Copyright 2012 (c) Jim Broadway All Rights Reserved

April 24, 2012

2012 school policy agenda moving in 'second chamber'

By Pam Monetti, Publisher, State School News Service Correspondent

Bills to amend the Illinois School Code are now clustered in second-chamber committees. That is, bills originally filed in the House are being considered in the Senate Education Committee and some filed originally in the Senate are under House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee review.

These are the survivors. Starting in January, scores of education bills were filed (or recycled from the 2011 legislative calendar), but most were rejected - some even just ignored - by committees in the chamber of origin. A bill's success rests on several factors, none of which is the force of a good idea.

If a bill's enactment would cost money, even the slightest bit, it would likely die quickly in 2012. The state is broke and no idea would be good enough to overcome the legislature's desire to avoid "fiscal impact." Also, opposition from almost any quarter will kill a bill. Controversies are to be avoided in an election year. Besides, with pension "reform" and a pain filled budget coming down, the legislature is dealing with more than enough controversy already.

So to reach committee consideration in second chamber, a bill pretty much has to achieve nothing and cost nothing. That would generally characterize bills posted for hearings today and Wednesday. The Senate Education Committee meets at 5 p.m. today to consider several House bills:

HB 1473, originally filed by Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) and passed unanimously in the House, would allow the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education to create a plan promoting youth groups based on Challenge Day principles. Challenge Day’s mission is “to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth, and full expression.”

Now, see? Couldn't the CPS Board do that without a new state law? And why couldn't any other district in Illinois create such a plan? And if they created a plan, would they need another law authorizing its implementation. And what exactly differentiates an "experiential" program from any other kind of program?

Many questions, few answers. But there's little about this bill to justify a "no" vote.

Let's move on. HB 3826 (Rep. Linda Chapa La Via, D-Aurora) mostly amends the Illinois Guide Dog Access Act, changing it to refer not only to dogs but to "service animals" that are trained to help individuals with disabilities. Then it amends the School Code (Section 14-6.02) to align it with the amended "Service Animal Access Act."

The law essentially requires that access be allowed, in this case to all school property and functions, for service animals accompanying students with disabilities. References in current law that might be interpreted as including only dogs in the category of "service animals" would be clarified if this bill is passed.

In its current form, the bill appears to align state policy with regulations adopted last year by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Those regulations specifically refer to both dogs and miniature horses.

HB 4602 (Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Oak Lawn) applies only to Ridgeland School District 122. HB 4602 would exempt Ridgeland from including refund up to $50 million in bonds originally issued after being approved by district voters in 2000, without being "considered indebtedness for purposes of any statutory debt limitation."

HB 5013 (Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston) requires that the immunization data each school district is required to submit to ISBE each year must also be publicly available for each school either on a website or in mailings to parents..

HB 5290 (Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago) would require all school districts to “create, maintain and implement a policy on bullying" that goes far beyond the current mandate for a bullying policy. The new and improved policy would have to include a definition of bullying and tell how the district would report, investigate and reduce the incidence of bullying. Methods for receiving feedback would have to be posted on the district’s website or distributed to parents.

HB 5689 (Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago) creates the Eradicate Domestic Violence Task Force. Based on the Step Back Program, a high school course would be developed to instruct students about domestic violence. In its current form, the bill would require ISBE to provide staffing and support. But Senate sponsor Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) has filed an amendment shifting that responsibility to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District.

Meanwhile, the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee is scheduled to convene at  9 a.m. Wednesday to take up some bills that have been passed in the Senate:

First, SB 638 (Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago) would extend deadlines for candidates entering and completing the Alternative Teacher Certification Program. Candidates would be blocked from entering the program after September 1, 2013 (rather than 2012) and would have to complete the program by January 1, 2015 (instead of 2013).

Educational institutions associated with the Alternative Teacher Certification Program would also be required to allow endorsements for teachers and to partner with charter schools.

SB 639 (Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago) would add "rehabilitation" projects to the priority list included in the School Construction Law as necessary to alleviate severe classroom crowding or to address safety concerns.

SB 3244 (Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign) will require ISBE to coordinate "acquisition, adaptation, and development of middle and high school mathematics curriculum models to aid school districts and teachers in implementing standards for all students.” Models will be available for districts who decide to implement them.

Within four years of enactment, the bill requires that math test scores and higher education math remediation data would be used to determine effectiveness and future strategies for improvement. (In its original form, Frerichs' bill would simply have required every high school student to complete four years of math instruction as a condition of receiving a diploma. That idea was rejected by legislators as not being well thought through.)

SB 3367 (Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Highwood) addresses driver’s education mandates and standards by requiring two weeks' public notice of any fee increases or changes to course content to be posted on school websites and in local newspapers. It also allows districts to recoup some expenses from non-resident students, requires safety tests on driver’s education vehicle and calls for the Secretary of State to work with the State Board of Education to adopt standards.

SB 3374 (Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Plainfield) creates the Enhance Physical Education Task Force to identify the benefits of physical education. The Task Force would create tools and guidelines to assess the impact of physical education to students, and to cause "all stakeholders," including the community, to learn the advantages of physical education.

SB 3410 (Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago) requires school board policies to assert that any students suspected of suffering a concussion shall be removed from athletic events and shall not be allowed to return to play until they are examined and cleared by a doctor or certified athletic trainer.

SB 3415 (Garrett) strengthens current requirements that school district officials immediately report to law enforcement agencies any illegal activities involving students in grades 6-12. It also requires all school personnel report the existence of firearms on school property to the principal, who must file a police report.

Local authorities would then be required to report the finding to the Illinois State Police. The bill also would require the State Police to provide an annual "statistical compilation and related data associated with incidents in schools" to ISBE.

(SSNS Publisher Jim Broadway contributed the occasional rhetorical question or parenthetical sarcasm to this article.)

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