SPRINGFIELD– Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget address next week will include $10 million for reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, he announced Thursday.
"Smaller classes mean more attention for students," the governor stated in a written release. "For teachers, it means spending less time on discipline and more time on instruction."
The $10 million would be handed out in $50,000 increments to elementary schools around the state where K-3 class sizes average more than 20 students. The grants would pay for teacher salaries and benefits.
The federal government has provided some class-size reduction grants in the past, but the governor's proposal is apparently a new initiative at the state level.
The idea was welcomed by the Illinois Federation of Teachers and by local school officials.
"I think class size reduction is always a good thing," said Vermilion County Regional Superintendent Mike Metzen.
"I know that instructionally it makes much more sense to have a lower class size if you can," agreed Fred Clark, director of information services for the Champaign school district. "It really benefits the children."
The Champaign district limits kindergarten and first grade classes to 23 students, with a slightly larger limit for classes in the second and third grades, Clark said.
According to the governor's office, the average class size in Illinois in 2005 was 21 for kindergarten, 21.5 for first grade and 22 for third grade, but many high-growth districts are well above those numbers.
The class-size grants are just a part of the increase in school funding the governor is expected to propose, although the administration has remained mum regarding the exact amount.
So far, the governor has also proposed: a $90 million tuition tax credit for parents of college students; a $1.6 million initiative to reduce processing time for professional licenses; a $7.7 million sales tax credit for purchasers of certain fuel-efficient and flexible-fuel vehicles; $1.9 million to create a special meth treatment unit in the Department of Corrections; $10 million for a pilot health care program for veterans; and about $5 million for programs to address the state's nursing shortage.
In addition, he is seeking permission to borrow $3 billion to build schools, roads and mass transit infrastructure.
On Thursday, House Republican leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said his caucus was generally wary of increased spending and borrowing, largely because Illinois already owes so much to its underfunded public pension systems.
"I realize there are some things that we need...but sometimes, and now is a good a time as any, you simply say no," Cross said.