Gary Adkins is IASB director of editorial services and editor of The Illinois School Board Newsbulletin
Part IV — 1973-1992
This is the fourth in a year-long series that will detail the history of the Illinois Association of School Boards from its inception in 1913 through its 100th anniversary on December 13, 2013.
Expansion was the watchword at IASB during the 20-year period from 1973 to 1992.
In this era, IASB’s Chicago-area and Springfield offices were relocated several times in pursuit of more space to house more people. When Harold P. Seamon succeeded B.B. Burgess as executive director on July 1, 1973, he led an Association staff of seven. Within the next two decades, however, the IASB staff would expand to more than 60 full- and part-time employees. This phenomenal growth was in response to numerous new programs and new services developed to meet increasing membership needs.
Nationally, the period saw growing social turmoil, major economic crises, the impeachment and resignation of a president, as well as the climax of an end to the war in Vietnam. The early 1970s also marked a significant shift in social and political attitudes toward women. These changes culminated in several landmark educational equality laws passed by Congress. Education equality laws included, among others, Title IX in 1972, which required more equal treatment of women in school and collegiate sports and stated, in part, that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance...” and the 1974 Women’s Educational Equity Act, which outlined protections from discrimination against women in education, and was intended to combat sex-role stereotyping in elementary and secondary schools primarily.
The field of K-12 education was significantly altered with the release in 1983 of a landmark report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, called A Nation at Risk. The report contributed to a growing (and still prevalent) public belief that America’s schools were failing, particularly when it comes to meeting the nation’s need for a world-class competitive workforce. The report (online at http://datacenter.spps.org/sites/2259653e-ffb3-45ba-8fd6-04a024ecf7a4/uploads/SOTW_A_Nation_at_Risk_1983.pdf) engendered numerous local, state and federal reform efforts. It listed 38 recommendations for change, including setting higher standards and expectations, and raising graduation requirements in various content areas. Its recommendations on Content and Standards were basically as follows:
• Content: “4 years of English; (b) 3 years of mathematics; (c) 3 years of science; (d) 3 years of social studies; and (e) one-half year of computer science” for high school students.” The report also recommended that students work toward proficiency in a foreign language starting in the elementary grades.
• Standards and Expectations: warning against grade inflation, the report recommended that colleges increase their standards for admissions and that society toughen standardized achievement exams at “major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work.”
A Nation at Risk was assessed for its effectiveness 25 years later by a nonpartisan organization called Strong American Schools, looking for progress toward the goals listed in the report. The organization’s analysis stated: “While the national conversation about education would never be the same, stunningly few of the Commission’s recommendations actually have been enacted.”
But A Nation at Risk likely did play a key role in setting the stage in Illinois for a package of education reform legislation signed into law just three years later, covering a wide range of issues. Among the key concerns of the 1985 reforms was teacher tenure, which was amended to provide an expanded teacher remediation process designed to allow increased flexibility in the dismissal of ineffective teachers.
Under this provision of the new tenure law, teachers who had been rated as unsatisfactory and failed to satisfy a specific remediation plan were subject to dismissal. Although this appeared to increase the ability of boards to terminate poor-performing teachers, in reality it did little. Since boards of education still had to provide detailed documentation of ineffective teaching performance, the change proved more cosmetic than substantive. Research data subsequent to implementation of the 1985 legislation showed that annually an average of just one out of every 930 Illinois tenured teachers was placed on remediation. Political pressure continued to build for giving school boards more authority to dismiss bad teachers (which was finally approved by the Illinois legislature in 2012, in the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, or PERA).
A Nation at Risk may also have helped to set the stage for the Chicago reform law enacted in 1988, which called for electing local school councils to help govern neighborhood schools in the city, and other major changes such as giving school principals more authority. Recognizing these councils as school governance bodies, IASB helped train their members through visits to many city schools.
The Association’s relationship with the state continued to change in this era. A major demarcation point in that relationship was crossed in 1974 with Illinois implementing a constitutional changeover that had been adopted in 1970 to move to a 17-member appointed state board of education. The new board featured a large professional staff, replacing the former elected chief state school officer, who had a much smaller staff of assistants. This change was made under requirements of Article X of the Illinois Constitution of 1970.
IASB made a presentation about the Association in 1974 to the first members appointed to the new Illinois State Board of Education, who included IASB past-president Robert Jamieson. Then Governor Dan Walker even hosted a breakfast for members of the IASB Board of Directors at the executive mansion and engaged the directors in a lively discussion about the new state board and about issues in school finance.
Major school-related issues during these years included: rising school transportation and heating costs as a direct result of the 1973 oil crisis that hit the nation’s economy hard; expansion of the number and size of state-mandated programs without new state dollars and local regulatory authority (a school district problem that has never gone away); proposed state cuts in school funding (a seemingly perennial issue even today as deeper and deeper cuts are contemplated year by year); non-public school busing; minimum competency testing for educators; and mandatory collective bargaining for teachers (which became law in 1983 after years of legislative near misses).
Between 1973 and 1992, Illinois public school enrollment fell steadily for more than 15 years before rebounding almost imperceptibly each year from 1989 through 1992. Overall, though, public school enrollment declined by more than half a million students during this period, or 2.38 million to 1.84 million students, and reaching a low of 1.79 million students in 1989. In contrast to the teacher shortages of the preceding era, Illinois teacher ranks held steady for these 20 years; in fact, the total number of full-time public school teachers inched up from 106,500 teachers in 1973 to 107,482 teachers in 1992.
School leaders in Illinois and elsewhere were forced to contend with an economic crisis in the early 1980s as oil prices climbed in response to man-made shortages of available supplies. A combination of stagnant growth in the nation’s economy and price inflation during this era led to the coinage of the term “stagflation.” This phenomenon put a damper on state and federal budgets in support of education during most of these years. Schools also felt the impact when the nation was shaken by a major economic recession in 1991 and 1992.
The economic chaos of this time period resulted in lines at the gas pumps in the mid-1970s and shortages of propane and other fossil fuels used for heating schools. In fact, a “hot line” was created by the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Department of Agriculture in 1973 for school districts that ran into fuel problems during the heating season and needed help tracking down a steady source of supply.
Money was tight during these years and Governors Dan Walker (1973-1977) and James R. Thompson (1977 to 1987) both repeatedly called for cuts to education funding. IASB always opposed these proposed reductions, and often came out on the winning side in legislative battles. In 1974, for example, the Association was instrumental in forming the Illinois Committee for Full Funding to restore $70 million cut from the education budget. The IASB Board of Directors voted unanimously at its March 23, 1974, meeting to pursue full funding of the resource equalizer state aid formula then in law. Gov. Walker met with the board prior to this vote, recommending they support his call for funding at about the 92 percent level. The board did not agree and the Association’s viewpoint prevailed in the legislature.
Income from IASB membership dues rose from $484,068 in 1974 to nearly $1.7 million in 1994. Nonetheless, the Association launched a long-term effort to wean itself from a dependence on member dues for a majority of its income. The financial report for Fiscal Year 1982 showed total income of $2,000,358, including $1,035,726 from active member dues (or about 52 percent). By Fiscal Year 1992, IASB’s income of $3,499,107 was comprised of $1,631,485 (or just 47 percent) from active-member dues.
So where and how did the Association spend its increasing revenues during this period?
Much of IASB’s expansion during the era from 1973 to 1992 was driven primarily by the Association staff becoming more innovative in terms of the number and helpfulness of its services and program offerings to member districts. In fact, many new projects initiated in this era still thrive today:
• In 1977, approval of the first group insurance trust
• In 1980, approval of self-funded employee benefit programs
• In 1981, approval of worker’s compensation self-insurance trust program
• In 1986, approval of the School Board Political Action Committee
• In 1986, establishment of the Illinois Council of School Attorneys
• In 1986, approval of a property-casualty pool
• In 1988, publication of the Illinois School Code
• In 1989, introduction of the Educational Environments Exhibit of school designs
• In 1990, publication of the Illinois School Law Survey
Other significant developments at IASB included the Association’s first self-contained headquarters at 430 East Vine Street in 1980, introduction of desktop personal computers in 1985, the first IASB Distinguished Service Award in 1990, and the creation of a new staff position responsible for the IASB Resource Center and Information Services in 1991.
IASB’s relationship with the National School Boards Association (NSBA) continued to evolve throughout this era. Two IASB presidents from this period were elected to serve as president of NSBA. Jonathan Howe, who was IASB president in 1978-79, served as NSBA president in 1987. Barbara Wheeler, who was IASB president in 1988-89, was elected in 1997 as NSBA president. In September 1973, the Association, led by then Executive Director Harold “Hal” P. Seamon, participated in the first-ever meeting of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network in Washington, D.C. State associations to this day still send a cadre of local school board members to the annual FRN meeting in the nation’s capital to study issues and lobby their own Congressional representatives on behalf of their public schools back home. The IASB Board of Directors also endorsed NSBA’s new Direct Affiliate Program in 1974 and Illinois became the unquestioned leader in district participation.
A major issue in education during this period in Illinois, as elsewhere, was how to better educate students with disabilities while maintaining high-quality education for others. Special education programs in the United States were made mandatory in 1975, when the United States Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in response to discriminatory treatment by public agencies against students with disabilities. The EHA was later modified to strengthen protections to people with disabilities and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The two laws require states to provide special education consistent with federal standards as a condition of receiving federal funds. IDEA also authorized Congress to contribute up to 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure for each special education student [see 20 U.S.C. § 1411(a) for this pledge]. But from the outset, federal appropriations for special education failed to implement that original authorization, falling well short of even half of the funding goal.
In response to the federal underfunding, the IASB Board of Directors adopted a policy statement in 1977 on Funding Special Education Programs, with language stating: “[IASB] shall urge the Congress of the United States to adequately fund Public Law 94-142 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) commensurate with the mandates required by the Act.”
Several position statements adopted by IASB delegates from 1973 to 1992 covered other substantive educational programs, including some that pertain to local control, such as:
• 1.02 Curricular Material Determination, supporting the right and responsibility of each local school board to determine its curricular content. (Adopted 1981)
• 1.03 Physical Education, “The Illinois Association of School Boards shall support modifications to existing state mandates which shall allow boards of education to establish time requirements for physical education at the K-12 level.” (Adopted 1982)
• 1.04 Student Retention and High School Completion, urging lawmakers to commit programs and resources to reduce the dropout rate (Adopted 1986)
• 1.05 Preschool Programs, a demand to fully fund state programs with new monies for staffing and infrastructure (Adopted 1986)
Other IASB Position Statements adopted during this era included suggestions for improved local control, but a greater number dealt with a demand for improved state and federal funding of public schools. Inadequacies in state funding were blamed in 1992 for Illinois’ grade of C- from Voices for Illinois Children, a non-partisan child advocacy alliance. The group gave still-lower marks, a D- overall, to child welfare in the state:
“ Illinois is failing to provide adequate services to its 3.3 million children. Unfortunately for them and for our future, the 1980s were not a good time for Illinois children,” the report stated.
The economic reversals of this era were reflected, as well, in voter responses to local school district requests for property tax increases. In sharp contrast to the post-war years from 1953 to 1972, the subsequent era produced a poor success rate for school district finance referenda. For example, in the first nine years following consolidation of Illinois elections in 1981, which limited the number of election dates available for finance referendum, boards placed a total of 1,543 property tax increase proposals on the ballot. Of that total, just 564 won voter approval and 979 were defeated, for a success rate of 36 percent. The struggle for public approval to fund public schools with an increasingly larger share of local tax dollars would continue for years to come.
A fitting summation of public school’s predicament throughout this time period may be this query from the Nov. 24, 1992, issue of the Newsbulletin: “How can schools provide a top-quality education when costs are rising, there is growing resistance to higher taxes, and state funding is being slashed?”
Facing such a situation, then-State Superintendent of Education C. Robert Leininger summed up the attitude of many educators of the day in a May-June 1992 column in The Illinois School Board Journal when he stated: “Hard as it may be to believe, the 21 st Century is just around the corner and there is no time to waste if we are to prepare our children to meet its challenges. We must put aside our frustrations and begin planning for the future, concentrating on the many, many things which can be done without large infusions of money. Let’s change the way we think about schooling, let’s break the mold and dare to be different.”
Those words just as accurately describe what IASB had been doing for the previous 20 years of its expansion.
“That era was definitely a time of great expansion and growth at IASB,” recalled the former head of the field services department Douglas P. Blair, who was on the staff throughout much of that time period.