During a roundtable discussion, Gov. Bruce Rauner asked 11 juniors and seniors at Belleville West High School about their course loads. They each take advanced placement classes, which could lead to college credit if they do well enough on an exam at the end of the year.
Senior James Beverly said he takes AP political science, AP calculus, AP chemistry, AP psychology and AP English.
“Really?” Rauner asked, impressed with the course load. “I need you in Springfield.”
Junior Georgi Warren is taking AP history and AP physics. She plans to take AP Spanish and AP political science during her senior year.
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“I’m undecided about my future right now, but I like that we have the AP humanities and science and languages, so I have those type of options to look into,” Warren said.
Rauner visited Belleville West on Tuesday to talk with students about a program designed to make more advanced-placement and International Baccalaureate courses available to more lower-income and minority students.
Rauner visited the school to discuss the Lead Higher Initiative.
“I want to see everyone have extensive access to advanced-placement classes,” Rauner said during the visit, adding that he wants Illinois to “improve the way we fund schools, so it is more equitable.”
The governor said education “is the most important thing we do together as a community.”
He said the Lead Higher Initiative aims to close the race and income gaps in student access to advanced-placement and International Baccalaureate courses.
“In Illinois, we have a focus on ensuring every student has a quality education from cradle to career, and these classes will help lay a foundation for the future of these students,” Rauner said. “It goes without saying that different students face different challenges. But we have a moral obligation to position all students to receive a first-class education and not only survive, but thrive, in school and their career.”
Brandon Hentze, director of gifted and AP education at Belleville West, said the school is expanding its AP selection.
“We’re finding areas where students take only one AP class, and we’re trying to expand the opportunities for them so everybody can get a little college credit no matter what their major or career path is,” Hentze said.
Not every teacher on the West campus was happy to see Rauner, though. Cyndi Oberle-Dahm, social studies department chair at the school and president of the Belleville Federation of Teachers, issued a statement that questioned how much Rauner cares about education.
“I appreciate that Belleville staff and students have this opportunity to demonstrate the amazing work we do together every day, but I question how much Gov. Rauner really cares about our schools,” Oberle-Dahm said in a statement. “By holding the state budget hostage to his political demands instead of leading, the governor has hurt our community. If he really wanted to support us and provide our schools with the funding we need, Gov. Rauner would ask millionaires like him to pay their fair share in taxes.
While responding to the comments, Rauner said schools in the state now have record funding levels.
“We have had the worst funded schools from the state for decades and decades. Our administration, I personally have fought to increase state support for school funding to record levels, and we achieved that,” Rauner said. “I will work hard to get more money from the state for our K-to-12 schools every year going forward. We do need property tax relief, tax reform, to make sure we have the resources for our schools.”
There has been discussion as well as a recommendation that is being put into the form of legislation to make changes to the way schools are funded.
Rauner said the proposal is to puts more state resources into schools and focuses it on lower income lower-middle income neighborhoods and districts.
“We don’t want to take money away from districts, but we want to put more money into the lower income (and) those that don’t have the financial resources to support their schools,” Rauner said.
He said budget deficits need to end in the state.
“The key to changing it is to make sure our economy grows faster than our government spending,” Rauner said.
Rauner also met with the Belleville News-Democrat Editorial Board, where he applauded the ongoing negotiations among Senate leaders to work toward a state balanced budget agreement.
“I’m heartened, and I’m optimistic because I think that we’re finally making some real progress in the General Assembly,” Rauner said. “I applaud the Senate Democratic leaders and the Republican Senate leaders for trying to come together and trying to get a bipartisan comprehensive package of structural changes along with a truly balanced budget.”
Rauner said the group of senators is working on the “right things,” such as term limits, property tax relief and regulatory reform to help attract businesses.
“What’s needed is a balanced budget with changes,” Rauner said. “The real priority is a balanced budget with structural change to have great schools, to have more jobs, to have property tax relief and change our political system through term limits … and the good news is the General Assembly is working on it.”
Rauner also spoke about his veto of money slated to help Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago has paid its teacher pensions for more than 100 years, but wanted to state to pay it, Rauner said.
“We had agreement for it to be a part of comprehensive pension reform, but they dropped the comprehensive pension reform part,” Rauner said.
He said Chicago also receives an additional block grant of $250 million.
“They like to keep that, but then have state taxpayers pay their teacher pensions. That’s wrong. That’s a bailout for CPS,” Rauner said. “That’s not fair. That’s not fair for the taxpayers in Belleville, metro-east, Decatur, Marion. We need a fair deal that’s not a bailout, and we need comprehensive pension reform.”