Illinois Schools Celebrate Funding

By: Patricia Hawke

It’s a rare occurrence when both of the state’s teachers’ unions and the governor come to an agreement on funding. That’s exactly what Illinois Schools experienced in March of this year when Governor Rod R. Blagojevich received the endorsements of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association. The praise was given for the Helping Kids Learn plan, which provides $10 billion to Illinois Schools over the next four years.

Illinois Schools were given further reasons to celebrate when the State Board of Education announced an increase of over $700 per pupil in minimum state and local funding. This will increase those foundation funding amounts to $6,058 per pupil annually.

These investments will increase fiscal year 2008 monies by $1.5 billion. This amount is unprecedented in Illinois Schools. The plan is three times larger than any increase in the history of Illinois Schools.

Why so much and why now? Gov. Blagojevich says that the Illinois Schools…"have been chronically underfunded for decades. Our Helping Kids Learn plan is not just an investment in schools, it’s an investment in our future, in our children." Much of the pressure for Illinois Schools to improve comes from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, which set Adequate Yearly Progress markers for all schools in the nation. Teachers and administrators in Illinois Schools have been challenged by meeting the demands of lower classroom ratios, testing special needs students, and working in old and inadequate buildings.

Part of the plan will provide $200 million to help districts afford special education teachers. This is the first increase for special needs Illinois Schools have seen since 1985. Funds will also provide for special programs and transportation for special needs students.

Other components of Helping Kids Learn include funds for the Preschool for all Program in Illinois Schools. The $69 million dedicated to this initiative will help provide the support and materials to implement all day kindergarten throughout the state. Finally the plan includes a $1.5 billion investment in construction, improvement and renovations for deteriorating Illinois Schools.

Educators in both teachers’ unions are emphatic that the opportunities Illinois Schools will gain from the increase in funding will go a long way to address the achievement gap and help all students succeed. According to James Dougherty, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, “By increasing the Foundation Level by more than $700 per student, we’re starting to level the playing field between the educational haves and the educational have nots." Parents in Illinois Schools are also excited about the increased funds. While the NCLB act still sparks debate in Illinois Schools, it seems to have put a spotlight on education that is resulting in positive changes for children.

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