Illinois Early Literacy Coalition

The Illinois State Board of Education has released its second draft of the comprehensive statewide literacy plan!  (Read it here) The Illinois Early Literacy Coalition conferred with lots of members and experts and developed this memo with feedback on the plan. Illinois is moving off the sidelines and this plan is the first step. It’s not perfect and it won’t solve the problem, but it is a strong foundation on which to build. We are grateful that ISBE has devoted so much staff capacity and passion into this work.

We’re this close to comprehensive literacy legislation passing the Illinois House. This is the time of year when the Illinois legislature finishes up bills and increasingly turns its attention to the budget. So this blog is doing double duty…we need a pro-literacy bill AND a pro-literacy budget!

The facts are stark: about 40% of Illinois students can’t read at even a ‘basic’ level. Most states have acted recently to ensure literacy instruction is evidence-based. It’s time to add Illinois to the list. Urge your representative to support SB2243, soon to be voted on the House floor AND increase early childhood education funding in the budget!

Literacy is complex. It starts with spoken language and exposure to rich vocabulary, experiences to build background knowledge, reading books out loud and learning about concepts of print. (Early childhood programs are SO important for this!) It also requires strong foundational skills with explicit instruction so students can connect the letters on the page to the sounds of speech to the meaning of the words.

Illinois needs a literacy plan so that all students, regardless of where they live or their home language, have access to evidence-based literacy instruction. Working together, we can set more Illinois students on the path of lifelong reading.

We’re nearly there, friends. With your help, we’ll get this done.

Illinois State Capitol

The legislative spring break is drawing to a close, so members of the General Assembly return to Springfield next week for the 5-week sprint to the end of session. Next week also brings another chance to fight for improving reading outcomes in Illinois.

The House is holding a committee hearing on Wednesday, April 19 for SB2243, a bill to create a statewide literacy plan at the State Board of Education. That means we need to rev up the advocacy machine and show the committee the deep support behind this bill.

Sending a witness slip to the committee is the surest way to show your support for this bill. Last time we had over 300 witness slips – let’s run up the score and get even more!

Follow these straightforward steps to submit your witness slip:

  • Click this link.
  • Fill in your information.
    • For “Representation,” you can enter Illinois Early Literacy Coalition, or something like “parent” or “self”
    • For “Position,” check “Proponent”
    • For “Testimony,” check “Record of Appearance Only”
  • Agree to the “Terms of Service.”
  • Click “Create Slip”

Thank you for taking a stand for Illinois readers. Be sure to share this email with your friends and family and ask them to submit a witness slip ahead of the April 19 hearing.

Illinois state capitol

Last week was a whirlwind at the Capitol and we’ve got progress to show for it! The pace was fast and furious all week, with a Friday deadline spurring legislators to debate bills well into the night.

The good news? Three bills in the ‘Literacy and Justice for All’ bill package passed the House or the Senate on Friday!

We couldn’t have done this without you! Advocates continue to send a strong signal to Springfield that these initiatives have deep support across the state. This month, we’ve sent over 1,500 emails to legislators in support of literacy and youth justice. (Did you send yours yet? Click these links and check it off your to-do list!)

A quick update on where things stand with these (and a few other momentous bills we’re supporting!):

  • Early Literacy: HB2872 and SB2243, bills instructing the State Board of Education to create a statewide literacy plan, and HB3147, the comprehensive Literacy and Justice for All bill to help fix the literacy crisis, passed their first major hurdle! (That is, the House bills passed the House and the Senate bill passed the Senate. Now they will switch places and work their way through the other chamber.)
  • Youth Justice: SB1463 and HB3120 passed committee and we anticipate a floor vote in the Senate this week. The bills would eliminate juvenile court fees and fines, a step toward economic justice for our state.
  • Full-Day Kindergarten: HB 2396 requires school districts to offer full-day kindergarten by 2027. It passed the House and moves to the Senate.
  • Trauma-Responsive Schools: HB 342 responds to the Whole Child Task Force, created by the Legislative Black Caucus’s historic “education pillar” two years ago. Under the bill, which passed the House, the state would develop a Children’s Adversity Index, make licensure recommendations to ensure teachers are prepared to support children with trauma, and add ratios of social workers to the school report card.
  • Dual-Credit Teacher Shortage: HB 1213 passed the House, creating a scholarship program for teachers to pursue the coursework needed to teach Dual Credit.

We will keep you posted as things continue to move in Springfield. Get ready for more advocacy opportunities to keep up the growing momentum on our legislative priorities!

Thank you for your partnership and support.

If you’re seeing this on Sunday evening, you’re like me and getting ready for the week ahead. And let me tell you, we’ve got a big week ahead when it comes to improving reading outcomes for Illinois students!

On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 21, the Senate Education Committee will hear the Senate version (SB2243) of legislation which would have the State Board of Education create a comprehensive literacy plan. We need to continue growing the momentum surrounding literacy bills in the General Assembly. The best way for you to do that is to submit a witness slip showing your support!

Submitting a witness slip in support of this bill is easy! Follow these steps now to make an impact:

  • Click this link.
  • Fill in your information.
    • For “Representation,” you can enter Illinois Early Literacy Coalition, or something like “parent” or “self”
    • For “Position,” check “Proponent”
    • For “Testimony,” check “Record of Appearance Only”
  • Agree to the “Terms of Service.”
  • Click “Create Slip”

I hope you will share this email with your friends and family and urge them to submit a witness slip before the Tuesday afternoon hearing. Together, let’s show Springfield the deep well of support for improving literacy in Illinois!

We saw some strong progress on Stand priorities at the Capitol last week, friends.

The pace was fast and furious all week, with a deadline spurring legislators to act at the committee level.

The good news? Bills to help fix our state’s literacy crisis and eliminate juvenile court fees and fines progressed out of committee and moved one step closer to passage.

We couldn’t have done this without you! Last week, advocates submitted nearly 800 witness slips in support of these bills, a strong signal to Springfield that these are priorities with deep support across the state. Around 1,000 emails went to legislators in support of our priority issues, another sign of the support from advocates standing up for children and families.

A quick update on where things stand:

  • Early Literacy: HB2872, a bill instructing the State Board of Education to create a statewide literacy plan, and HB3147, the comprehensive Literacy and Justice for All bill to help fix the literacy crisis, passed the House Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum & Policies Committee on Wednesday, March 8, with more stakeholder engagement work yet to come before a final vote in the House.
  • Youth Justice: SB1463 and HB3120 passed favorably out of the Senate Judiciary and House Restorative Justice committees, respectively. The bills would eliminate juvenile court fees and fines, a step toward economic justice for our state.

We will keep you posted as things continue to move in Springfield. Get ready for more advocacy opportunities to keep up the growing momentum on our legislative priorities!

Thank you for your partnership and support.

smiling children in a classroom

I would usually not intrude on your Sunday evening unless it was a pressing reason. Tonight, I’ve got that reason.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 8, two bills in the Literacy and Justice For All package will be heard in the Illinois House. It’s vital for us to show committee members the strong support and momentum behind these bills!

Now is the time for us to act. You can make a difference for Illinois students and educators by submitting a witness slip in support of the two bills. One bill requires the State Board of Education to adopt a literacy plan for the state and the other enacts comprehensive literacy reforms for Illinois, including supporting districts with evidence-based literacy curriculum and supporting educators with evidence-based training and development.

Follow these simple instructions to make an impact:

  • Click this link.
  • Fill in your information.
    • For “Representation,” you can put your organization, the Illinois Early Literacy Coalition, or something like “parent” or “self”
    • For “Position,” check “Proponent”
    • For “Testimony,” check “Record of Appearance Only” if you don’t have a statement to submit.
  • Agree to the “Terms of Service.”

(When you’re done submitting a slip for that first bill, come back and submit one for this bill, too.)

Thank you for standing up for Illinois readers! Be sure to share this email widely with your friends and family!

Frederick Douglass said: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

But far too many of our students – almost 40% – still struggle with basic reading skills. Students who can’t read by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Far more than half of youth in the juvenile justice system are struggling readers. This is a huge deal. The literacy crisis is urgent…and SOLVABLE.

We need to do something about literacy. I’m proud to say that together with our partners in the Illinois Early Literacy Coalition and other engaged stakeholders, we have a plan to help ALL students reach their reading potential.

It’s called Literacy & Justice for All, and this set of bills in Springfield provide a suite of policy solutions to help improve reading outcomes.

I hope you’ll join me and urge your leaders in Springfield to support the Literacy & Justice for All bills as a co-sponsor.

Together, these bills will help Illinois join the stampede of other states that have acted to help struggling readers. These bills offer research-backed solutions, including:

  • Requiring the State Board of Education to create a comprehensive literacy plan.
  • Providing funding to schools to help overhaul their literacy programs to evidence-based curriculum.
  • Offering state support to school districts and educators to choose evidence-based curriculum and professional development, along with adding a layer of accountability to teacher preparation programs to ensure new teachers learn about evidence-based reading instruction.

Literacy is complex and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But by being thoughtful and comprehensive in our approach, Illinois can be a national model and show the country how different groups with different priorities can come together to support literacy improvements that meet the needs of all students.

Working together, I know we can help turn around the dire statistics. Truly, Literacy & Justice for All will make a huge impact for all Illinois students. Tell your legislators to support these policies.

Congratulations to Dr. Tony Sanders on his appointment to the role of State Superintendent! Tony is an incredible advocate for educational equity and a visionary leader and bridge-builder. We partnered with Tony as members of the Funding Illinois’ Future coalition during the years-long battle to overhaul Illinois’ outdated school funding system, and are confident that he will bring that same commitment to equitable school funding to his role.

Tony has served at the agency previously, successfully advocated for legislation to improve educational equity, enhanced communications and family engagement programs at his district, and managed the second-largest school district outside of Chicago. (All while building rapport with the students he serves at U-46 through, among other things, clever snow-day-related banter on social media.) Those past successes are demonstrative of Tony’s ability to bring people together to make progress, transcending politics and other things that keep us divided.

We are especially eager to partner with Tony on the literacy work that is underway at ISBE. The literacy crisis is urgent and solvable – but not without strong leadership from ISBE. Many states have undertaken literacy reform and perhaps the most critical factor as to whether those changes succeed has been the leadership from the states’ education agencies through implementation. ISBE held a literacy retreat on October 25, 2022 as a first step and has continued engaging stakeholders toward a comprehensive literacy plan.

Earlier today, members of the Illinois legislature took the oath of office for a new term as members of the General Assembly. On Monday, Governor JB Pritzker was sworn in for his second term as governor. I was there on Monday, along with my colleague Jessica, for the ceremony and the pomp and circumstance.

As our elected officials set their agenda and plan their ’23 goals, now is a great time for us to congratulate them and urge their support for our shared priorities.

I’m talking about common sense priorities like ensuring Illinois schools have the funding they need to give kids the education they deserve; providing evidence-based literacy instruction to boost our state’s sagging reading scores; working to ensure racial justice in the youth court system; and, working together to offer students expanded opportunities for advanced coursework.

Let’s congratulate our elected leaders on their inauguration and urge them to focus on issues that will make a positive difference for Illinois children and their families!

Thank you for standing with us as we start the new year. I look forward to everything we accomplish together this year.