Ill. Coalition Seeks To Be 'Catalyst for Change'

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Education associations in Illinois are banding together in hopes of turning years of contention into cooperation and better results for schools.

The Illinois Learning Partnership is a new coalition of the state board of education with all the major school associations, unions, private education associations, and business groups. The partnership will serve as a clearinghouse and dispense advice on innovations.

The members say that school reform is more likely to take place if their expertise is pooled. With no central organization over the years for sharing ideas and accomplishments, organizers said the association is long overdue.

"Too often school districts that exist next door to one another fail to share their light and their accomplishments," said Betty Durbin, the president of the Illinois PTA.

Nonpartisan for Now

The partnership, she said, will "establish and expand networks, sharing, and implementation of the best all schools have to offer."

The group comprises a partnership council, eight regional learning networks, and an assortment of learning teams, which will be organized around specific themes.

Although the primary task will be publicizing what is working in schools, what is not, and improving performance of the state's 1.9 million students, the thorny issue of school funding and partisan fights is bound to come up.

The state pays only 33 percent of Illinois' total education costs, compared with a national average of 50 percent. The system forces schools to rely heavily on property taxes, magnifying wide disparities between rich and poor districts. State lawmakers have promised to tackle the long-debated funding formula this year.

Until such a flare-up, the Illinois partnership will concentrate on smoothing relationships among adversarial interest groups, according to Executive Director Judy Davis, a former teacher and administrator.

"We hope to be a catalyst for change," Ms. Davis said. "But at this point, we're trying to stay apolitical and focus on collaboration."

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