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April 9, 2002

Statement of Respicio Vazquez, State Superintendent of Education

Senate Appropriations Committee
Springfield, Illinois

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is my privilege to come before you today to discuss our agency and proposed spending for elementary and secondary education in the FY 2003 budget.

We very much appreciate the ongoing support of this committee for the schools of this state and the students they serve.

Of course, we all know that in this year of extreme fiscal challenge, we have a particularly difficult task ahead to devise a budget that provides local school districts with the resources they need to educate our children.

The many partners in Illinois public education must work together to arrive at a spending plan that allocates limited dollars in the most efficient way possible, and it is in that spirit that I come here today.

I plan to make brief remarks to you regarding the proposed budget that the State Board of Education approved last January, as well as about the re-organization of the agency that is taking place. Then, of course, I will answer your questions.

But before I begin that, I would like to spend just a few moments telling you who I am and how I plan to manage the agency during my tenure as State Superintendent.

I have most recently been, as some of you know, General Counsel at the agency, a job I held for two years. Before that, I spent eight years with the City Colleges of Chicago, the last two as General Counsel. Before that, I was an attorney with the Chicago Board of Education and before that an assistant in the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

My first job out of law school was with Travelers and Immigrants Aid, where I supervised staff and represented clients in court. I have my undergraduate and law degrees from DePaul University. I grew up in the Marquette Park neighborhood of Chicago and graduated from De LaSalle high school.

My parents were rural people who emigrated from Mexico to Chicago. They saw education as the sole opportunity for success for their children.  They had the opportunity for only an elementary-level education, and they worked their entire lives to ensure that their four children were educated to the maximum extent possible.  They instilled in me the value of education and the desire to improve myself by opening the doors of opportunity created by education. 

I believe you will find me approachable and collegial and that I’ll be direct in telling you what I believe, and I would welcome the same directness from you.

Now I would like to talk briefly about the State Board of Education’s proposed budget for Fiscal year 2003 – not so much about the numbers it contains, but about the education assumptions that underlie the numbers.

As you know, the Board approved this budget on January 4, and it was developed using the best revenue estimates that were available to us at the time. Of course, those revenue estimates have changed significantly and for the worse. Our state is facing a fiscal crisis that will affect every citizen – and every schoolchild.

However, the educational foundation on which the January budget was built we believe remains a credible basis for discussion as we move toward the shared goal of arriving at a final document that best serves the needs of our school districts and our two million students.

Our proposed budget called for a total of $6.46 billion in spending from general state funds – an increase of $250 million over last year. It contemplates about $2 billion from federal and other funds for a total proposed in all funds of $8.53 billion. The new federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation (Public Law 107-110) (HR 1) brings with it some more money and many more responsibilities.

The budget is organized around the idea that three great challenges – three great gaps – face public education in Illinois. Whatever funding level is ultimately agreed upon, the Board believes that the goals of any spending plan should be to target state funds to priority areas that address one of these three gaps.

First is the achievement gap – the difference in student achievement by race and economic background. The State Board has made eliminating these gaps a top priority and our proposed budget includes numerous line items that address this challenge. Increases in funding are requested for four programs regarded as critical: Academic Early Warning – to help students in the 594 schools on the AEWL, Assessments – to fund commitments for the current program, Early Childhood – to reduce the number of students on the waiting list, and Summer Bridges – to expand services to more at-risk students.

Second is the teacher gap. The issues of educator quality and quantity have been on the front burner in recent months. The General Assembly provided impetus for the Governor’s two-session Teacher/Education Summit and it appears the Governor will have a legislative proposal addressing some key issues from the Summit.  Many of you have already submitted legislation to address this gap as well.

There is no factor that plays a greater role in assuring student success than a qualified teacher. But in Illinois we are short of qualified teachers in many geographical areas and in many subject areas, and too often our least qualified teachers teach in our most needy schools.

In this proposed budget, we sought new funding in only three key programs: Mentoring, Induction and Recruitment; National Board Certification; and Regional Office of Education School Services.

The third gap is the funding gap which results from a system that relies heavily on local property taxes to fund education. The “haves and have nots” are easily identifiable in our state by measures such as equalized assessed valuation and per pupil spending.

In the long range, this question can be addressed only by every one of us in Illinois committing to change the system of funding education. In the near term, our proposed budget sought increased funding in three important areas: General State Aid and Hold Harmless, Mandated Categoricals and Retirement.

The remainder of the requests of this January's proposal were generally proposed at the FY02 level.

Clearly, allocating our scarce statewide resources provides us all with a significant challenge this year. But the Board believes that the appropriate path to follow in reaching agreement will address the three gaps and also do two other things: establish more flexible and less bureaucratic ways of distributing money to school districts; and maintain leadership and administrative funds at a level sufficient to assist districts adequately.

Everyone at the State Board of Education is ready to work with all of you in reaching an acceptable agreement.

Finally, I would like to tell you briefly about our recent re-organization at ISBE – why we did it and where it is taking us.

We re-organized to become more efficient in delivering services to local school districts. We have hundreds of individual, committed, capable employees who do good work and serve the taxpayers well. But, overall in recent years, I believe our agency had become top-heavy in administration, was not organized to execute its mission and was perceived as unresponsive.

Under Superintendent Wish, a new leadership team, that included me as General Counsel, undertook an analysis of the agency’s resources and its functions and developed a new organization plan that aligns the two with our mission to serve schools.

In early January, we announced the first phase of the re-organization, including a reduction in the number of senior managers. In early February, we announced the second phase, which completed the organization chart and announced the further elimination of positions. We estimate that by the end of June our headcount will be about 60 less than it was at the end of last December. 

This plan is driven by the desire to improve services to schools and the students they serve.  It was not designed as a headcount reduction plan or a dollar-savings plan. It is a plan aimed at increasing the efficiency with which we deliver services. We have combined small divisions, united similar functions and consolidated fund management responsibilities.

We have created as the centerpiece of the organization the Center for Teaching and Learning that is organized into four units targeting the high priority areas of: Standards Aligned Learning, Teaching and Leadership, Specialized Support and Student and School Progress.

We have created a new focus on helping underperforming schools, another new focus on strengthening partnerships with the Regional Offices of Education and a new department to centralize and improve accountability functions to ensure the quality of programs we administer.

The re-organization is the culmination of a careful re-assessment of operations that has been ongoing for more two years. By June 30, we will have reduced headcount by more than 15 per cent since December of 2000.  Through self-reflection and a careful analysis of our resources, we are streamlining our agency to better meet the needs of Illinois schools and students.

It’s a challenging time for state government in general and education in particular.

At our agency, we’re excited to face that challenge and we’re prepared to do that by putting our full effort into providing better service and support for schools.

Thank you for your continued support for education and I look forward to working with you to ensure that Illinois students are well prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.

I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777