The General Assembly is in session, but a considerable amount of the focus now is on the March 20 primary election. Despite the distraction, the General Assembly has been taking legislative action to address some pressing issues in the State of Illinois.

Over the past two weeks, the focus has been on legislation to reduce the incidents of shootings in our public schools. We applaud the work that has been done and we encourage the governor to sign those proposals.

IEA has been fighting for safe schools for years. It’s built in to our Legislative Platform. After Sandy Hook, we adopted language that proposed the creation of a plan for districts to follow, which would do a number of things, including: identify potential shooters, get potential shooters the mental health help they need, assess and address threats, prepare districts and parents in case of a tragedy, and direct districts on how to work with law enforcement.

The IEA Government Relations department is working on introducing a legislative package around this issue that concentrates on identifying students who need help and getting them the help they need, training staff and developing relationships between schools and law enforcement.

Fiscal year 2019 budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his budget address on Feb. 14. The budget proposed spending $37.6 million based on projected revenues of $37.9 million for the year.

PreK-12 education

The governor proposed a state General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriation of $8.3 billion to the Illinois State Board of Education for PreK-12 education, which is an increase of $350 million over 2018. Appropriations include:

  • $6.834 billion for Evidence-Based Funding (the new funding mechanism), which includes the $350 funding increase.
  • About $880 million for mandated categorical reimbursements for services school districts are required to provide for transportation, free lunch/breakfast and special education.
  • $10 million increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant.

The governor’s proposed budget is vastly different from the proposed budget submitted by the Illinois State Board of Education, which is advocating for a boost of $7.4 billion above the already proposed amount, for a total appropriation of $15.7 billion. The majority of this proposed increase would go toward the new Evidence-Based Funding model. 

Higher education

The governor proposed a $2.4 billion increase in the higher education budget, which includes community colleges, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, individual universities and the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Appropriations include:

  • $1.1 billion to individual universities, which is equal to last year’s funding level, but 10 percent less than the appropriation in 2015.
  • $362.5 million to the Illinois Community College Board, which includes funding to individual community colleges through the base equalization grant and specific grant programs.
  • $401.3 million for the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP), which is level funding with 2018.

In order to support this budget, the governor has proposed $1.5 billion in savings that would come from shifting 25 percent of the normal cost of pensions for TRS and SURS to local school districts and universities, shifting the cost of health insurance to universities, eliminating state healthcare support to retired teachers, reducing Medicaid rates and reducing healthcare coverage of state employees. IEA opposes shifting normal costs onto schools and universities, as well as the elimination of the state healthcare support for retired teachers.  View the fact sheet.

Teacher shortage

There is a national teacher shortage and Illinois is no exception. Based on data submitted by school districts across Illinois, as of Oct. 1, there were approximately 2,000 unfilled teaching and school support personnel positions.

There are a number of discussions taking place on this topic, including how to address this issue both in the short-term and the long-term. Several bills have been filed in the Illinois General Assembly to address licensure requirements and new programs. In addition, there are ongoing hearings taking place with testimony from the higher education institutions, educators and advocacy groups to gain a better understanding of the issues and to hear recommendations on how to address this problem. The Illinois State Board of Education is also conducting its own year-long study.

IEA is involved in all of these discussions, studying data and getting member feedback. Look for further updates in the near future. 

IEA-initiated bills 

SB 2545 (Manar, D-Bunker Hill) excludes meetings of a joint negotiating team strategy sessions from being subject to the Open Meetings Act.

SB 2838 (Link, D-Waukegan) empowers the Illinois State Board of Education to implement a program and adopt rules to allow school districts to supplement their substitute teacher recruitment for elementary and secondary schools with the use of recruiting firms. The legislation prohibits school districts from using recruiting firms to circumvent collective bargaining agreements or laws.

SB 3157 (Aquino, D-Chicago) provides that each qualified teacher is entitled to an income tax credit in an aggregate amount equal to 50 percent of the tuition costs incurred by that teacher at a public university in the state. The teacher must have graduated from a public university in the state, must currently be a teacher, and been employed as a teacher in the state for at least five consecutive years.

SB 3181 (Schimpf, R-Waterloo) would allow an active member to establish TRS credit for up to two years of service as a teacher or administrator employed by a private school recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education.

HB 4755 (Hoffman, D-Collinsville) provides that no less than 50 percent of the custodial employees employed by a school board shall be certified as structural pest control technicians by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

HB 4768 (Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake) amends the school board member oath to include a commitment to be morally and legally responsible for the equitable and quality education of every student in the school district.

HB 5175 (Hoffman, D-Collinsville, Scherer, D-Decatur)/ SB 2892 (Manar, D-Bunker Hill) sets the minimum starting salary for a teacher in Illinois at $40,000.

Important dates

A schedule for each chamber can be found on the General Assembly website.

Next week:

  • The Senate is in session next week and House is in recess.
  • The Senate and House are scheduled to remain in session through May 31.