Call your state rep: Bad and good education bills in Springfield this week

The deadline for passing bills out of the Illinois House and over to the Senate is this Friday 4/19. Here are two bills that IL-FPS has been following closely, and we encourage you to call your state rep about both of them.

It’s a busy week in the House, so if your call goes to voicemail, leave a message with your name, say that you are a constituent and state your positions on these bills (HB 303 - Oppose; HB 4955 - Support and sponsor). All the details below!

The Bad: HB 303

Note: This is a bill about Chicago Public Schools, but it has wide support from non-Chicago legislators; the majority of sponsors on this bill are not Chicagoans. We need supporters of equitable school funding policy outside the city to ask their legislators to oppose this bill as well. Please share this email with public ed advocates beyond Chicago.

As we've mentioned before, HB 303 (previously HB 5766) is primarily a reaction to the Chicago Board of Ed’s resolution in December saying that the district should move away from prioritizing “school choice” to ensuring that all schools are well supported, via budgeting that explicitly takes into account the needs of a school’s student body, mostly measured by what’s being called an Opportunity Index (OI) score.

CPS began using this measure in 2021 to allocate some funds, and it’s playing a more significant role for the school budgets for the coming year. You can read more about what’s included in the OI score and an overview of changes in budgeting.

Back in 2017, the State made a similar change in how it distributes funding when the evidence-based funding formula was passed. EBF also takes into account things like the number of English-language learners, students with disabilities and low-income students a district serves.

HB 303 seeks to block the Board’s budgeting changes by ensuring that they can’t apply to any schools with selective admissions requirements if it would decrease their budgets—no matter what shifts there are in their student body or staff or elsewhere in the district.

Importantly, Chicago schools’ Opportunity Index scores don’t correlate all that closely with their admissions requirements. (Look up any school’s Opportunity Index score for 2023-2024 here.) Some schools with test-in admissions have high needs: they likely will have more funding in the coming school year. Others with lower needs are likely facing some budget cuts.

But many of the schools that are low need (= low OI) are neighborhood schools or magnets which use a lottery for admissions. HB 303 wouldn’t stop budget cuts at these schools--and by protecting selective admissions schools from cuts, it means all other schools must shoulder them, if need be. With a looming deficit for the next several fiscal years, that’s what we expect to happen.  

Another issue with HB 303: it’s not clear which schools it applies to. It reads “any attendance center within the school district that has selective admission requirements that apply to the entire student body and that are approved by the board.” But even just the set of ten selective enrollment high schools have a variety of admissions requirements. And what about 7-8th grade academic centers which are part of neighborhood high schools? Does this bill apply to them? We simply don’t know, and it’s disturbing that such ambiguously worded legislation is rapidly moving forward.

The truth is, if this bill were more clearly written, it would expose the fact that it is simply attempting to block a more equitable distribution of resources in CPS.

The reality is Chicago Public Schools overall is short more than $1 billion in adequate funding from the State. If the General Assembly is concerned about funding shortfalls, they shouldn’t be writing convoluted bills to assist somewhat-better-resourced schools hoard opportunity. They should be passing progressive revenue solutions and ensuring that they fully fund the State's evidence-based funding formula for all Illinois’ public schools.

Please call your state rep and ask them to oppose HB 303: "The General Assembly should be supporting a shift to more equitable funding models, not opposing them. Please vote NO on HB 303."

Our detailed fact sheet on HB 303 is here.

The Good: HB 4955

Back in 2021, the Illinois State Board of Education unveiled a plan to increase the amount of state testing in 3rd to 8th grades and start funding K-2 testing as well. With a coalition including families, educators, researchers and disability rights activists, that plan was derailed. And we also managed to pass a Too Young To Test bill that protects K-2 from state-mandated and state-funded standardized testing going forward.

This session, Rep Sue Scherer, a long-time advocate of reducing the harm that high-stakes standardized testing causes, has a bill that could get a House floor vote by the end of this week, HB 4955. This bill would prevent any expansion of state tests beyond what the federal government requires for grades K-6. It also encourages the State Board of Ed to pursue any flexibility in federal assessment requirements.

We’d love to see this bill also cover grades 7-12 as well, but this is a good start. Ask your state rep to sign on as a sponsor and vote YES: "Please protect elementary students in our public schools from overtesting by supporting HB 4955."