Jessica Handy
Government Affairs Director

What’s the thing that defines “summer” for you? For teachers and students, it’s probably the last day of school. Maybe it’s a Memorial Day of honoring the men and women who gave their lives for our country. Or, like Michael Jordan, when you grill your first hot dog of the season.

For the last 17 years of my life, the beginning of “summer” has been synonymous with the end of the state legislative session. And assuming all goes as planned, the date is June 1. Yesterday, as expected, the legislature wrapped up its work for the spring. Here are a few highlights:

The Budget

Good news! The budget includes the $350 million increase to Evidence-Based Funding that we have been pushing for. It’s important that Springfield continue to fund the EBF formula, because it’s working. There are also increases for early childhood education, teacher and principal mentoring, and MAP grants for low-income college students. This is on top of the billions in federal funds that have been made available for learning recovery related to the pandemic.

Chicago Board of Education

Chicago Public Schools has an appointed school board under its current structure, and this year created an opportunity to pass a bill for a thoughtful transition to a successful elected board. We opposed two proposals that were floated: one that would transition to a fully elected, 21-member board at the next election, and another that would slowly add a couple of elected seats to a majority-appointed board; but we remained hopeful that a negotiated compromise could be reached that would ensure geographic, racial, and ethnic diversity, parent voice, and non-citizen participation in elections. The final proposal that passed the Senate would transition to a 21-member board in 2024, with 10 of those members elected. In 2026, the board would move to a fully elected board. We were deeply saddened that this opportunity to create a model school board structure ended with this version of the bill. Springfield committed to continue working to improve it, and we hope this happens. The House still needs to concur with the final Senate amendments and the Governor needs to sign the bill before it becomes law.

Teacher Pension and Salary Cap Modifications

A provision was put in place 15 years ago to crack down on a school district practice of granting large end-of-salary pay spikes and sticking the State with the bill. But, this so-called “6% cap” might have had some unintended consequences on school districts’ ability to spend their federal funds for learning recovery. When schools invest their new funding in summer school, extended day opportunities, and tutoring, it is almost inevitable that teachers’ salaries will increase more than 6%. The legislature made some reasonable changes to ensure that school districts can make the most of their federal funds and invest in learning recovery opportunities for our kids. You can read more about it here at our blog.

Academic Acceleration Trailer Bill

Before session started, the Legislative Black Caucus scored a major victory for students with its education pillar, which added over 20 new education provisions. A trailer bill strengthened one of our favorites: the Academic Acceleration Program. This program requires schools to automatically enroll students that meet standards into the next most rigorous course in a subject. The trailer bill clarifies that for a senior in high school, the course to which they are accelerated must offer them an opportunity for early college credit.

Hair Discrimination

It’s 2021 and some schools still have discriminatory language about hair – most often Black hair – in their dress codes. The General Assembly passed a bill banning those policies, now protecting students and their hairstyles. The bill is named for Jett Hawkins, a preschooler who was prohibited from wearing braids at his school on Chicago’s West Side.

Teacher and Principal Mentoring

Strengthening teacher and principal mentoring programs is even more important than usual in this post-pandemic year, where teachers and principals missed out on internships and student teaching opportunities. Coupled with funding for the program, this will also help ameliorate the teacher shortage by supporting new educators as they grow into their roles.

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