Friday, March 29, 2019

Factsheet answers ordinary and unfamiliar questions about service animals in schools

What is a service animal? What kinds of animals can be used as service animals and who may use them? Are there certification and training requirements for such animals? And what are the rules about service animals in schools? These questions and more are answered in a recently published guidance document, Service Animals Factsheet Q & A

The factsheet provides answers to 30 questions about the rules and regulations surrounding service animals in Illinois and in conformance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, the ADA definition of a service animal is limited to dogs, while the Illinois meaning includes dogs and miniature horses.

The documents break down specific questions about service animals in schools, including where they are allowed, who is responsible for the animals, what kind of documentation is required, and what can be done if such an animal becomes disruptive.

The sometimes-overlooked or forgotten issues involving service animals in school settings are also touched on.  For instance, are service animals allowed to ride on school buses? (The answer is yes.) Can they accompany their companion on school field trips? (Yes.) What if other students or teachers are allergic to dogs? (Allergies or fear of dogs are not considered valid reasons for school districts to deny the use of service animals.)

Additional information and answers to other commonly asked questions regarding service animals in schools is available on the IASB website.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

IASB Legislative Alert 101-02

The Senate last week met its deadline to move Senate bills out of committee, and the House will meet its deadline this Friday. However, the deadlines are providing little clarity as to the issues that will be moving forward this legislative session due to the number of bills approved by committees. Ideally, the committee process is designed to be the first step in explaining legislation and making corrections to legislation before it moves forward. The recent trend, however, is a committee process where bills are called, acknowledged to be flawed, and then approved by the committee and moved to the respective House or Senate floor with an agreement to work out issues and then return to committee to consider the revised bill. This process leaves a significant amount of work for advocates to attempt to modify and improve legislation before final votes on the chamber floor.

As reported in the last IASB Legislative Alert, several key issues are being considered by the General Assembly. Details about the following bills can be found in the last IASB Legislative Alert.

SB 28 is still pending on the Senate floor and is postured to be called for a vote at any time. The Senate will be spending a considerable amount of time on the Senate floor this week considering bills that have been approved by committees. Approval of SB 28 by the Senate would send the bill to the House of Representatives for consideration.

An amendment was added to the bill by the Senate Education Committee two weeks ago which did add some limited flexibility in a couple of specific areas. However, if enacted as is, it still pales in comparison to the current flexibility that local school districts enjoy in establishing school programs that cater to needs of students who do not flourish in traditional classes, programs, and time frames.

Therefore, IASB still opposes the legislation.

SB 10 and HB 2078 would increase the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 per year. SB 10, as it has for most of the month, is awaiting a final Senate vote on the chamber floor. It could be called for a vote at any time. HB 2078 was moved to 3rd Reading in the House, which means that it is one vote away from being sent over to the Senate.

Though there has been discussions behind the scenes about revising the bill, no amendments have been filed at this time. The IASB opposes the bills.

SB 1189 and HB 2234 would add stringent, new requirements for school district P.E. programs. SB 1189 was approved by the Senate Education Committee last week and is pending on the Senate floor. HB 2234 is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow morning in the House Elementary and Secondary - School Curriculum and Policies Committee.

School board members are urged to complete a committee witness slip to register opposition to the bill. Even if you have filed a slip before, to be registered for this week another witness slip must be filed. Mark "Oppose" and "Record of Appearance Only" on the slip.

SB 1838 and HB 3053 address forced school district consolidation. Each bill has been approved by committees and are pending on the floor of their respective chamber. IASB has been working with the bill sponsors to amend the bills to remove the arbitrary forced consolidation provisions. The bills also call for a task force to study the issue of school reorganization, shared services, and consolidation.

Click here to read the full IASB Legislative Alert from March 26, including legislation supported by IASB and other legislation of note.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Federal Legislative Report (116-02)

116th Congress, Number 02

President Trump released his FY20 Budget Request to Congress on March 11. This is the first step in the appropriations process. As expected, the President proposed significant cuts to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and other federal agencies, however, for the past two fiscal years Congress has approved spending levels above the President's proposals.

The President proposed an overall reduction for all Federal appropriations of $2.7 trillion over the next ten years.  For this next fiscal year that begins October 1, 2019, the budget request would reduce funding for education and other domestic programs by almost five percent. The budget request cuts discretionary funding to the Department of Education to $62 billion, a 12 percent decrease from the FY19 enacted level.

Proposed funding levels for specific programs:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title I, and Impact Aid – level funding
  • Title II – would eliminate 29 programs within the USDE including Title II programs for effective instruction, which are currently funded at $2.3 billion. With ESSA implementation efforts underway that emphasize the role of effective teachers, principals and school leaders, the loss of Title II investments could impact State and local efforts to develop tools and incentives focused on strengthening instruction, improving student academic outcomes, and retaining effective educators, especially for schools in underserved communities.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers – eliminated in proposal.  This program is currently funded at $1.2 billion and provides after-school programs for students.
  • Education Freedom Scholarships – a new tax credit program announced at the end of February, which would provide a new tax credit of $50 billion ($5 billion/year) over ten years to support private or public school choice.  The tax credit would be for individual or corporate donations to state-authorized scholarship-granting organizations to be used for private school tuition, after-school tutoring, extra courses, and certain public school expenses.  This is the President's latest effort to divert public dollars away from public schools.
  • Career Technical Education funding – increases funding to provide $1.3 billion for state grants and $20 million for national programs. 
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness – eliminated in proposal.  This program is helpful in addressing the teacher shortage crisis.
  • School Safety – proposes an increase of $354 million, above FY19, across a number of agencies, including the Department of Justice, for grants that give states and school districts resources to promote school safety. 

U.S Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Tom Cotton (R-AR) re-introduced legislation again this Congress to establish Military Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) which would transform the Impact Aid program into an ESA.  Like private school voucher programs, ESAs divert tax dollars away from public schools to accounts that are used for other educational expenses, including private school tuition.

Celebrate Public Schools Week March 25-29

Today kicks off Public Schools Week across the country. March 25-29 is an opportunity for citizens and communities to share the achievements taking place in public schools and honor the contributions educators and school leaders make for the benefit of students.

There are many ways to participate in Public Schools Week. Parents, school officials, teachers, and other community members are urged to share success stories happening in their public schools via social media using the hashtags #PublicSchoolProud and #PSW19. Post to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social network about the activities and events happening at local schools that are preparing the next generation to become college ready, career ready, and life ready.

To assist in the outreach effort, the Learning First Alliance (LFA) has created a digital toolkit that includes sample social media posts, info graphics, press releases, talking points, and fact sheets. School leaders can tag IASB on Facebook or include @ILschoolboards in tweets and the Association will share them with its many followers. A full list of Public Schools Week resources is available on the LFA website.

Sponsors say Public Schools Week is a time to celebrate the diversity and positive outcomes provided by public schools that are helping students succeed and building the leaders of tomorrow.