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Illinois Seeks Private Funds for Reforms

Illinois School
With tough times forcing schools to do even more with far less, some states are seeking private funds to support public education reforms. For months, Illinois education officials have courted philanthropic foundations and businesses to raise money for a host of initiatives — from testing every kindergartner to revamping how teenagers study science and technology, the Chicago Tribune reports.

In scale and ambition, the pitch to the private sector is without precedent. It is also without many alternatives: Illinois narrowly lost in its bid for the federal Race to the Top competition last fall, missing a shot at $400 million intended to improve public schools at a time when the state’s financial woes render an infusion of new cash unlikely.

So, the state’s top educator, Illinois School Superintendent Christopher Koch, hopes to raise about $80 million in private support and grants in the next four years to support reforms that include student performance in teacher evaluations and prepare principals to work in schools plagued by poverty, state records show.

While Chicago Public Schools has long partnered with private foundations to boost everything from the arts to literacy, the state education agency traditionally lacked those connections. The federal stakes race changed that.

At a November “Donors Forum,” state education officials detailed plans for virtual hubs for science and technology education, where high schools would partner with universities and private companies involved in energy or health science. They also met with philanthropic groups and even other state agencies to discuss funding for a new, intricate online network that would give teachers on-the-spot access to everything from student attendance to lesson plans or virtual courses. “If you care about public schools, you have to care about what’s happening at the state level. Race to the Top really shone a light on that,” said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, a bipartisan education policy group.

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