Guv visits OPRF to propose school funding, gambling hikes

? Plan would raise standards for high schools as well as per-pupil state funding level by $240, plus be a possible boon for casino boats.

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By DREW CARTER

Gov. Rod Blagojevich visited Oak Park and River Forest High School last Thursday to announce a school funding hike proposal that would be financed by revenues from expanding gambling at existing casino boats.

The plan also calls for elevating standards at high schools so students would take more math, science, and writing courses, and it would require schools to offer a greater variety of advanced courses.

"Let's be clear. Money alone will not solve the problems," Blagojevich said. "We have to set higher standards."

The proposal would raise the foundation level?#34;the per-pupil amount paid to most schools, except the wealthiest?#34;by $240, and would add $300 million in education funding to the $140 million the governor included in his 2006 budget.

The new figure includes $30 million for early childhood education.

To fund the $300 million in new spending, Blagojevich proposed more than doubling the number of positions at the nine state-licensed gambling facilities in the state. He said he would not uncouple the school standards and funding increase element from the gambling expansion.

The governor dodged a question from a reporter who asked whether the proposal would be a boon for existing gaming operations.

Crain's Chicago Business reported last week that the Pritzker family has made a bid to buy out its 50 percent partner of the Grand Victoria in Elgin, the most profitable casino in Illinois.

OPRF chosen because of course offerings

OPRF officials were asked last week whether they would be interested in hosting the announcement. With Principal/Supt. Sue Bridge on vacation during spring break, assistant superintendents Phil Prale and Jason Edgecombe took the lead in organizing the event.

Edgecombe introduced and formally welcomed the governor at the press conference.

They were not told why the Governor's Office chose OPRF for the announcement, but a spokeswoman for the governor said it was because of the school's offerings in advanced classes.

On his way into the building, Blagojevich shook hands with school officials and students the school gathered to stand behind the governor while he spoke.

One student, OPRF senior and award-winning orator Joshua Clark, spoke during the event about taking accelerated math, science and English courses throughout his student career. He said encouragement and challenges from teachers have prepared him for college and life because "sometimes you get thrown some hardballs" and young people need to be ready.

Another student, Ross Martinez, said he hoped other students in the state would be able to benefit from challenging classes like those he took at OPRF.

Oak Park state lawmakers were asked at the press conference to respond to the governor's proposal, but said they hadn't had time to review it. Afterward, Sen. Don Harmon said other proposals for expanding gambling are swirling around Springfield, and that the state budget is "about as lean as Illinois can go." Any increase to education spending would have to be met with a new funding proposal, Harmon said.

During the event, Rep. Karen Yarbrough said, "This governor, one thing he's been is creative."

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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