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Illinois Governor Offers More Funds if Reform Pledged

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Springfield, Ill--Gov. James R. Thompson has proposed a $2.7-billion education budget for fiscal 1985--2.8 percent above this year's spending--with a promise of more to come in future years if educators can improve the quality of their product.

Mr. Thompson's budget would allow for $61 million in new funding for elementary and secondary schools, with nearly half of that earmarked for the teacher-retirement program. The state board of education had requested $472 million in new revenue for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

In a budget message last week, Mr. Thompson called that request "unwarranted and unaffordable." However, the state board the next day released a letter to the Governor and legislators, urging them to put money behind the frequent claim3that education is a top priority of the state.

Donald G. Gill, state superintendent of education, called the Governor's budget "dangerously and shamefully low."

"Once again, the Governor has shown that his top priority is not ele-mentary and secondary education students," Mr. Gill said. "Despite the rhetoric, percentage of state dollars for schools continues to decline."

The Governor said he would be willing to set aside $250 million in new revenues--exclusive of retirement funds--over the next three years if educators can devise a reform plan to earn the money.

Calling his proposal a "Contract for Educational Excellence," the Governor suggested that reform measures should emphasize:

Effectiveness. "There must be measurable learning targets and our schools must be held responsible for meeting them," Mr. Thompson said. However, he refused to specify what such targets should be or how schools should measure them. He added: "We should reward good teachers with higher salaries, establish a career ladder to retain our best teachers, and allow them to share their skills with colleagues."

Equity. The Governor said "education policymakers" should address such issues as "the heavy reliance on local property taxes [for supporting education], disproportionate tax rates among the three types of school districts, and the impact of changing tax-assessmentns." The state board has been considering an innovative school-aid formula based on a "resource cost model," but the Governor has declined to comment about the plan.

Efficiency. "The existence of too many school districts contributes to high administrative costs, whichel5lcan be reduced through an effective school-consolidation program," the Governor said. He did not specify how many of the state's 1,009 dis-tricts could be eliminated, nor did he suggest how he would defuse what usually becomes a volatile political issue, particularly in sparsely populated areas.

With respect to the state board's budget request, the Governor said that "the board made a mistake asking for half a billion dollars without any program ready to go."

The board quickly responded by continuing its public crusade for more money. In its letter to elected officials, the board said its budget reflected the belief that an eight-year decline in state support for education "must be halted."

"The decline of state support has been well documented," the letter said. "Testimony at public hearings has emphasized the effects this decline has had on the quality of programs and services."

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