oversee the May hearings. Abrams is the subcommittee's chairman.
The state board periodically updates the standards in each of its curriculum
areas. A 26-member committee appointed by Education Commissioner Andy
Tompkins has been working to revise the science standards since June.
It will present its second draft to the board at its monthly meeting
The board also will receive a second draft that day from the eight members
of the science-writing committee who are proposing ideas backed by intelligent
design supporters. The board hopes to approve revised standards this
The May hearings are in addition to public hearings earlier this year
on the first draft from the 26-member committee. The first draft from
the committee's minority group was not presented at that time, although
members of the public did comment on it.
Posny said the state invited scientists from all of the state universities
in Kansas as well as pro-evolution scientists from across the
nation who have critiqued the intelligent design proposal. Also, she
said, the state posted the invitation on the Internet list serve of
the National Science Teachers Association.
She said she still was trying to reach several evolution-defenders whose
names were provided Wednesday by John Calvert, the attorney for the
eight on the science-writing committee who favor the intelligent design
proposal. One of those scientists has agreed to come, she said.
Calvert said he was happy to hear that Abrams wanted the hearings to
I think the public will be educated in a major way, he said. TOP OF PAGE
Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777