Helping Your Child Cope with the First Day of Kindergarten

Photo © 2012 by Lesley Show under Creative Commons license.

The first day of kindergarten is a big transition for your child. Some children are excited and ready to go, perhaps because they finally get to do what their big brother or sister has been doing. Others can find it a source of worry and fear.

Edutopia has an article about how to ease your child’s kindergarten fears. The article addresses five key steps you can take, and has several strategies for addressing each one. The five are:

  1. Practice saying goodbye.
  2. Learn the lay of the land.
  3. Address your child’s concerns directly.
  4. Establish a goodbye ritual.
  5. Keep your eyes open.

The article notes that it is important to watch for an increase in confidence and a diminishment of worries as they become more comfortable with the changes. Check out the full article to learn which strategies might help your child have a smooth transition to kindergarten.

Understanding SB1: Changing the Illinois School Funding Formula

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) is aimed at improving how Illinois distributes money to local school districts. The bill uses an Evidence-Based Funding Model, as recommended by Governor Rauner’s Illinois School Funding Reform Commission to distribute new state education funding in a more equitable manner than the existing formula. SB1 has passed both houses and awaits the governor’s signature or veto. The budget passed by the legislature requires that school funding use an evidence-based model, such as SB1, without which no funds will be distributed to K-12 schools this fiscal year. SB1 is the only such funding formula bill to pass both houses.

Why do we need a new funding formula?

Last fall, Advance Illinois released a report on public education in Illinois called The State We’re In 2016-2017 noting that an increasing number of Illinois school districts are teaching more children living in poverty and more children learning English, both populations that require extra supports for success. As state funding for education has fallen further behind the foundation level (the state-determined cost to adequately educate a student in Illinois), school districts have increased property taxes to make up the difference. However, property wealth is not evenly distributed across the state, with some districts able to raise significant funding through property taxes, while others are able to raise very little even with high tax rates. The funding provided by the state is also not evenly distributed under the current funding formula, as for every $1.00 Illinois spends on a non-low-income student, it spends only $0.81 on a low-income student—the worst ratio in the country.

How will the new formula work?

The new formula calculates a unique adequacy target for each school district by applying 27 evidence-based criteria based on a district’s demographics (e.g., class size, technology, up-to-date materials, special education teachers and aides). The formula also identifies how much state funding a district currently receives and locks it in as the district’s base funding minimum and measures how much local capacity the district has to raise funds through property taxes, called its local capacity target.

Districts are then divided into four tiers based on how close they are to their adequacy targets, with Tier 1 districts being furthest away and Tier 4 districts being the closest. When new funding beyond the base funding minimum is allocated, Tier 1 schools get the first 50%, Tiers 1 and 2 split the next 49%, and the final 1% is split between Tiers 3 and 4. Those additional funds are then counted as part of the following year’s base funding minimum, so districts will move out of the lower tiers as they get closer to their adequacy target.

Will any school districts lose funding?

No. The formula locks in a district’s current funding level as its base funding minimum. All new state funding for education going forward is in addition to what districts currently receive, and it is those additional funds that will be allocated using the Evidence-Based Funding Model.

Is this a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) bailout?

No. Under the current formula, CPS is handled differently, receiving a block grant that other districts do not but also paying for their teacher pensions that the state pays for other districts. That means that CPS currently has to keep tax dollars away from the classroom to pay for pension costs that other districts do not have to pay. It is estimated that state pension payments on behalf of districts other than CPS are worth an average of $1,880 per student in the Chicago suburbs and $1,420 per student in downstate school districts.

With SB1, the block grant is folded into CPS’s base funding minimum and eliminated going forward. Regarding pensions, CPS is treated like every other school district, with the state paying for the cost of pension benefits its teachers are earning today. That means that CPS receives approximately $220 million that it is required to use for pensions, just like every other district has had in years past. However, CPS will still be the only school district required to pay for its own legacy pension costs, or “unfunded liability.” That means that CPS will spend approximately $0.14 on its unfunded pension liabilities and $0.86 on educating students. The new formula accounts for this by crediting CPS’s local capacity target, since it can only spend a tax dollar once, but does not give CPS additional funding for these legacy costs.

Additionally, if the state were to push pension costs to all local school districts to reduce the state’s pension liabilities in the future,  SB1 would treat all districts identically to CPS.

Where can I learn more about SB1?

There are several places you can find more information about SB1:

What is Illinois PTA’s position on SB1?

Illinois PTA’s mission is “to make every child’s potential a reality.” Our legislative platform supports adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for education in Illinois. The current state funding formula and level of funding meets none of those three conditions. SB1 represents an important step in moving public education funding in Illinois towards being adequate, equitable, and sustainable. The hold harmless clause in SB1 protects existing levels of state funding for every school district in Illinois indefinitely, rather than phasing out like previous funding formula proposals did. For these reasons, Illinois PTA supports SB1 and urges Governor Rauner to sign the bill into law.

What can I do?

Contact Governor Rauner and urge him to sign SB1 into law. Should the governor veto SB1, Illinois PTA will issue a call to action that will provide you with a message to your legislators asking them to override the veto. Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to be sure you get the call.

 

Ending the Expulsion of Preschoolers in Illinois

Photo © 2009 by Sarah Gilbert under Creative Commons license.

“Expelled from preschool” sounds like a headline from a humor website like The Onion, but in fact preschoolers are expelled nationwide at more than three times the rate of students in K-12 classes. More significantly, these expulsions are disproportionately given to boys and to African-American and Hispanic students. Preschool education is critical to preparing students for success in school, especially for students from low-income families, students learning English as a second language, and students with special needs. Preschool expulsion jeopardizes the foundation of those students’ education, making them less prepared to enter kindergarten.

Illinois passed a law last year requiring K-12 schools to improve their suspension and expulsion practices. This year, the Illinois General Assembly has passed HB 2663, which currently awaits the governor’s signature. HB2663 would:

  • Prohibit the expulsion of children from preschool programs that receive money from the state.
  • Requires documentation of steps taken when a child exhibits persistent and serious challenging behaviors to ensure that all available interventions, supports, and community resources are applied.
  • Provides for the creation of a transition plan if there is documented evidence that all available interventions and supports recommended by a professional have been exhausted to move the child to another preschool program. The plan must be designed to ensure continuity of services and the comprehensive development of the child.
  • Requires the state to recommend professional development training and resources to improve the ability of teachers, administrators, and staff to promote social-emotional development, address challenging behaviors, and to understand trauma and trauma-informed care, cultural competence, family engagement with diverse populations, the effect of implicit bias on adult behavior, and the use of reflective practice techniques.
  • Requires the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, in consultation with the governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and the Illinois State Board of Education, to adopt rules similar to those above for licensed day care centers, day care homes, and group day care homes.

Illinois PTA is urging Governor Rauner to sign HB2663 into law.

4 Tips for Student Success in Middle School

There are a lot of changes for kids starting middle school—moving between classes, having a locker and combination, eighth-graders who are often much bigger, changing bodies, and more. Getting Smart published an article to help families prepare for middle school by identifying four keys to success.

  1. Middle schoolers need adults to teach them how the world works, but also be conscious of how their brain is functioning. Teenage brains are wired for learning, but the frontal cortex is not well connected yet. The frontal cortex, as noted in Illinois PTA’s report on young adults involved in the justice system, doesn’t get fully connected until the mid-20s. This important part of the brain helps to identify risks, make critical judgements, react rationally, as well as plan for the future and motivate ourselves. It is important for adults to begin conversations at this age to help them understand the role their actions today might have for their future, whether that is choices of friends, things they do, or pictures they post online.
  2. Middle schoolers need to be held to high expectations, but be allowed to make (harmless) mistakes. High expectations for our children are important, but we need to be sure that we aren’t focusing on perfection, but effort. Learning to work hard, do your best, and learn from your mistakes are critical parts of developing a growth mindset.
  3. Middle schoolers need support in thinking about the future, but also need to be encouraged to embrace the present. Coupled with the first two points, we need to help our kids think about what they want to do in life, how to set goals, and how to plan to accomplish those goals.
  4. Middle schoolers need parents to be involved, and they need to take ownership of their learning. Middle school is the age when kids start to pull away from their parents and begin to develop some independence. As adults, we need to support this critical development, if for no other reason than we don’t want them playing video games in our basement when they’re 30. But we still need to be involved with their lives because we know they won’t always make good choices. It’s also a time for us to encourage our kids to try new things and to discover what activities and ideas really excite their passion.

Check out the full article for more on these four keys to middle school success.

Photo © 2007 by GSCSNJ under Creative Commons license.