Thursday, March 31, 2011

Legislators balk at Quinn's education cuts

By Lauren N. Johnson

Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposals to gain savings by cutting the number of the state’s school districts in half through consolidation and eliminating funding for regional offices of education received continued pushback from lawmakers today.

Rep. Al Riley, an Olympia Fields Democrat, voiced concern over the possible negative impacts of consolidation on rural, poverty-stricken areas. He said it could lead to a lack of resources for students and possibly result in a dip in academic achievement.

Christopher Koch, superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education, said consolidation would not be an easy task, and the the board's primary focus is the best interests of students. He said any plan involving the state forcing schools to consolidate districts is unlikely to happen this year. “I doubt there’s a bill that passes that mandates consolidation beyond any authority that’s currently in precedent,” Koch said.

Legislators also took issue with Quinn’s plan to eliminate funding for regional superintendents. Some said students would lose resources provided by regional offices, such as student truancy programs and professional development for teachers. Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican who also is a school  superintendent, said: “If they are not there, they are not able to provide those services. What about truant students? We would have to provide services [at the district level] because they are mandated for truants. But we wouldn’t have a regional way of doing it at a low cost, so money would be taken away from classrooms." Rep. Pam Roth, a Coal City Republican, added that the regional offices are “critical” to the operations of school districts.

Those developments come a day after House Speaker Mike Madigan said he has no plans to pursue the governor’s idea for consolidation of school districts.

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