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The Education Year in Review -- 2006-2007

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Legislative Issues
No budget
The proposals
The fallout
The budget numbers
Legislation of interest

Illinois Education

The Federal Scene
NCLB subgroup size requirements not loophole
Federal court lifts desegregation oversight on Chicago schools
Supreme Court case seeks to allow schools to consider race in student assignment
Chicago schools announce plans to initiate ambitious merit pay system

Significant Developments

Participation in IASB Programs
Click here to download a table in portable document format showing numbers of participants in IASB programs for the past three years.

IASB Financial Report
Click here to download the IASB financial report for FY 2007 in portable document format.

Awards and Honors
Burroughs Award
Superintendent of the Year
Cole Awards
Those Who Excel


No Budget. The 2007 spring legislative session will be known as the session that wouldn't end as a budget was finally put into effect on Aug, 23. The legislature approved the budget bill on Aug, 10, however Governor Rod Blagojevich sat on the bill for nearly two weeks before issuing line-item and reduction vetoes, thus leaving school districts in limbo while waiting for state aid payments. The veto cut out hundreds of millions of dollars in what the governor labeled as "pork projects," but those items not affected by cuts – including most education appropriations – became official upon the issuance of the veto. At last a state operating budget was in place.

The session began with education advocates having high hopes for the adoption of a new comprehensive school funding plan. But the legislature reached a new pinnacle of political wrangling and not only could the legislative leadership not agree on significant new revenues for school funding, but no agreement could be reached on a general state budget.

With a Democrat governor and Democrats at the helm of both the Illinois House of Representatives and the Senate, many thought that a budget could come together quite easily as it could be achieved without involving the opposition party. But intra-party squabbles took the place of the usual partisan warring, and the governor and speaker of the house could never get on the same page.

The Proposals. Governor Rod Blagojevich announced in his state of the state/budget address that he wanted to provide 1.5 billion new dollars for public education and he wanted to pass a universal health care bill. To pay for his costly agenda, he proposed a Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) that would have brought in approximately $7.6 billion. After a massive outcry against a GRT (which would tax a company's gross sales, not net sales/profit), House Speaker Michael Madigan offered a resolution on the House floor that asked who supported the GRT. The resolution was defeated – without even one "yes" vote. A Senate committee did approve the governor's plan, contained in SB 1, earlier in the spring. The bill never moved on the Senate floor.

A House committee did approve HB 750, the income tax increase/property tax relief legislation that would provide approximately $3 billion for public education. The bill never moved on the House floor.

The Fallout. Once the legislature went into June without a budget, the dynamics changed again. Now, because of a constitutional provision that requires any legislation that has an immediate effective date (as a budget bill would) be approved with a 3/5 majority vote, Republican votes would be needed to pass a budget bill in the House. The Republican leaders in the House (Representative Tom Cross) and Senate (Senator Frank Watson) were now invited to the budget negotiations with the Governor, House Speaker Mike Madigan, and Senate President Emil Jones, Jr.

When no year-long budget could be agreed to by late June, the leaders did agree to pass a temporary, one-month budget for July so State operations would not be shut down. The State's fiscal year begins on July 1. Toward the end of July, when again a shut down of State services loomed, a court ordered that the State Comptroller must continue to issue payroll distributions to State workers even if a budget was not in place. Allowing the State workers to continue to get paid relieved some of the pressure for lawmakers to approve a budget, even though school district State aid payments were not issued on time in August.

Dramatics. Observers saw a member of the House, elected as a Republican, declare that he was changing parties and joining the Democrat caucus. The governor questioned the House Speaker's Democrat credentials by saying that he was siding with "conservative Republicans" and abandoning his party's principles of providing health care and increasing education funding. The speaker questioned the governor's leadership abilities and the two then sparred over who gets to set the time of the special sessions (the governor says he can state the dates and times; the speaker says the governor sets the date but the speaker sets the times). The governor, after threatening in June to sue the speaker over the special session times, did file a suit against the Speaker of the House in late August.

When the governor kept House members in Springfield over a July weekend, the entire membership of the House was riled. A string of speakers (many of them Democrats) chastised the governor openly on the House floor. Republican members, in all seriousness, asked about the possibility of impeaching the governor. The speaker, then, invited all members of the House to attend the next budget meeting of the governor and the four leaders. These meetings are usually attended by the four leaders, the governor, and a few select staff members in the governor's office in the Illinois Capitol. But over that weekend, over 60 legislators attended the meetings which had to be moved to the governor's mansion.

The Budget Numbers. When it was over, however, public education was a winner in the budget. Nearly 600 million new dollars were allocated to elementary and secondary education. The foundation level in the State aid formula was increased by $400 per student. Mandated categorical grants were fully funded and a $1,000 per teacher increase was given to the special education personnel reimbursement amount. The reimbursement, which had not been changed for nearly 25 years, went from $8,000 per special education teacher to $9,000 per teacher.

Legislation of Interest
Much legislation was considered, and passed, in the 2007 session. Though several bills (most containing unfunded mandates), were approved over the School Management Alliance's objections, dozens of other bills were either derailed by Alliance lobbyists or were amended to alleviate much of the school district's burden in implementing new programs or requirements. Bills were approved to mandate several new school policies (bullying, pest management, "green cleaning supplies, biometric information, summer food programs, school bus call numbers, and school bus inspections).

Third Party Contracts. The legislature approved HB 1347 which will significantly curtail the school district practice of contracting for services such as transportation, food service and janitorial services by adding burdensome new restrictions for a school board entering into a contract with a third party to perform such non-instructional services. The bill states that no contract could be entered into with a third party during the term of a collective bargaining agreement – this could mean years between opportunities to contract out for services. It also contains a provision that requires the third party to provide "comparable" insurance and benefits. The term "comparable" is not defined which leads to confusion of what is acceptable – and could require third party contractors to increase their overhead costs making it cost prohibitive for a school district to use their services. HB 1347 was signed into law by the Governor on Aug. 17.

School Construction Money. Though no major, new capital projects bill was agreed to by the legislature at the time of this printing, both chambers did approve an appropriations bill that included $150 million for those 24 school districts that have been waiting for their school construction grants for the past three years. Though SB 241 was signed into law by the Governor, he announced that the money would not be released to school districts because of "technical problems."

Another bill approved by both houses addresses school construction. SB 835 would allow a county board to place a question on the ballot to impose a sales tax for distribution to school districts within the county whose voters approve the measure for school district facility needs.

Drivers' Education Changes. SB 172 adds tough new standards for drivers' education, the result of a task force headed by Secretary of State Jesse White. The bill makes several significant changes regarding instruction permits, graduated drivers' licenses, and curfews and passenger limits for young drivers. It also deletes the provisions that allow school districts to use proficiency examinations for practice driving and prohibits the use of simulators. Six hours of driving – in a car with an instructor – would be required. SB 172 was signed into law by the Governor on Aug. 20.

Constitutional Convention. The House of Representatives narrowly approved a resolution that urges voters to support a call next year for a constitutional convention. HR 25 has no binding authority, but the vote can be a gauge of the support the concept has in the House. According to the Illinois Constitution, "If the question of whether a Convention should be called is not submitted during any twenty-year period, the Secretary of State shall submit such question at the general election in the twentieth year following the last submission." In 2008, it will be twenty years since the last time the question was asked. Therefore, the question will be proposed statewide in the November General Election – and if approved by three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election – a constitutional convention would be called and changes could be made to any portion of the document. According to HR 25, the constitution should be revisited to strengthen and clarify language regarding school funding, election campaign financing, and property tax assessment.

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State Board of Education Developments

June 2007– State education leaders met with representatives of several advocacy organizations in mid-June to discuss two issues in regard to the proposed Response to Intervention (RtI) rules.

May 2007 – Christopher Koch was chosen by the Illinois State Board of Education on April 19 to serve as the state superintendent of Education. Koch, who has been with ISBE since 1994, had served as interim state superintendent since December, and was selected after a national search.

April 2007 – ISBE survey results, released in April 2007 showed that 80 percent of respondents either agree or strongly agree that students benefit from a School Breakfast Program. But limited school funds topped the list of barriers to implementation.

March 2007 – State Superintendent Christopher Koch attended the Council of Chief State Schools Officer's Secondary School Redesign National Meeting in Austin, Texas and said he came away impressed with the proven strategies research has uncovered. He particularly praised the consensus that has been reached in regard to effective reading instruction at the high school level.

February 2007 – The state announces that For the first time, the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) is nationally normed, or sampled, from tests in the entire country. Another new element is something called the "Lexile score," which gives parents an idea of their child's reading level.

January 2007 – The Illinois State Board of Education announces plans to initiate a revision to its food and beverage standards in response to recommendations of the Illinois School Wellness Policy Task Force. While previous school food service rules only affected grades eight and below, the task force recommends extending nutrition standards into high schools.

December 2006 – Delays caused by a Texas-based testing firm caused schools to wait far past the deadline for school test results from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE). The delay mean schools can not tell parents and communities whether students have met performance targets on the state tests.

November 2006 – A copy of the latest "Capital Needs Assessment Survey Results" report is made available online. This ISBE report shows the School Construction Grant Program, suspended since 2004, has benefited 502 school districts in every region of the state and has provided over $3.1 billion in state-funded grants to help local school districts.

October 2006 – ISBE asks all districts to complete and submit the School Capital Needs Assessment form by Oct. 31. ISBE and the state's Capital Development Board use all the data received from it to communicate the capital needs of school districts to state officials.

September 2006 – A search firm hired by ISBE meets with various stakeholder groups from September 1 through 15, and convene several open public sessions during the week of Sep. 11. seeking a permanent replacement for state schools chief Randy Dunn.

August 2006 – IASB announces that applications for waivers of School Code mandates – such as modifications to administrative rules, or school calendar mandates – must be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education by Friday, Aug.11. IASB was instrumental in establishing the so-called Waiver Law allowing schools to seek to waive or modify the mandates of most state laws or regulations when the intent of a state requirement can be better met in a less burdensome manner, or when necessary to stimulate or improve student performance.

July 2006 – Along with most other states, Illinois is pronounced as not being in full compliance with NCLB and thus faces the withholding of 10 percent of their state administrative funds by federal officials.

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NCLB subgroup size requirements not loophole. Local and state education officials take issue with an Associated Press story that suggested they might be exploiting some kind of "loophole" on subgroup size to get around NCLB penalties. Apparently that news story prompted stepped-up federal scrutiny. The so-called loophole refers to the threshold at which schools are held responsible for the test performance of subgroups of students, particularly racial or ethnic groups. The law gives individual states the authority to set the number of students in a subgroup that triggers a school facing sanctions. Officials note that Illinois' 45-student subgroup size was established under a state plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education, and is aimed at avoiding statistical error and preventing the identification of individual student's test results.

Federal court lifts desegregation oversight on Chicago schools. A new U.S. District Court decree eliminates for the first time in 26 years the need for Chicago schools to answer to the federal government about how it spends money on school integration.

Supreme Court case seeks to allow schools to consider race in student assignment. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow school districts to use race as one factor in assigning students to sought-after openings in schools. NSBA, along with seven other education organizations, submits a friend-of-the-court brief that points out that local officials have the expertise and knowledge to adopt voluntary measures to foster racial integration and create a more racially diverse learning environment. These measures, the brief notes, are narrowly tailored to the schools' educational goals, and the racial criteria neither operates like quotas nor unduly burdens individuals on the basis of their race. The high court ultimately disagrees with that argument.

Some Chicago teachers to get merit pay bonus. Chicago District 299 schools announce plans to initiate one of the most ambitious merit pay systems in the nation after capturing a five-year, $27.5 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant. The federal grant, which includes $131,273 for the 2007 school year, will allow the district to give merit pay bonuses to exemplary teachers and principals in hard-to-staff schools. The federal grant program is part of President Bush's initiative to create a performance-based teacher and principal compensation system.

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July 2006 – Workers begin digging foundations for a modest addition to the IASB headquarters building in Springfield. The construction is part of a plan for increasing the delivery of member services.

September 2006 – Although the State Board of Elections has not yet published a calendar of election dates and deadlines, IASB releases a list of key dates on its Web site to help school board members and secretaries fulfill their duties.

October 2006 – IASB announces that the 2006 Joint Annual Conference will feature the largest-ever Carousel of Panels event, covering 33 panel topics on Saturday, November 18.

November 2006 – IASB releases final figures showing attendance remains high at the 2006 Joint Annual Conference. A total of 767 school districts send representatives, and attendance exceeds 11,500 for the second consecutive year.

December 2006 – An IASB radio commercial airs in rural communities throughout the state to call attention to the importance of training for new school board members.

January 2007 – Seven IASB officers and four staff members join delegates from around the nation in visiting their members of Congress during the National School Boards Association's 2006 Federal Relations Network Conference in Washington, D.C. Delegates seek congressional support for increasing the federal investment in education to help improve student achievement.

February 2007 – IASB staff representatives attend a roundtable summit on state testing, along with other invited Illinois education stakeholders. Among the items discussed is the possibility of providing a grace period between when test scores are finally provided to school districts and when the subsequent round of state testing begins.

February 2007 – IASB Executive Director Michael Johnson informs the Association's Board of Directors that the Springfield headquarters expansion has been completed, adding four new professional offices, and six support-staff work stations to better serve the membership. Expanded warehouse space has been constructed adjacent to a new conference room.

March 2007 – IASB membership ranks stand at 855 districts out of 872 total school districts with the addition of Cowden Herrick CUSD 3 from the Abe Lincoln Division.

April 2007 – A workshop for school board and school district secretaries is offered at the Springfield office.

May 2007 – IASB policy staff hosts a policy services conference in Chicago, called the American Association of State Policy Services (AASPS). IASB's Cathy Talbert, Associate Director for Field and Policy Services, president of AASPS for 2006-07, welcomes 80 registrants from 30 state school boards associations and NSBA.

June 2007 – IASB conducts eight workshops for newly elected school board members and a total of 550 school leaders participate. Topics covered include The Basics of School District Governance, focusing on board roles and responsibilities, and The Basics of School Law and Finance, focusing on financial and legal requirements.

June 2007 – Redesign of IASB web site launched with new look, content and features.

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Thomas Lay Burroughs Award. Brian Waitkus, president of the LaSalle ESD 122 Board of Education, was honored by the Illinois State Board of Education with the 2006 Thomas Lay Burroughs Award for the state's Outstanding School Board President. The award was presented on Sunday, Nov. 19, during the third general session of the Joint Annual Conference. Illinois State Superintendent Randy Dunn presented the award, noting Waitkus's 16 years of service, including 10 years as board president. "Brian earned this award by leading by example, including attaining Master Board Member status while missing only two board meetings in 16 years," Dunn said. The award recognizes the state's most outstanding local school board presidents, and celebrates the work of all school boards for their service to children and to education. Specifically, the award is presented annually by the Illinois State Board of Education to local school board presidents who have shown outstanding leadership on behalf of improved student learning, educational excellence, equal opportunity, and crisis resolution. The Award is named in honor of the late chairman of the State Board of Education.

Superintendent of the Year. Kevin Settle, superintendent of Mount Vernon District 80, is recognized as the 2007 Superintendent of the Year, by the Illinois Association of School Administrators at the 2007 Joint Annual Conference. Award winners are selected based on their work demonstrating: creativity in meeting students' learning needs; strength in personal and organizational communications; commitment to growth through upgrading their administrative knowledge and skills; and their community involvement.

Cole Awards. Eleven newspapers received awards in the 27th annual Robert M. Cole Awards competition for 2007, including the Belleville News-Democrat, which earned first place in the large daily newspaper category. The Cole Awards program is sponsored by IASB and conducted by the Illinois Press Association. The Belleville newspaper was not the only first-place Cole Award winner. The Times, Ottawa, won first prize in the medium-size daily category, the Times-Republic, Watseka, won first prize in the small daily newspaper category, and The Doings, LaGrange, won first prize in the non-daily newspaper category. Other papers receiving awards included: The Pantagraph, Bloomington; The Pekin Daily Times; Morris Daily Herald; Coal City Courant; the Ledger-Sentinel, Oswego; and Village Voices, Lena. Named in memory of the first executive director of IASB, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes outstanding coverage of education issues that emphasizes the community's connection with its local public school district.

Those Who Excel. Four school board members were honored by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2007 for their outstanding contributions to Illinois schools. The school board members receiving Those Who Excel awards for their outstanding service to schools at the 33rd annual Those Who Excel/Teacher of the Year banquet included three receiving the top-level Excel award from ISBE, the Award of Excellence. Those winners were: Carol Farnum, president of Aurora East District 131; Paul C. Piszkiewicz, who had recently announced his retirement from the Des Plaines CCSD 62 Board of Education; and Mary Wilkerson, a board member at Evanston THSD 202. Farnum is also the director of IASB's Kishwaukee Division. The fourth individual honored in the school board category was former school board member Tim Baldermann, of New Lenox District 12. Baldermann, the mayor of New Lenox, received an Award of Recognition.

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