This being an election year, the Illinois General Assembly wrapped up their spring session in early April rather than at the end of May. Since the governor is required to take action on bills within 60 days of them being sent for signing, the fate of only a handful of bills remain uncertain. Here are the new laws supported by the Illinois PTA.
The budget passed by the legislature and signed by the governor included $350M in additional funding for the Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) formula, as well as additional funds for early childhood education and higher education. As Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch noted at the Illinois PTA Convention in March, most legislators now know that increasing EBF funding is critical to fully funding Illinois schools and its passage is not that controversial.
However, it is an election year, so new legislators may be elected that are unfamiliar with the details of EBF funding and need advocates to inform them when next year’s budget is written. In addition, the General Assembly’s Professional Review Panel, created to oversee EBF funding and recommend improvements, released a report late last year noting that at the current rate of funding $350M/year, Illinois schools will not reach 90% adequate funding (what they’re calling “full funding”) until 2042. In simplest terms, this means that the first students who will graduate from high school once Illinois reaches “full funding” haven’t been born yet. We will need to advocate for the legislature to increase the rate of EBF funding to ensure we are not condemning Illinois students to 20 more years of underfunded schools.
High School Grades, Transcripts, and Diplomas
This new law (PA 102-0727) prohibits public high schools from withholding grades, transcripts, or diplomas from students because of an unpaid balance on a student’s school account. This means that high schools will not be able to deny a student the transcript or diploma they may need to continue their education or to get a job simply because their family could not afford to pay school fees, allowing them to improve their economic situation.
Following the adoption of a resolution on safe firearms storage at the 2021 Illinois PTA Convention, Illinois PTA has increased its advocacy on firearms issues. This legislative session saw the passage of two safe firearms storage bills and one bill addressing “ghost guns.”
One of the safe firearms storage bills (PA 102-0971) directs school districts to include instruction on safe gun storage in any class discussing safety in the home. The second bill (PA 102-1067) directs the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to conduct a two-year safe gun storage education campaign that includes a gun lock and gun safe distribution campaign and gun buy-back programs. The campaign must also focus on suicide prevention, youth or young adult survivors of gun violence, and families at risk due to domestic violence. IDPH must report the results of the campaign to the legislature.
Firearms without serial numbers, often referred to as “ghost guns,” will be illegal in Illinois six months after the governor signed this bill into law (PA 102-0889). The law targets the “frame or receiver” of a firearm, which are basically the parts of a gun that allow it to fire a bullet. It will be illegal to sell, transfer, possess, transport, or receive an unserialized frame or receiver, including those that are made using a 3D printer at home. Existing 3D printed firearms will have 30 days to get a serial number from a federally licensed firearms dealer, and future 3D printed parts must receive a serial number before they reach the stage where they can be readily completed, assembled, or converted to a functional firearm.
Student Confidential Reporting Act
The Safe2Help Illinois program rolled out in late 2020 to address youth suicide, bullying, and school violence. The program includes the safe2helpil.com website. The Student Confidential Reporting Act (PA 102-0752) puts into law regulations to handle student privacy issues regarding the program, requires the program to include specific activities (e.g., free helpline, website, etc.), and eliminates other state-operated school violence help lines (excluding the CPS Violence Prevention Hotline).
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has a long and continuing history of problems. The legislature passed several bills this session dealing with foster children in general, if not necessarily addressing all the issues at DCFS. Here are some of the highlights:
- Creating the Holistic Mental Health Care for Youth in Care Task Force to make recommendations on providing every youth in care holistic mental health care within 30 days of being placed in foster care (PA 102-0898).
- When a child is placed in foster care, DCFS will be required to determine if they are eligible for Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans benefits, or Railroad Retirement benefits, and if they are, complete an application for those benefits on behalf of the child (PA 102-1014).
- Amending the Foster Children’s Bill of Rights Act to include providing as part of the intake process instruction on inappropriate acts of affection, discipline, and punishment; providing appropriate intervention and counseling services regarding traumatic stress, special needs, or mental illness; providing enrollment in an independent living services program prior to transitioning out of foster care, including classes and instruction on independent living and self-sufficiency in the areas of employment, finances, meals, and housing; and providing an assessment by a third party regarding readiness to transition out of foster care prior to enrollment in an independent living services program (PA 102-0810).
- Creating the Bias-Free Child Removal Pilot Program Act (PA 102-1087) that establishes a 3-year pilot program for the purpose of promoting unbiased decision making in the child removal process, while maintaining the safety of children and reducing risk, with the goal of decreasing the overrepresentation of BIPOC children in out-of-home placements. The pilot program will run in DuPage, Champaign, and Williamson counties.
The legislature amended the requirements for health education to include instruction on how and where to find mental health resources and specialized treatment within Illinois (PA 102-1034).
Full-time school district employees are now eligible to take up to five mental health days without needing a doctor’s note (PA 102-0866), similar to the law enacted last year for student mental health days.
Finally, the legislature directed the Children’s Mental Health Partnership to advise state agencies on designing and implementing short-term and long-term strategies to provide comprehensive and coordinated mental health services for children from birth to age 25 (PA 102-0899). The recommendations are to be based on the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Plan of 2022.
Starting August 1, 2023, school districts are to provide a plant-based school lunch option that complies with federal nutritional mandates to those students who submit a prior request to the district for a plant-based lunch (PA 102-0761).