SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to attend a rally of approximately 300 students, principals and teachers at 3:30 p.m. Monday at Champaign Centennial High School's cafeteria.
"The purpose of the rally is to take all of the initiatives that he mentioned at the State of the State and present them directly to the people," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch.
The governor will explain his proposals, listen to local comments and concerns and try to address some of those as well, Rausch said.
The General Assembly returns to Springfield on Tuesday to begin debating the proposed changes.
As outlined in his Jan. 15 State of the State address, Blagojevich plans to create a new Department of Education under his control that would take over all administrative and regulatory functions of the independent State Board of Education.
The governor claims his new Department of Education would save $1 billion over four years by creating statewide purchasing centers for school districts to buy supplies and insurance; streamlining rules and paperwork for local districts; cutting the administrative costs of school construction; and providing better administrative services with less money and fewer employees than the State Board of Education.
While dismantling the State Board of Education seems to be his main goal, the governor is pushing several other new education-related initiatives with a combined price tag of more than $55 million.
Those plans include sending a free book each month to all Illinois children under age 5, regardless of family income; requiring 40 hours of community service to graduate from high school; putting reading specialists in all Illinois elementary schools that fail to meet reading achievement standards; providing free breakfast for students at low-income schools; expanding the Illinois Tech Prep vocational training program; and sending more at-risk kids to preschool.
Reaction to the governor's proposals have been mixed, particularly since he will not outline how he plans to pay for them until his Feb. 18 budget address.
Many area lawmakers have echoed State Superintendent of Schools Robert Schiller's comments that the real problem with the state's schools is the way in which they are funded and the adequacy of that funding.
Most of the state's school districts are facing deficits, and local property taxpayers are shouldering the majority of the costs of public education in Illinois.
Blagojevich has agreed that there are equity problems with the school funding system, but said no type of school funding formula would be well served if the money going into it was not being used in the most appropriate way.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.