While much of the state is getting blanketed with snow today, the work of government goes on. Today, Governor JB Pritzker delivered his budget address and proposed to include $350 million in additional funding for the Evidence-Based Funding formula for Illinois schools.

Gov. Pritzker’s proposed funding is a strong signal to the importance his administration places on education. He has long been an advocate for fair school funding and today’s proposal is a step in the right direction toward fully funding our schools.

Now, it is incumbent on the legislature to follow-through on the Governor’s proposals and appropriate the equitable Evidence-Based Funding formula.

Together, we have been fighting for new school funding for years. The work continues today, so let’s redouble our efforts and urge leaders in Springfield to prioritize Gov. Pritzker’s proposal of $350 million in new funding for Illinois schools through EBF.

In my home state of Texas, as far back as I can remember, Juneteenth has been a celebration. Juneteenth parades and pageants and oratory contests all shine a spotlight on the beauty of Black culture and the community. We eat barbeque, drink “red” soda and spend time with family and friends.

Most importantly, we celebrate the emancipation of our formerly enslaved ancestors, the resilience of our people before and after emancipation, and the unifying magic of Blackness. Juneteenth means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to folks here in Illinois as well.

It’s for these reasons and so many others that I was glad to see the State Senate pass a bill to make Juneteenth a State holiday! It should serve as a celebration of the progress we’ve made and a reminder of how much work is yet to be done for Black Americans to truly be free.

Let’s join together and thank the sponsors of this bill for working to get us this far!

Last year, in the midst of the pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Juneteenth was quite subdued. It was a real moment of reflection and rededication to the work ahead. This year, freedom festivals and traditional celebrations are returning with a renewed emphasis on the strength of our communities!

All of these traditions and celebrations mean a lot to so many people. We’re not done yet, but let’s take time to thank the sponsors for getting this bill one step closer to becoming law!

It’s not very often that we get to send happy notes like this so early in the year, but today is one of those days. Thanks to the support from education advocates like you, Illinois took a big step forward in the fight to dismantle systemic racism and move toward education equity.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the Black Caucus education package. We pushed for this moment because of the impact the law will have on Illinois students. The law has a plainly ambitious goal which we support wholeheartedly: reversing centuries of systemic racism in education and significantly bolstering opportunities for Black students.

Let’s send the Governor a big “thank you!” for making this a reality.

This new law moves the needle for Illinois students in important ways. 

Automatic enrollment in advanced courses will help remove implicit bias against minority students, helping open doors that were previously closed for too many students.

Equitable access to coursework will help Illinois students access college in ways they haven’t been able to in the past – no matter where they attend high school, all students should have access to the recommended courses needed for admission into any Illinois public university.

We have work ahead of us as the legislative session continues. Crucial education funding, which the State skipped adding to the budget last year, is desperately needed to keep Illinois on track to fully fund schools. And we must support early learners who struggle with literacy skills.

Let’s take this moment to thank Gov. Pritzker for signing the Black Caucus education bill into law. These changes will reverberate for years to come.

Then, let’s recommit ourselves to the work ahead.

Illinois and America are facing a reckoning with the systemic racism we have maintained since the country’s beginnings. Many people seem to finally realize that it’s not enough to just “not be racist.” Systemic racism keeps racist systems alive, even if we lived in a world without any racist individuals. We must commit to being anti-racist and push to dismantle those entrenched systems that perpetuate racial inequalities.

Our schools are among society’s most racially inequitable systems. The outgoing Chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, has used her skills as an education champion and rockstar negotiator to craft a comprehensive bill to advance racial equity for Illinois students. These changes have an ambitious goal: reversing centuries of systemic racism in education and significantly bolstering opportunities for Black students.

Stand has previously supported many individual concepts in this bill, and now we need to work together to ensure this package becomes law. Raise your voice and tell Springfield to move our state closer to racial and educational justice.

You can read a comprehensive summary of the bill in a previous blog post, but I wanted to call out a few highlights for you here. This will give you an idea of the great ideas included in this bill and why it must become law.

Academic Acceleration

  • Based on a Washington state law that tripled the percentage of Black high school students in advanced courses, this academic acceleration policy requires schools to automatically enroll students who meet or exceed standards into the next most rigorous course. It removes any element of implicit bias and opens doors for more students to eventually access courses that earn them early college credit.

Equitable Coursework for College Access

  • No matter where they attend high school, all students should have access to the recommended courses needed for admission into any Illinois public university. Yet the guidelines for high school graduation differ greatly from the admissions expectations set at our state’s flagship public universities. Students must have access to all courses expected for college admission and their schools can work creatively to ensure that happens.

Let’s work together, Illinois, to turn great ideas like these into law. This bill would take our state one step closer to dismantling systemic racism and making Illinois classrooms more equitable places. I hope you’ll join us.

1/12/2021 UPDATE: The bill has now passed both chambers and will head to the Governor for his signature! Amendment 3 made a few additional changes before it passed, most notably removing the changes to the Invest in Kids Act altogether, launching a feasibility study to consider the appropriate agency home for the Workforce Investment Act program (rather than moving it to IDES), and adding a literacy focus and some parameters to the Freedom Schools section.

1/9/2021 UPDATE: Amendment 2 has been filed. The major difference is that some components have been removed: the Equity in Early Childhood Education Act, the anti-racism grants within the Evidence-Based Funding Formula (which the Professional Review Panel will now consider, instead), the provisions to lengthen the school year for learning recovery, and the driver’s license stuff (which I’m guessing found a more appropriate home in a criminal justice bill). These were all good things; they will live to fight another day. We get it that it’s a careful balancing act when deciding what all goes into a huge package like this and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what’s in there if it can’t get 60 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.

There are some additions of other good stuff, most notably an Inclusive American History Commission and some fleshing out about periods of Black History that have to be taught. It adds prioritization for National Board Certified Teachers stipends to rural and diverse candidate cohort facilitators, and shift administration of the Workforce Investment Act from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to the Department of Employment Security.

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For months, education champion and rockstar negotiator Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford has brought together education and racial justice advocates to craft a nearly 500-page amendment to advance racial equity in Illinois schools, from birth through college. This week, she filed the legislation, compiling dozens of policy changes with the goal of reversing centuries of systemic racism in education and significantly bolstering opportunities for Black students.

This bill is jam-packed with good policy ideas, many of which Stand for Children supported as individual concepts and which we are now pleased to support as an overall package. The summary below walks through everything that is in there as of today, starting with a few of my favorites and eventually getting to everything. (If things change substantially, I’ll pop back over here with some updates over the next few days as well.)

ACADEMIC ACCELERATION

Based on a Washington state law that tripled the percentage of Black high school students in advanced courses, this policy requires schools to automatically enroll students who meet or exceed standards into the next most rigorous course. Students who are automatically enrolled can choose to opt out if a different course better fits their goals. It does not remove any of the existing pathways for enrollment into advanced courses, but it removes any element of implicit bias and opens doors for more students to eventually access courses that earn them early college credit. (pages 62 – 67. See our factsheet here.)

EQUITABLE COURSEWORK FOR COLLEGE ACCESS

No matter where they go to high school, all students should have access to the recommended courses needed for admission into any public university in Illinois. This provision requires the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) to report college admission coursework recommendations. Students must have access to these recommended courses. Schools can fulfill the requirement to provide it by offering it in house or partnering with a neighboring district, community college, or other course provider. The bill also adds a requirement that the science courses required for graduation be laboratory sciences, and, with a long implementation period to allow teacher pipeline reforms to work, adds two years of foreign language to the graduation requirements. (pages 42 – 49. See our factsheet here.)

EQUITY IN EARLY EDUCATION ACT

Deleted. But stay tuned for this spring… We’ll be working on this! See our factsheet here.

COMPUTER SCIENCE AND LITERACY

The bill defines computer science and directs ISBE to create computer science standards. It requires high schools to offer computer science to student who want it. The graduation requirements are modified to require one course to include a focus in computer literacy. Schools must provide students with opportunities for developmentally appropriate computer literacy skills beginning in elementary school. (pages 49 – 62)

EVIDENCE-BASED FUNDING

The monumental 2017 overhaul of the school funding formula also included a provision creating a Professional Review Panel (PRP) to monitor the formula throughout implementation. HB 2170 would charge the PRP with reviewing the adult-to-student ratios specified in the cost factors to determine whether it accurately reflects staffing needed to support students in poverty, changes in cost factors to promote racial equity, the impact of investing $350 million each year, an overview of alternative funding structures, and potential efficiencies within the system, appropriate funding levels for re-enrolling students who previously dropped out, and evidence-based practices that reduce academic achievement gaps for Black students. (pages 149 – 151)

LEARNING RECOVERY

HB 2170 charges the P-20 Council with considering long-term and short-term learning recovery strategies, including a plan to address the digital divide; evaluate the impact of school closures and remote learning on student outcomes; establish a system for the collection of data; and ensure more time for students’ academic, social emotional, and mental health needs. (pages 67 – 77)

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL HEALTH

The Whole Child Task Force is created to establish equitable, inclusive, safe, and supported environment in all schools, taking steps to ensure every child has access to educators and social workers trained in evidence-based interventions and restorative practices. (pages 26 – 34) The Freedom Schools fund would provide grants, subject to appropriation, for enriching programs that affirm Black identity. (pages 77 – 81)

DIVERSE EDUCATOR PIPELINE

Four components address the shortage of teachers generally and Black teachers specifically (pages 179 – 208):

  • It removes the 3.0 GPA requirement to get into alternative licensure programs.
  • The Minority Teacher Initiative scholarship program is amended to increase priority funds for Black males, change the prioritization from first come/first serve to those who received scholarships the previous year and have demonstrated financial need, and create a set-aside for bilingual teachers as the appropriation for the program grows.
  • AIM HIGH is amended to reduce universities’ match requirement from 100%, with institutions with more low-income students kicking in 20% and those with fewer low-income students contributing 60%.
  • Finally, the Transitions in Education Act encourages ISBE, IBE, and ICCB to establish a task force for a Major Panel in Education, which would identify courses that would be accepted upon transfer.
  • The National Board Certified Teacher program would prioritize in awarding stipends to NBCT Candidate Cohort Trainers who work with rural and diverse candidates. (pages 252 – 258)

HIGHER EDUCATION ACCESS

Nearly half of full-time community college students are placed in developmental education courses, which do not earn college credit, upon starting college. For Black students, the number is even higher: 71% are funneled into developmental courses. Only 8% of Black students who are placed in developmental education courses will go on to graduate. The Developmental Education Reform Act creates a multiple measures approach to placement in credit-bearing college courses. Students who successfully complete a high school transitional course, earn a specific GPA, or meet certain thresholds on placement exams or standardized tests would be able to bypass developmental courses. Institutions must publicly post their placement policies, and ICCB and IBHE would consolidate the information into reports disaggregated by demographic data and by developmental course model. (pages 155 – 164)

The Equity in Higher Education Act outlines the General Assembly’s support for the IBHE strategic plan to close equity gaps, increase post-secondary degree attainment, and improve affordability. It encourages IBHE to prepare an array of policy changes needed for implementation of the plan by May 1, 2021. (pages 151 – 155)

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Many components of the bill deal with expansion of early childhood, increasing compensation for early childhood teachers, and improving the quality and equity of programs, including provisions to:

  • Codify the requirement for an annual valid, reliable, and developmentally appropriate kindergarten readiness assessment. ISBE currently uses the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) for this. (pages 1 – 11)
  • Allow children to continue receiving early intervention services after their third birthday until the school year starts and they have access to preschool. (pages 11 – 16)
  • Support the goals of the Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding, which is working to create a more equitable and efficient system, consolidate programs into a single adequately staffed agency, ensure equitable and adequate funding, redesign payment mechanisms, and consider data collection needs. It would also encourage a timetable for the work with a designated body to implement recommendations. (pages 16 – 20)
  • Amend the Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Act to encourage increasing availability of consultations, developing materials for providers and parents about the value of mental health consultations, and increasing funding for training and support. It also remedies a problem with diagnostic coding to remove barriers to developmentally appropriate assessments. (pages 34 – 39)
  • Create the Early Childhood Workforce Act to increase the early childhood teacher pipeline and its diversity. Under the Act, DHS, ISBE, and IBHE would each have a role in providing outreach and access to financial supports to increase the diversity of the pipeline, analysis on scholarship recipients, and barriers for early childhood teachers to complete coursework to earn credentials. (pages 40 – 42)
  • Encourage DHS to re-examine the definition of “at-risk” and the diagnosed medical conditions that typically result in a delay, charge the Early Intervention Training Program to create a plan for outreach, develop a plan for the State to launch early intervention specialized teams, and work in a public-private partnership to establish at least two demonstration sites with hospital neo-natal intensive care units. (pages 216 – 220)

INVEST IN KIDS

The Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program currently provides donors tax credits for donating to program, which provides private school scholarships to students in families below 300% of the federal poverty level. HB 2170 would add the ability for scholarships to be used at technical academies for Career and Technical Education programs. (pages 164 – 179)

DATA COLLECTION TO SUPPORT RACIAL JUSTICE

data collection provision, which requires the Governor’s Office and the Department of Innovation and Technology to jointly administer a governance to catalog data supporting major programs, identify similar fields in datasets, improve data quality, collect racial and ethnicity data, develop common process and legal approaches for data sharing, establishing common codes across datasets, and generally catalyzing the process to better interagency data analysis. (pages 20 – 26)

INCLUSIVE HISTORY CURRICULUM

The bill requires ISBE to adopt social science learning standards that are inclusive of all individuals in the country. An Inclusive American History Commission is created to review available resources for use in schools that reflect the diversity of the State, provide guidance on each learning standard on how to ensure instruction and curriculum are not bias to value specific cultures or experiences over others, and provide guidance on professional learning on how to utilize and locate non-dominant cultural narratives and sources. It also amends the Black History study requirement to add the pre-enslavement period and the American civil rights renaissance, and a study of the reasons why Black people came to be enslaved. (pages 208 – 214)

WORKFORCE INVESTMENT ACT ADMINISTRATION

The responsibilities and funding connected to the Workforce Investment Act are transferred from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to the Department of Employment Security. (pages 214 – 252)

The fight for educational equity doesn’t start or stop at the schoolhouse.

The shackles of inequity extend far beyond, including to our “justice” system and the way in which courts incarcerate individuals before they go to trial — simply because they cannot afford to post bond.

That’s why we are standing with Illinois Senator Robert Peters in his fight to end money bond and to pass the Pretrial Fairness Act. This is your chance to support this Education Champion, one of the brightest up and coming leaders in our State. I first got to know the Senator when we worked together on a campaign over a decade ago, and it’s been inspiring to see his ascent.

You have three opportunities to meet Senator Peters and learn how you can support a critically important way to dismantle systemic racism. The Senator will be joined by other members of the General Assembly in a series of virtual town halls.

  • Tuesday, October 20th at 7pm: Hosted by Senator Robert Peters (13th District) & Rep. Kelly Cassidy (14th District)
  • Thursday, October 22nd at 6pm: Hosted by Rep. Barbara Hernandez (83rd District)
  • Tuesday, October 27th at 7pm: Hosted by Rep. Robyn Gabel (18th District)

The townhalls are hosted by the Coalition to End Money Bond and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice. Register to attend a virtual town hall event at bit.ly/PretrialTownHall.

High property taxes drive school funding inequity. But for every 2 districts that over-tax, there is at least 1 under-taxing district out there.

The Evidence-Based Funding Formula identifies a target property tax rate for every district. The model calculates how much each district needs to be funded adequately. It then specifies a local capacity percentage (LCP) based on how much property wealth each district has. A district with lots of property wealth will have an LCP of up to 90%. That means if a district’s per pupil adequacy target is $12,000 and its LCP is 75%, the formula expects the district to raise $9,000 per pupil locally. From there, we can back into an “implied” tax rate for each district.

Most districts tax themselves higher than their implied tax rate. (Those are all the orange dots above the blue line in the chart below.) But 310 districts (the orange dots below the blue line) actually tax themselves lower than that rate. A rate freeze would impact these districts across the board. Freezing undertaxed districts would guarantee that those schools will never reach adequate funding. (And inflationary increases compound quickly, so lots of the 543 districts that are “over-taxing” now would fall under the blue line after a few years of increased adequacy costs and frozen levies.)

Addressing property taxes in the formula was a sticking point during the school funding negotiations. Should the formula recognize districts’ whole property tax levy? If they are over-taxing themselves, that could push the districts into a higher tier and further solidify their reliance on property taxes. If they are under-taxing themselves, that could knock them down a tier and put them in line for more state funding than other deserving districts that have put forth more local effort.

On the other hand, should the formula ignore actual rates and just use the implied rates? That would completely disconnect the question of how districts tax locally with how much state funding they get for their schools. There would be no incentive to under-tax, but no disincentive to over-tax.

The Evidence-Based Formula decided to use the best of both worlds: for districts that were under-taxing (the orange dots below the blue line), the model assumes they are taxing at their implied rate (the blue line itself). For districts that are over-taxing themselves (orange dots above the blue line), the model recognizes a portion of their overage in order to encourage them to reduce their rates. How much depends on how much property wealth a district has. The overage is multiplied by the district’s LCP, thus wealthier districts will be penalized more for overtaxing and therefore, incentivized further to lower their levies.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • An under-funded district trying to compensate locally. North Chicago SD 187, a property-poor district that is expected to raise just 10% of its funds locally. That gives the district a $5.5 million target levy. However, North Chicago is so underfunded, it taxes itself almost twice that much, $5.1 million more. Because the district’s LCP is 10%, just 10% of that over-levy will “count” against the district in the formula.
  • An above-adequacy over-taxer. The property-wealthy Bannockburn SD 106 is expected to raise $1.8 million, which is 90% of its adequacy target. But the district brings in $5.5 million, $4.7 million more than the model expects. The formula will recognize 90% of Bannockburn’s $4.7 million overage.
  • An almost-adequate under-taxer. Rockdale SD 84 in Will County is expected to raise 60% of its adequacy target from property taxes. But it only brings in 24% of that total. Its implied tax rate is 3.2%, but its actual rate is just about 1.2%. The formula assumes that Rockdale raises its full Local Capacity Target. It would hardly be fair to the rest of the districts to reward Rockdale’s under-taxing with more state money. But it would be equally unfair to Rockdale to freeze its levy where it is, so far from its expected rate with a formula that assumes it has access to those resources.

In the statewide aggregate, there are over $3 billion in property taxes levied by school districts above what the formula expects them to bring in. About $2 billion of those are for school districts funded below adequacy. There are about $1 billion in property tax over-levies in over-adequacy districts. Finally, there are $670 million in uncaptured property tax receipts, almost all in districts that are funded below adequacy.

Finding the right balance between providing property tax relief and moving toward adequate school funding is a challenge. If it was easy, someone would have done it. But it’s worth it to wade into this complex territory because this is such a critical issue. Let’s just make sure we acknowledge that it is complicated and will require more than a one-size-fits-all solution.

We’ve been saying for a while now that elected officials need to stop our state’s atrocious Brain Drain problem, and last week, we got a wakeup call that puts the crisis into stark relief.

New data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education show that in 2017, nearly 50% of Illinois public high school graduates enrolled in four-year universities attended out-of-state schools. 50 percent!

I’ve asked you before to stand up and help Stop Illinois Brain Drain, and I’m asking you again today.

There’s legislation currently in the Illinois Senate that would help address an aspect of this problem, and now we need legislators to act. Tell your state Senator to support SB1212, a bill that would expand equitable access to advanced courses for students in every region of the state.

We need leadership to reverse the exodus of students before it gets worse.

Illinois students should have opportunities for success after high school, right here in the Prairie State.

Let’s fight to give them those opportunities.

We’ve told you about the many problems facing Illinois high school students that have led to our state’s chronic brain drain. Today is the day for action, because now we have actual legislation to support that will help solve many of the problems facing our students.

Are you with us? Tell Springfield: it’s time to stop Illinois Brain Drain.

We need to fight to tap the potential of all students. The legislation introduced today works to do just that.

Strengthening our high schools is critical not only for those who go onto college, but also for those who pursue career training or careers after they graduate from high school.

We need policymakers to show their support for Illinois high school students by co-sponsoring these bills. Tell your legislators: it’s time to step up for Illinois students.

We have a perfect moment in time to fix these issues that contributed to the brain drain problem.

These bills are a solid start to helping Illinois students. Springfield needs to support them.

As a former teacher who recently left the classroom, I know I will never leave behind the education issues I care about. So when I began to explore my role as an advocate outside of the classroom, one program that jumped out at me was Stand’s Policy Fellowship. The detailed policy discussions, the conversations with advocates from across the state, and the chance to advocate and influence policy discussions all piqued my interest. The Fellowship has expanded my understanding of civic and political advocacy.

The 2017-2018 Fellowship focused on student college and career readiness in Illinois. While the majority of my previous work centered around elementary education, this experience allowed me to explore the opposite end of the education system.

Stand’s policy team provided regular informational workshops surrounding the impacts of the Post-Secondary Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Additionally, we engaged with community members, elected officials, and experts in the field who deepened our understanding of the postsecondary landscape in Illinois – and where advocates like us could make a difference.

One conversation that I particularly enjoyed was with Katharine Gricevich of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her discussion on higher education access and affordability resonated with my interest in advancing opportunities and outcomes for students from underserved areas.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Illinois Capitol with other Stand Fellows. While in Springfield we spoke with legislators about student college and career readiness. During these conversations, I was excited to learn that legislators were interested in hearing my perspective as a former educator. These discussions further encouraged my passion for advancing teacher voice and influence within political discourse.

As I reflect on these impactful conversations and experiences as a Stand Fellow, I am excited and motivated to continue my advocacy efforts.

Before participating in the Stand Fellowship, I was unsure of how to scale my advocacy impact. Now I am eager to continue my civic and political engagement efforts in support of educational excellence and equity.

I also hope to stay connected with Stand’s work in Illinois and the Fellows across the state. Their passion for education has deeply impacted my own work and approach to advocacy. I know that my advocacy will continue and that I will remain engaged with these issues in the future.