Thursday, March 31, 2016

Vision 20/20 continues focus
on key priorities in 2016

Illinois Vision 20/20 will continue to focus on key priorities that aim to meet the initiative’s ultimate goal, fulfilling the promise of public education in Illinois. Among the core issues at the top of the 2016 agenda are teacher recruitment and retention, mandate relief, and equitable and adequate funding for Illinois public schools.

While budget gridlock has dominated the statehouse for nearly a year, some education issues have continued to find support from both parties during the stalemate. Governor Bruce Rauner has repeatedly insisted that K-12 funding be spared from the budget gridlock and lawmakers have been quick to sponsor recent Vision 20/20 proposals.

Toward the top of the wish list this year is the cornerstone for the Vision 20/20’s Equitable and Adequate Funding pillar, based on an “evidence-based” funding model. While the actual language is still being negotiated, the overall concept has been assigned to Senate Bill 2759, sponsored by Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).

Changes to the state’s education funding formula could become a main point of emphasis during budget negotiations, lending credence to the Vision 20/20 proposal urging a comprehensive funding model that can be crafted for every district and every student to receive a quality education in Illinois.

While changes to the way schools are funded is an important component of the Vision 20/20 initiative, other measures may find an easier path toward approval.

Educator licensure reciprocity has been a popular topic for state officials in recent years. In 2015, a Vision 20/20 reciprocity agreement became law with the hope of attracting more teachers from other states. This year, Senate Bill 2912 aims to further that law by creating additional flexibility for teachers from out-of-state to obtain licenses to teach in Illinois classrooms. The legislation also creates a new, short-term substitute teaching license to help the many schools that have found it increasingly difficult to find regular substitute teachers.

“We had a good start last year in passing initial reciprocity reform, but we need to go further,” said IASB Executive Director Roger Eddy. “It is important that we remove the barriers that are preventing us from attracting high quality teachers from outside the state. Our schools need access to the excellent pool of teachers who are out there, and in turn provide an even better quality education for Illinois students.”

Another topic being discussed by the governor and legislators is unfunded mandates. While new mandates without dedicated funding sources have long been an obstacle for school districts, the budget impasse has renewed a focus on the topic as a way to relieve some funding pressures at the local level.

“We’re gaining momentum in raising awareness about the problems unfunded mandates cause school districts,” said Ben Schwarm, IASB deputy executive director. “Many of our proposals have been embraced by the lieutenant governor’s mandates task force and others.

“We have bills moving to give school districts flexibility regarding specific mandates such as physical education, drivers’ education, and third party contracting as well as a bill with a more general mandate relief provision.”

Vision 20/20 has drafted legislation to give local districts options to manage mandates that are not backed by state funding. The first, Senate Bill 3098, would repeal the driver’s education mandate, one of the most costly to schools. SB 3098 would allow districts to instead contract with a commercial driving training school, without a waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education, to provide the service at a cheaper cost. The school board would be required to hold a public hearing on the proposal before a contract is finalized.

Another proposal, House Bill 6164, would give districts the opportunity to enter into third-party contracting agreements, including for driver’s education and other non-instructional services. The proposal acts to remove the comparable benefit clause schools are required to abide by when contracting with third parties. It also would allow for districts to create additional provisions in which students may opt-out of physical education courses, provided that the local board of education holds a public hearing on the changes prior to any vote.

Another bill takes a more comprehensive approach in addressing the perennial issue of unfunded mandates. Senate Bill 3182 would create the Local Unfunded Mandate Exemption Act. This legislation would permit all local units of government, school boards included, to exempt themselves from specified mandates that are not funded if compliance with such mandates is not economically feasible. Federal and health, life, and safety mandates could not be waived. A public hearing would be required and the elimination of such mandates would necessitate a majority vote by local school boards.

“We are confident that these proposals will be on the table for discussion as legislators and leaders work towards larger bill packages regarding the budget stalemate,” Schwarm added.

Since the Vision 20/20 campaign was launched in 2014, 522 school districts representing more than 800,000 students have pledged support. Information about the initiative and access to additional resources are available at the Vision 20/20 website.