Delivered via email: May 13, 2020
LEGISLATURE TO RETURN TO SESSIONThe Illinois General Assembly has scheduled a return to Springfield after a two month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will reconvene session next Wednesday through Friday, May 20-22. In order to comply with social distancing orders, the House will meet at the Bank of Springfield convention center and the Senate will meet in the Capitol in the Senate chambers. A list of specific safety precautions was sent to all General Assembly members.
The event is being called as a Special Session, which means that the Speaker of the House and Senate President can identify the issues which can be undertaken during the meetings. In the Joint Proclamation between the two leaders, the session will be contained to:
- The Covid-19 pandemic or other disasters
- The state budget and its implementation
- Economic recovery, infrastructure projects, and funding thereof
- The expansion, arguments for and against, and the form for constitutional amendments as required under the Illinois Constitutional Amendment Act
- Laws or authority scheduled to be repealed prior to June 1, 2021
- The 2020 General Election and the State Board of Elections
- The hospital assessment program
CALL TO ACTION ON UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE ELIGIBILITY EXPANSIONUnion groups are pushing the governor’s office and the General Assembly to allow all education support personnel (ESP) to be eligible for permanent unemployment insurance benefits by eliminating the provision that disqualifies coverage “between terms.”
Currently, ESPs are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits when not working over the summer or extended holiday breaks if there is a reasonable assurance that the individual will return to the position after the break.
The regular reimbursement rate for unemployment insurance claims is 100%, so the amount of any approved unemployment insurance benefit must be paid to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in full by the school district for each employee that files and is approved. The third federal stimulus package, the CARES Act, allows a 50% reimbursement rate for claims of unemployment from March 13, 2020 through December 31, 2020, however, this push is to expand eligibility to ESPs permanently.
School board members are urged to contact their state representative and state senator to express opposition to this change to unemployment insurance provisions.
- There is a continued expectation of employment, which is why these employees are considered different than others.
- This would be an additional benefit for these employees that there was no expectation of when they were hired.
- Statute requires districts to make a choice as to whether they want to retain an ESP or layoff.
- Districts must give ESPs 30 days notice of a RIF.
- ESPs have recall rights under the statute so if the position is available, they have a right to the position.
- If no position is available, ESPs are entitled to retroactive unemployment insurance if originally denied benefits.
- Many ESPs get paid over 12 months and don’t have a drop in income over the summer.
- Such a change would place a significant additional financial burden on school districts going into a new fiscal year, which will likely contain deep cuts in school funding.
OTHER POSSIBLE EMERGING LEGISLATIVE ISSUESWhen the legislature returns to action next week, it will focus on pandemic-related issues that have affected the state and complete any business that must be addressed before the close of the fiscal year.
FY 2021 Budget
With the closure of businesses throughout the state in the midst of the stay-at-home order, Illinois has lost billions of dollars in tax revenues which has blown multi-billion holes in the remainder of the FY 2020 budget and next year’s projected revenues. Governor JB Pritzker has estimated that there will be a $2.7 billion shortfall in the remainder of the FY 2020 budget and a $4.6 billion deficit in FY 2021. Just in April, tax receipts have fallen $2.74 billion compared to last year.
This will obviously present significant budget woes for next year, likely resulting in budget cuts across state government – including to local school districts. Legislators will be working on implementation of an FY 2021 budget which could include a “lump sum” budget that would give the governor the authority to direct spending to areas he wishes instead of having the legislature appropriate funds in specific budget line items. For K-12 school districts, lawmakers will be deciding whether to impose across the board cuts or to recalculate the evidence-based funding formula to direct the available funding to specific areas or school districts through the tiered system.
Codification of Education Directives
Over the past two months, directives have been issued to school districts through Executive Orders, guidance documents through the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and ISBE emergency administrative rules. These have covered such issues as school district staff employment, educator licensure, evaluations and reductions in force, remote learning requirements, student curricular mandates, and remote attendance at school board meetings. There will likely be attempts to codify some of these orders into state law.
IASB Recommended Initiatives
IASB has shared with legislators and the governor’s office a list of legislative fixes that could aid school districts in responding to school shutdowns and reopening of schools in the fall. These include:
- Maintain annual commitment of $350 million increase for the evidence-based funding formula;
- Fully fund mandated categorical grants;
- Refrain from imposing any property tax relief measures that could come at the expense of local school district revenues;
- Extend the sunset for interfund transfers (this authority currently expires June 30th);
- Extend the sunset for retired teachers return to work without impacting pension benefit (this authority currently expires June 30th);
- Allow school districts to enact Reduction In Force (RIF layoffs) at the beginning of school year and mid-year in the 2020-21 school year;
- Implement a streamlined mandate waiver procedure by allowing the state superintendent to grant immediate waivers for school districts;
- Make permanent Open Meetings Act (OMA) flexibility regarding in person vs. remote attendance when meetings need to be held in unhealthy environments;
- Allow school boards to opt out of being a polling place during elections; and
- Implement a program for central purchasing for additional low-cost PPE and certain building modification supplies for when schools reopen.