The General Assembly returned to Springfield this week to address relief packages for COVID-19, the state budget, and other pressing issues within 4 days of work. While the Senate continued their business in the Capitol, rotating 10 members at a time to vote on the floor, the House of Representatives met at the BOS Center downtown to allow for social distancing.
Members of the public and lobbyists were allowed to come into the buildings under strict social distancing and public health procedures, but most advocates monitored the action from home. If you're interested in seeing this unique session in photos, click for photos from the State Journal-Register on action in the Senate and House.
Education Omnibus Legislation
Senate Bill 1569 addresses many issues and flexibility needed as a result of COVID-19. The bill codifies many of the provisions from the Governor's Executive Orders to provide flexibility for student teaching requirements, graduation requirements, remote learning, and more.
Remote Learning - The bill authorizes remote learning and blended learning days in the future by utilizing a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, or allowing qualifying remote learning plans to deliver instruction.
Remote Learning Planning Days - School districts can use up to 5 remote learning planning days as pupil attendance days for calculation of the school term.
Length of School Day - Clock-hour requirements do not apply if there is a disaster declaration due to a public health emergency.
Licensure Renewal - All licenses issued by ISBE that expire on June 30, 2020 and have not been renewed by the end of the 2020 renewal period shall be extended for one year and shall expire on June 20, 2021.
High School Graduates - Validates any diplomas issued under modified graduation requirements during the 2019-2020 school year and summer 2020. The bill also allows grades of "pass, credit, or satisfactory" to fulfill prerequisite requirements for higher education courses.
Teacher Evaluations - Teacher evaluations that were not finished before schools were closed in March, provides for a default evaluation of "proficient." Teachers whose last evaluation was rated "excellent" will be evaluated "excellent" for 2019-20 if their evaluation was unfinished when schools closed.
Individualized Education Plans - Among the changes are clarification to what information must be shared with parents of students with IEP’s, how the information should be delivered, and notice of the district's use of Response to Intervention or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for the child. It also requires service logs such be kept and shared on services such as speech and language services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, school social work services, school counseling services, school psychology services, and school nursing services.
State Budget - Education Funds
It was long anticipated that schools would likely receive only flat funding or less this coming year. Language in the budget provides for the "base funding minimum amount and no more," with an additional $1 million to fill any gaps necessary to distribute the base funding minimum appropriately. With this appropriation, there will be no new tier funding allocated to school districts in FY21.
The FY20 enacted amounts for other programs and grants such as transportation, agriculture education, and TAEOP programs essentially stay the same in this budget, with the exception of an additional $11.2 million for Special Education, an additional $500,000 for low-income AP test fees, and $175,000 for a Parent Education Pilot program.
The budget also provided the language required to allocate $569.5 million in CARES funding to ISBE and a separate $108.5 million from federal funds designated as Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund.
The entire state budget is reliant upon $5 billion in borrowing from a special Federal Reserve program. The money is intended to serve as a bridge loan to cover the state’s cash needs until Congress, hopefully, comes through with an aid package to state governments, allowing the state of Illinois to repay the loan quickly.
The General Assembly plans to use the initial help from Washington to fill a nearly $6 billion hole. The state operating budget is $42.8 billion for next year, but revenue is forecasted to be $36.96 billion.
The revenue projections are probably too optimistic, and there is no guarantee right now the federal government will provide relief to state governments. Therefore, now is the time to speak to your local Congressperson and share how a stimulus bill to the states could impact your school district and community. Click here to send a message.
Other Legislation of Note
Broadband Advisory Council - An amendment to SB 2135 directs the Broadband Advisory Council to study the goal of providing free access to all residents of the state to broadband service through the expansion of the state broadband competitive matching grant program. The council will issue their report no later than January 1, 2021.
Vote by Mail/School Holiday - For the November 2020 election only, vote-by-mail has been expanded and election day will be a state holiday, allowing schools to close. An amendment to Senate Bill 1863 still allows for schools to be made available as a polling place. The legislation also allows persons 16 years or older to serve as election judges.
Retired Teachers as Substitute Teachers - An amendment to Senate Bill 1857 contains a provision to extend the expiration date for the ability of retired teachers who receive Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) benefits to substitute teach in a school for up to 120 days per school year without jeopardizing their pension benefits. The extension is in place until June 30, 2021.