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June 21, 2006

Gov. Blagojevich signs law to reduce kindergarten through third grade class sizes
Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes $10 million for grants to reduce class size

CICERO – At Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Cicero, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed a new law that will provide grant money for schools to reduce class sizes for students in kindergarten through third grade.  Providing financial help to schools to maintain smaller class sizes will help students receive more individual attention from teachers.  While the average class size for kindergarten and first grade in Illinois is 21, Wilson Elementary averages 36 students per kindergarten class, 27 students per first grade class, and more than 30 students per third grade class – well above the statewide averages. 
“Studies and common sense both show that kids do better in smaller classes.  Smaller classes means that teachers can spend more time focusing on each student and less time trying to manage too many kids at once.  And studies from Tennessee and Wisconsin show that students in smaller classes graduate at a higher rate and score higher on tests than students in larger classes,” said Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Senate Bill 2882, sponsored by Rep. Michael Smith (D-Canton) and Sen. Terry Link (D-Lake Bluff), creates a pilot class size reduction grant program, to be implemented and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education for grades K-3.  The FY07 budget includes $10 million for the program, which will be divided into $50,000 grants that would go to schools to pay for teacher salaries and benefits. The grants will be distributed among suburban, downstate, and Chicago Public Schools.  The grants will be awarded to elementary schools to ensure class sizes of no more than 15 students.  Schools will be required to use the funds to hire additional classroom teachers in order to decrease the number of pupils per class. The State Board of Education will track measures of student success, including assessment scores and attendance rate, in comparison to non-pilot program schools with larger classes.
“The Illinois Federation of Teachers has always been a proponent of smaller class sizes. Numerous studies show increased academic achievement by students when they have more individual instruction from their teacher. Lower student-teacher ratios make a difference, particularly in primary grades. It makes sense to implement a program that is proven to work,” said Illinois Federation of Teachers President James Dougherty.
“I am appreciative to Governor Blagojevich for taking this step in assisting the State Board of Education in working to make sure that all children receive the guidance that is crucial in the early years of schooling,” said Illinois Superintendent of Education Randy Dunn.
“The Governor and I share the same priority that we need to make it possible for schools to finance smaller classrooms for students in the beginning stages of education. Senate Bill 2882 is a step in the right direction and will allow our teachers to become more effective in reaching their students. With these dollars, our students will benefit from classroom interactions with fewer distractions and interruptions in their learning processes,” said Sen. Link.
“We strongly support this legislation because all credible studies show that smaller class sizes create an environment conducive to better teaching and learning,” said Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association. “We applaud Governor Blagojevich’s leadership in pushing for the creation and funding of this pilot program and we hope to see it grow in the years to come.”
In 2005, the average class size in Illinois was 21 in kindergarten, 21.5 in first grade, and 22 in 3rd grade. A sampling of high-growth districts found that class sizes are much larger than average in some areas, including: 26 kids per kindergarten class in West Harvey-Dixmoor in the south suburbs, 28 kids per first grade class in Plainfield District 202, and 24 kids per third grade class in Chicago Public Schools. 
Research shows that class size reduction has a number of positive benefits for both students and teachers. It can result in more in-depth coverage of each subject, more engaged students, fewer disciplinary problems, and a more personalized relationship between teacher and student. Kindergarten through third grades are shown to be most sensitive to the positive effects that are made possible through smaller class sizes, and nearly half of states have begun to reduce those class sizes as a result.
Tennessee’s Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) began more than 20 years ago with an effort to put kindergartners in classes of 13-17 students. Studies have consistently shown that students who had the benefit of those smaller classes scored higher on achievement tests, and were less likely to drop out or be retained. In fact, STAR students went on to take more advanced courses in high school and graduated with higher rankings than those who were in larger classes in their lower grades.
Wisconsin developed a similar program in 1995. The Student Achievement Guarantee in Education  (SAGE) program, among other initiatives, required that K-3 classes be reduced to 15 pupils. SAGE students performed better on every test measure than students without the benefits the program provided. Additionally, teachers indicated through questionnaires and interviews that they were able to provide more individualized instruction to their students, and had greater enthusiasm for their work.
In addition to providing $10 million in grants for class size reduction, for the fourth consecutive year, the Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes a major increase in education funding - $415 million more for PreK-12 education.  The budget also funds new initiatives proposed by the Governor including universal preschool and a grant program for families struggling to afford the high costs of college. 
Over four years, Governor Blagojevich dedicated $3.8 billion of new funding into Illinois schools.  This represents more new money invested in education than any other state in the Midwest, more than 43 other states in the nation, and more than any administration in one term in Illinois history.
Preschool for All
Preschool for All makes Illinois the only state in the nation to begin the process of providing access to high-quality pre-school for every three-year-old and four-year-old child in Illinois.  The program, which guarantees that in the end approximately 190,000 Illinois children will have the chance to attend preschool, will reach working families who are not able to afford the high cost of private preschool.  Funding for pre-school programs will increase by $45 million this year, allowing 10,000 more children to get an early start on their education.  Students who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school, 41 percent less likely to need special education and 42 percent less likely to be arrested for committing a violent crime.  Studies also show that for every dollar spent on early childhood education, society saves at least $7 through decreased reliance on social services. Participation in the program for parents is voluntary.  The Preschool for All legislation, Senate Bill 1497, was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago).
Helping Middle Class Families Pay for College
Building on his ongoing efforts to make college more affordable for students and families, Governor Blagojevich provided the MAP program with its largest increase in ten years, a boost of 10% over FY06, and created a new program to help middle-income families as well.  With a new investment of $34.4 million, Illinois will create MAP Plus to help middle class families who don’t qualify for the traditional MAP program, and struggle to afford rising college tuition costs.  MAP Plus will provide a $500 per student grant for sophomores, juniors and seniors from families with incomes less than $200,000 who attend college in Illinois.  An additional increase of $34.4 million will boost MAP grants to their statutory maximum of up to $4,968, which will help more students and their parents afford college.  In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP. Senate Bill 2225 was sponsored by Sen. Edward Maloney (D – Chicago) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park).

Increase for Higher Education

This year’s budget includes a $48 million increase for higher education.  Universities will receive more than $26 million to help attract and retain the best faculty and increase other school programs, and community college grants will increase by almost $7 million. 
After School Programs
In FY07, after school programs will receive a $12 million increase to provide educational and extracurricular activities for children after school hours.  These programs keep children engaged in productive activities at times when their parents may still be at work.


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