Dust settles on Spring Session: What bills moved and what didn't?

The General Assembly’s Spring Session wrapped up last week in a flurry of votes on budget legislation. Here’s where some of the bills and issues on our legislative agenda ended up.

Police in CPS Schools HB 5008 - This problematic bill to allow individual local school councils to contract with the Chicago Police Department for school resource officers got a last minute amendment on May 22nd to narrow it to apply only to high schools and add an expiration date, but, apparently, that didn’t boost its support sufficiently to get it a floor vote in the House. It could still be revived in the fall, but in the meantime, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on a new policy on school safety this summer to be implemented for the coming school year. The Board is taking public comment on that policy over the next month. Appetite in the legislature for letting LSCs contract with the CPD may depend on how the roll out of that policy goes this fall.

Moratorium on Changes to Selective CPS Schools HB 303 - This bill would prevent policy and budget changes for schools with selective admissions policies and also continue the moratorium on any school closures until February 2027. It made it through the House and over to the Senate and passed out of committee there, but didn’t get a floor vote. President Harmon said he would not call it— having gotten a letter from Mayor Brandon Johnson assuring him that there would be no school closures nor “anything that adversely affects selective enrollment schools” until the fully elected board is seated. CPS has finally released additional details on school budgets, not dollar amounts but positions. It’s still unclear currently what the impact of budgeting changes is across the variety of types of CPS schools. Note that much of the reporting on this bill has discussed the impact on magnet schools but, in fact, the bill would not apply to magnets that do not have selective admissions requirements. (You can read our explainer on the issues with the bill itself, including the lack of clarity on which schools it applies to here.)

Clean Air for Healthy Equitable Schools HB 3713 - Unfortunately, this bill, which passed the House last spring, did not get a Senate committee hearing before session wrapped up. The Illinois Stakeholders for Air Quality in Schools expects that the Senate sponsor will bring it back in Veto Session. HB 3713 would require ventilation verification assessments, provide air quality monitors, distribute portable air cleaners, and create educational materials for school staff—all subject to appropriation, but federal grant money is available to fund these activities. A narrower companion bill, HB 4903, did pass; it requires ISBE to assemble resources on “best practices for assessing and maintaining ventilation systems and information on any potential State or federal funding sources that may assist a school in identifying ventilation needs.” Clearly, more than that is needed for improvements to in-school air quality. Continued advocacy with state senators this summer is needed; ISAQS can assist you in this: [email protected]

Child Tax Credit - After several years of organizing and advocacy by a broad coalition of organizations, including IL-FPS, ILGA finally passed a $50 million child tax credit. Illinois has long had one of the most regressive state tax systems in the country, in part because our state constitution bars the state from levying a graduated income tax. As a result, Illinois does not have the ability to raise income tax rates only on the people who can afford to pay the most. So, other routes to ameliorate Illinois’ regressive taxation structures are crucial. The child tax credit should benefit more than 800,000 families with children under 12 in the state.

Vouchers - There was a last-minute attempt by pro-voucher organizations, including the largest of the scholarship granting organizations under Invest in Kids, Empower Illinois, to push legislation which would create a new voucher program to replace Invest in Kids, the Enhancing Equity in Education Act. This legislation ultimately was not even introduced by its proposed sponsor, retiring State Rep Kelly Burke. With state finances even tighter than they were a year ago, largely because of an impending “fiscal cliff” as federal spending due to the pandemic dries up, it appears that neither President Harmon nor Speaker Welch wanted to deal with the strife another voucher fight would generate.

Voucher supporters in Illinois lobbied in Springfield for years before the Invest in Kids program was created back in 2017. Although IIK does indeed seem gone for good now, efforts to create privatization schemes in Illinois are surely not. As long as there are billionaires who want to dismantle the public school system, there will be astroturf efforts to influence state legislators to carry it out. Keep an eye out for organizations like Juan Rangel and Paul Vallas’ Urban Center non-profit and PAC in the coming sessions. The Urban Center PAC formed in March with large donations from Empower board member and voucher proponent Jim Perry and his wife.

School funding - The minimum statutory amount of increase to K-12 public school funding for next year was once again all that ILGA appropriated, $350 million. As always, any increase is better than no increase, but it’s clear that the goal that the legislature set back in 2017 to reach full funding by 2027 will simply not happen. Instead, the legislature has put us on track to get to full funding only in 2034.

There was much criticism of the push from Chicago's Mayor and CPS to ask for an additional $1 billion in funding for Chicago for the coming year, but at the start of FY 2025, there will be a $2.3 billion gap in adequacy of state funding for all public schools, and $1 billion of that is in fact the shortfall for what Chicago’s public schools need to be adequately funded according to the evidence-based funding formula in state statute.  

The FY2025 budget does include new revenue, mostly from extending a cap on what corporations’ can deduct for losses and increasing taxes on sports betting companies profits. But the structural deficit that plagues the state’s ability to fund the basic public goods that keep our state functioning hasn’t been addressed. As the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability's Ralph Martire rightly points out: “Even after Pritzker’s five-year record of enhancing investment in core services, we’re still spending less today on an inflation adjusted basis across the board on all core services than we did in the year 2000.”

As mentioned above, Illinois simply need's the ability to implement a fairer income tax structure in order to make our tax system less regressive—Illinois’ is the 8th most regressive state in terms of who pays and who doesn’t—and to ensure our spending covers what our state needs.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, back in 2022 voters approved, via a statewide ballot initiative, a new additional 4% income tax on earnings over $1 million, and their state has raised $1.8 billion in new revenue this year to spend on education and transportation, more than $800 million than expected. Another world is possible.

There is a path to fully funding our public schools and the public good in Illinois. Although we are taking some steps along it with the FY2025 budget, we still have a long road ahead of us.

ICYMI: Illinois switching to ACT for high school tests, and yes, ACT, Inc sells student data too

The Illinois State Board of Education made it official at last month’s meeting: The state will be switching back to ACT after nine years of using the SAT and PSAT in public high schools for federal accountability purposes. IL-FPS has been advocating for the state to crack down on data sales by the College Board for years. Selling student data has been illegal in Illinois since 2017.

With the switch to ACT, the state is about to sign a $53 million, six-year contract with ACT, Inc. also a data broker, just like the College Board. Unlike the College Board, ACT, Inc’s testing and data sales businesses are for-profit; they were recently purchased by a private equity firm.

Students taking state-mandated tests in school during the school day shouldn’t have their personal information exploited by vendors (who are making millions on the tests alone!)

We’re pushing for the Illinois Attorney General to enforce our student data privacy law, and for the Illinois State Board of Education to ensure that the new contract with ACT, Inc. doesn’t allow illegal data sales.

You can help advocate for this by sending emails to the AG, ISBE and State Superintendent Tony Sanders:

☞ Tell IL's AG: No more student data sales!

☞ Tell ISBE: Don't let ACT, Inc. sell student data!

Thanks for your continued commitment to public schools and the public good!