Illinois Debates School Consolidation

By: - March 2, 2011 12:00 am

SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION IN IL: A plan to merge hundreds of school districts in Illinois has gotten support from the state’s top education official. State Superintendent Chris Koch said consolidation would have to come from state officials because local districts would not be able to overcome opposition to merging schools. His comments came a week after Governor Patrick Quinn, a Democrat, said eliminating roughly 500 of the state’s 868 districts could save the state million. Some Republicans have embraced the proposal but members of the governor’s party have reacted more coolly. Senate President John Cullerton said he objected to forcing consolidation onto districts but would support an incentive program that would offer rewards to districts that decide to merge. “We want to be able to make certain school districts an offer that they, in effect, can’t refuse,” he said in a statement. A Quinn spokeswoman said such a plan would not result in the necessary number of consolidations.

HOPE ON THE BLOCK IN GA: Georgia lawmakers are struggling to find a way to protect the state’s innovative HOPE scholarship program. The 18-year-old program uses lottery funds to finance college tuition at in-state colleges and universities for Georgia high school graduates who earn a B average or above. Governor Nathan Deal has proposed scaling back the scholarships as well as some funding for pre-k classes that comes from the program. Democrats say they were blindsided by Deal’s plan and have asked for a chance to present their own proposals to preserve the program, which has been strained by rising college tuition and leveling lottery revenues and could go broke next year.

CLOSING COLLEGES IN MI: A Michigan lawmaker has warned that proposed cuts to higher education could force some colleges and universities to close. State Representative Bob Genetski, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, says the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State universities would be spared but that smaller regional schools could face the ax. “Unless the economy turns around big time it’s a very real possibility,” he told Crain’s Detroit Business . Closing schools would make it possible to keep tuition increases at a minimum in the remaining schools, he said, and the shuttered schools could continue operating as branch campuses of other institutions. Genetski also suggested a regional board system to eliminate overlap between the universities. Republican Governor Rick Snyder has proposed cutting state aid to public universities by 15 percent.

TAX HIKE PROPOSED IN CO: Colorado voters last year turned down Tea-Party influenced anti-tax ballot initiatives. Now one lawmaker wants them to approve a tax increase to help finance education. State Senator Rollie Heath, a Boulder Democrat, launched a citizen’s initiative to put tax increases on the 2011 ballot. The initiative would increase the income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and the sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. Both measures would raise about million in the first year, which would be earmarked for education. Heath says he was disappointed by Demcoratic Governor John Hickenlooper’s plan to cut million from K-12 schools and higher education over the current year. Republicans have disparaged Heath’s plan. Fellow Democrats have not flocked to his side to show support either.

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