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March 31, 2005

Gov. Blagojevich unveils comprehensive Higher Standards, Better Schools plan
Proposal increases school funding by another $300 million, and implements strict new high school graduation standards to better prepare Illinois students for college and the workforce

OAK PARK – Governor Rod Blagojevich today announced his Higher Standards, Better Schools plan – a comprehensive proposal designed to boost education funding and better prepare students to compete and succeed in today’s economy.  Building on his efforts over the past two years to improve public education in Illinois, the Governor’s proposal pumps $300 million more into K-12 education – for a total increase of $440 million in Fiscal Year 2006.  Higher Standards, Better Schools also increases the number of credits required to graduate from 16 to 18; requires Illinois high school students to take more math, science and writing-intensive courses; and requires school districts to offer a broader range of electives and Advanced Placement courses to students.
“You can’t get ahead without a good education.  And you can’t get a good education if you’re not learning what you need to know to compete in today’s economy.  We can’t keep telling ourselves that we shouldn’t increase our standards simply because it costs more money or requires extra effort.  We can’t keep telling ourselves things are good enough – or that they’d be good enough if we only had more money.  They’re not good enough.  Money alone won’t make our schools better.  We have to set higher standards,” the Governor said.
“The issue of high school reform is being discussed all across the country.  The National Governors Association has made it their focus.  And when you consider that Illinois’ high school graduation requirements are some of the weakest in the nation, improving graduation standards should be our focus too.  Simply put, we are not preparing our students for college and for the workforce the way we need to,” Blagojevich said.  “For years, the higher education community in Illinois has been calling for stricter high school graduation standards. The business community also has called for higher graduation standards.  They know that companies can only do well in Illinois if the workforce is up to the job.  The future of our children – and the future our of economy – depends on improving our schools.”  
Illinois ranks 11th in the nation, and the best in the Midwest, in increasing education funding over the last three years.  In his first two budgets, Gov. Blagojevich boosted school funding by more than $1 billion, increasing general state aid by 16% and funding for the Chicago Block Grant by 17.7%.  Increases for early childhood education have enabled 17,000 more Illinois children to attend pre-school. 
The Higher Standards, Better Schools plan unveiled by the Governor today would provide for an increase in general state aid by more than $240 per student, add $30 million more for early childhood education, and would fund new high school curriculum requirements designed to better prepare Illinois students for higher education and the workforce.
Illinois students can currently graduate from high school with only two years of math, only one year of science, and without taking a single writing-intensive course.  Illinois students can even graduate from high school without taking algebra.  If the Illinois General Assembly approves the Governor’s plan, the state will implement a series of reforms critical to better preparing students for life after high school.
1.  Tougher Standards, Better Trained Students
Earlier this year, the American Diploma Project, created by Achieve, The Education Trust and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, found that few of the nation’s high school students actually gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce.  Nationwide, business leaders spend billions of dollars each year providing their employees and students with skills and knowledge they should have attained in high school.  Business leaders look for employees who can write, communicate effectively, analyze information, conduct research and solve problems.  The quality of Illinois’ workforce is critical when it competes with other states for businesses deciding where to locate. 
If students are graduating from Illinois high schools unprepared for college and the workforce, businesses aren’t going to want to locate here. That’s why Illinois must do its part to better position high school graduates for success.  Making sure students are better trained and equipped both for college and to work in the modern day economy will help them get better jobs, and in turn, grow the economy.
To arm students with the skills and knowledge they need after high school, the Governor’s Higher Standards, Better Schools plan requires students to take an additional year of math.  Currently, Illinois students are required to take only two years of math.  Math skills are critical in today’s high-tech workplace.  The Governor’s plan requires students to take a third year of math and requires students to take algebra and geometry to graduate.  Right now, it’s possible for a student to graduate from an Illinois high school without ever taking algebra.  Moreover, Illinois students can currently graduate from high school with only one year of science.  The Governor’s plan requires students to take an additional year of science. 
Effective writing and communication skills are also critical to being successful in college and the workplace, but currently, Illinois students are not required to take a single writing-intensive class.  The Governor’s plan changes that by requiring two writing-intensive courses, one being an English course.  It also adds an additional year of English to ensure students take English in each year of high school.  The Governor’s plan also puts emphasis on schools offering more foreign language, arts, music and agriculture education courses.
Just as schools should prepare students for college, they should also recognize that some students enter the workforce after high school graduation.  These students need to be trained to get good jobs as soon as they finish high school.  As part of his plan, the Governor is calling for improving career and technical education services. 
The Higher Standards, Better Schools plan also helps college-bound high school students prepare better for their work in higher education.  The plan calls for students to take more Advanced Placement courses.  AP courses, in a wide range of subjects, give students exposure to college-level material, giving them a jump start on the competition when they begin college.  The plan also expands access to dual credit-dual enrollment programs at community colleges.  Thousands of high school students are already taking community college courses, but other high schools and community colleges need to encourage even more students to participate.
In summary, the Governor’s plan would:
o       Require at least two years of science
o       Require at least three years of math, including algebra and geometry
o       Require at least two writing-intensive courses, one being an English course
o       Require English every year of high school
o       Help schools offer more foreign languages, arts and music
o       Provide more training opportunities for vocational students
o       Help schools offer more Advanced Placement classes
o       Give more high school students access to community college courses
2.  Providing additional resources to schools
The Governor’s Higher Standards, Better Schools plan provides schools financial resources to train and hire more teachers, and buy more textbooks and materials.  In addition to the $140 million in new funding the Governor proposed in his Fiscal Year 2006 Budget, the Governor is proposing an additional $300 million in new funding for education, by authorizing an increase of positions at Illinois’ existing riverboat casinos.  This plan would increase education funding without asking the hardworking people of Illinois to shoulder the burden by paying more in sales taxes or income taxes.  The Governor also explained increasing the number of gaming positions at existing casinos does not bring gaming to places where it doesn’t already exist.
Of the $440 million, $380 million will be used to increase per pupil spending by more than $240, which will help local school districts around the state, including those that will need to add courses to meet the new requirements.  Another $30 million will be used to expand early childhood education, and almost $30 million will be used to fund increased offerings in career and technical education, agriculture education, foreign languages, the arts, and college preparatory classes such as Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses. 
“My approach is simple – provide more money, get kids reading as early as possible, and insist on higher standards,” said Gov. Blagojevich.  “Money without good teachers is a waste.  Money without standards will be wasted.  And standards and teachers without the resources to run our schools won’t work either.”
3.  Start Learning Early
A portion of the new funding will go towards sending even more children to pre-school. Illinois has one of the best early childhood education systems in the nation.  Over the past two years, Gov. Blagojevich has increased funding for early childhood education by $30 million, enough funding for more than 17,000 additional children from at-risk communities to attend pre-school.  In Fiscal Year 2006, the Governor proposed another $30 million increase for pre-school, and proposed the first ever recurring revenue source for early childhood education.  If the legislature approves the Governor’s proposal, even more children will be given the opportunity to go to pre-school.  The earlier children begin to learn and read, the better students they become.  In fact, The Chicago Longitudinal Study found at-risk children who receive high-quality early education are more likely to complete high school, less likely to be arrested as a juvenile for a violent offense, less likely to be neglected or abused and less likely to be placed in special education. 
4. Building Better Learning Environments
The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2006 Budget includes $550 million in annual funding to build new schools and renovate existing schools.  A survey conducted by the Capital Development Board found that Illinois schools reported that they need more than $6 billion in new construction.  The state must help schools eliminate overcrowding and give students and teachers better environments to learn and teach in.  In order to meet these needs and fund the state’s other capital needs, the Governor proposed increasing the cigarette tax by 75 cents to pay the debt service on a capital program.
5. Allowing Teachers and Administrators to Focus on the Classroom
Finally, the Governor believes it’s critical that teachers and principals are afforded the time to focus on their classrooms.  The Governor’s plan calls for further reducing the number of cumbersome rules and regulations that consume teachers’ and administrators’ time and energy.  The Governor’s new appointees at the State Board of Education have already begun reducing the number of burdensome rules, and have overseen the streamlining of the teacher certification process.  This process will continue to help schools stay focused on what matters most – teaching children.
“This can be done.  And when it’s done, our children will take tougher classes and they’ll learn more.  They’ll start reading at an earlier age.  They’ll be better at math.  They’ll learn more science.  They’ll write better.  They’ll think better.  They’ll be better prepared for college, and they’ll be better prepared for the workplace.  That’s what I believe our schools need.  And it’s what we’re going to fight for,” said the Governor.

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