June 13, 2019
LEGISLATIVE SESSION WRAP UP
The 2019 spring legislative session was a mixed bag for public school districts. There were some positives, such as the General Assembly approving a balanced budget that contained an increase of $375 million for the evidence-based funding model. A school construction program is in the works that will infuse $1.5 billion of new money for school construction and maintenance across the state. No details are available yet as to exactly how a school district can be approved for the new funding or what the criteria will entail. There could also be a revenue stream for school districts to hire school resource officers and mental health experts.
However, with all of the new mandates that were also approved, the legislature will be dictating to local school districts exactly how much of the funding will be spent. The largest new requirement is the statutory increase in the minimum teacher salary. About one-half of all of Illinois' school districts will be impacted directly by the mandate once it is enacted. There is a real concern that, for many school districts, increasing teacher salaries will consume most or all of any new funding received in the new formula. Along with the increase for teachers, the minimum wage for all workers will be increased to $15 over the next six years.
Lawmakers addressed the teacher shortage by approving bills that end the test of basic skills as a prerequisite for receiving a teaching license and that extends for two more years the flexibility to allow a teacher to return to teaching in subject shortage areas without impairing his or her retirement status. But on the other side of the employment ledger, school districts will be required to implement an appeals process for teachers who received "unsatisfactory" ratings, and will have to provide a laid-off educational support person who is re-employed with the same district, the same rights accrued during the previous service with the school district.
Local school district flexibility will be lost on various fronts. A bill was enacted to revert back to a prescriptive five-clock hour minimum school day for funding purposes. This provision had been deleted with the adoption of the Evidence-Based Funding Formula and allowed the focus to be shifted to a more "outcomes based" philosophy where counting individual minutes of seat time by students was replaced by measuring the academic achievement of a student. School districts used that flexibility to offer new and innovative education programs that did not fit perfectly into a five-hour time frame in a school classroom. Flexibility will also be lost in how schools protect student data privacy and the use of response interventions in special education programs.
New instruction will have to be provided in the curriculum to: teach about the diversity of our society, including the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in society; teach civics in grades 6-8; teach about consent to sexual activity in sex education classes; and specifically teach the history of Illinois in history classes.
Some improvements on school board issues were achieved by the IASB. IASB initiatives were approved to exempt from disclosure a public body's credit card numbers, debit card numbers, bank account numbers, Federal Employer Identification Number, security code numbers, and passwords; and to extend the time for the regional superintendent to fill school board member vacancies from 45 to 60 days. Some positive changes were made regarding charter schools as well. Bills were approved to abolish the State Charter School Commission and transfer all responsibilities to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and to require that a c harter school governing board complete the same training as elected school board members.
Though the list of new requirements and burdens on local school districts may seem extensive, IASB was successful in stopping or improving dozens of onerous bills. Many bills were stopped that contained new curricular mandates, school district reporting requirements, or mandates that would have cost time or resources. Dozens more were amended by the IASB to either remove mandates contained in a bill, lessen stringent new requirements, or make implementation of a new program or policy more easily facilitated by the school district.
A comprehensive list of all education-related bills from the spring legislative session will soon be available in the Digest of Bills Passed. This publication will be printed and distributed to school districts, as well as posted on the IASB website.