Celebrating Legislative Successes in 2018—Children’s Health

This week, Illinois gets a new governor and a new General Assembly. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the substantial legislative gains on issues Illinois PTA supported affecting our children and youth in the areas of health, including mental health, safety, gun control, social and emotional learning, and special education. You can help continue our success by adding your voice to our voice on February 6, 2019 for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield. In today’s article, we look back at new laws covering children’s health and mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Training

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), although 1 in 5 children in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, only 21% of affected children actually receive needed treatment. The results of the failure to identify these disorders can lead to isolation, depression, violence, drug use, or suicide. Identification of these issues is the first step in obtaining necessary treatment. Public Act (PA) 100-0903(formerly House Bill 4658) amends the School Codeconcerning Mental Health Awareness to provide for the in-service training of licensed school personnel and administrators to identify the warning signs of mental illness and suicidal behavior in youth from kindergarten through 12thgrade.

Flu and Meningitis Vaccine Information

In terms of overall health, we supported Senate Bill 2654 (SB2654), now PA 100-0977 which requires the development and provision of much-needed information regarding influenza and meningococcal disease and their related vaccinesto the parents and guardians of students. Both illnesses can lead to a substantial number of days lost from school for students, and, in the worst cases, can lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meningococcal related illnesses, which can include certain infections in the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and bloodstream infections, are often severe and can be deadly. With respect to influenza, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there were 174 pediatric deaths from influenza during this past flu season. While influenza and meningococcal diseases are highly preventable with these vaccines, many parents and guardians do not have adequate information on these diseases and the vaccines to make appropriate choices for their children.

HPV Vaccine Information

We also supported SB2866, now PA 100-0741 which requires the provision of Human Papillomavirus Vaccination (HPV) informationby the Department of Public Health to all students entering sixth grade and their parents or legal guardians so that families have the information available and can choose to protect their children with vaccinations before they are ever exposed to the HPV virus. According to the CDC, HPV causes approximately 31,500 new cases of cancer each year. Both the CDC and the AAP recommend immunization against HPV for all 11-year-old through 12-year-old children as part of the adolescent immunization platform.

Asthma and Allergies

Two new statutes that amend the School Code concern students with asthma and/or allergies. For millions of children with allergies and asthma, pollens, molds and exposure to potential allergens and viruses in class can take a high toll. According to the CDC, asthma, which can be triggered by allergies and respiratory illnesses, is one of the major reasons why students miss school. PA 100-0726(formerly SB3015)amends the School Code regarding Asthma Medication Administrationto provide that a school district or school may authorize a school nurse or other trained personnel to: provide undesignated asthma medication to a student for self-administration or to personnel authorized to administer the medication pursuant to a student’s Health Care Action Plan, asthma action plan, IEP, or 504 Plan (“Student Plans”); administer undesignated asthma medication that meets the prescription on file to any student with a Student Plan; and, if necessary, administer an undesignated asthma medication to any person that they believe in good faith to be in respiratory distress. Additionally, the statute provides for a training curriculum to ensure that the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress are recognized and responded to appropriately, and permits a supply of asthma medication to be maintained in a secure location that is accessible before, during or after school.

PA 100-0799 – the Epinephrine Injector Act(formerly SB2889) will allow school districts to choose the least expensive drug option to have on hand in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. Allergies and anaphylactic reactions continue to be important health concerns for many school age children. Statistically, twenty-five percent (25%) of first time allergic reactions occur in a school setting. The time to respond to a severe allergic reaction with appropriate treatment is critical. However, recent increases in the cost of the epinephrine auto-injectors have made their availability difficult for schools. The Epinephrine Injector Act gives them options for less costly, but still effective treatment for children and youth undergoing an anaphylactic reaction.

Dental Exams Before 9thGrade

In terms of dental health, we supported HB4908, now PA100-0829 regarding Dental Examinations for Youths. According to the AAP, there are a number of reasons to have a dental exam beyond the fact that early childhood dental caries is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Many diseases, including diabetes, certain autoimmune system disorders, and cancer, can be detected in a dental oral exam before symptoms show up elsewhere. This statute now adds the requirement that all children in ninth grade have a dental examinations.

Take Action

Do we have more to do? Every day! How can you help? Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Networkto stay up to date on issues, and  join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

 

The Importance of Algebra I in 8th Grade

Access to Algebra I in 8thgrade is a critical course for students interested in going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. A recent US Department of Education data storylooks at which students have access to 8thgrade Algebra I, where it is offered, and who takes it.

Why 8thGrade Algebra I is Important

Algebra I is considered a gatekeeper course—students need to complete it to have access to higher level math and science courses. For example, students who take Algebra I in the 8thgrade can then take Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus during their high school years. Not taking it until the 9thgrade moves calculus off the schedule in high school. Similar limits happen in getting the prerequisites for higher level science courses students need to complete in order to major in STEM fields in college. Currently, only 24% of public school students take Algebra I in the 8thgrade.

Access to 8thGrade Algebra I

Based on US Department of Education data, the availability of 8thgrade Algebra I varies widely. Only 59% of schools across the country offer Algebra I in the 8thgrade; however, these schools serve approximately 80% of all public school students. Suburban schools are the most likely to offer 8thgrade Algebra I, with 86% of students in those districts able to do so. About 75% of students in schools grouped as urban, rural, or town have access Algebra I in the 8thgrade.

Enrollment, however, lags far behind access. Overall, 24% of 8thgraders take Algebra I. Asian students are most likely to take 8thgrade Algebra I, with 34% doing so. White and multiracial students take it at 24% and 23% rates, respectively. Other minority groups enroll in 8thgrade Algebra I at a 12% to 14% rate. Female students (25%) are slightly more likely to take Algebra I in the 8thgrade than male students (22%).

Given that high school graduation in Illinois requires completion of Algebra I and Geometry, school districts might be tempted to push students into 8thgrade Algebra I in order to help them successfully complete it in high school. However, research indicatesthat while pushing students who are underprepared to take Algebra I in the 8thgrade does result in more of them passing Algebra I in high school, those students pass with lower scores than those who started the course later and they are also less likely to pass high school geometry.

What PTAs Can Do

One part of the data story includes an interactive map allowing you to zoom in on Illinois and see the percentage of schools in each district that offer 8thgrade Algebra I. For Chicago Public Schools, only 49% of schools did so. A significant portion of downstate districts do not offer it at all.

If your school district does not currently offer every student access to 8thgrade Algebra I, your PTA can advocate for those students. Every PTA should also ask about what your school district is doing to ensure that every student who has access to 8thgrade Algebra I is prepared to do so and what is being done to close any achievement gaps for students of color, of low-socio-economic status, or other groups underrepresented in the district’s enrollment in 8thgrade Algebra I.

5 Things to Know About the New Illinois School Report Card

Illinois’s school report cardwas released on October 31st, and there have been several changes this year due to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Here are five things families need to know about this year’s report card.

  1. There’s a new school rating system.Schools are now classified in one of four designations:
    • Exemplary:Schools performing in the top 10% statewide with no underperforming student groups (e.g., white students, low-income students, special needs students).
    • Commendable:Schools that have no underperforming student groups, performance is not in the top 10% statewide, and for high schools, the graduation rate is above 67%.
    • Underperforming:Schools where one or more student groups is performing below the level of the “all students” group in the lowest performing 5% of schools. This definition of underperforming student groups applies to the two designations above.
    • Lowest-Performing:Schools in the lowest-performing 5% of schools statewide and any high school with a graduation rate of 67% or less.
  1. Schools are rated on more than test scores.Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), how a school was performing was based only on how students performed on statewide tests. Under Illinois’s ESSA plan, schools are evaluated on several measures, including academic growth, proficiency, school climate survey results, high school graduation, and chronic absenteeism.

 

  1. The focus is now on student growth, not proficiency.NCLB’s focus was only on proficiency—did a student meet a specific score on the statewide test—as a means of measuring a school’s success. That focus did not take into account where students were at the beginning of a school year. Under Illinois’s ESSA plan, student growth—how much a student improves over the course of the year—is one measure of how a school is performing. That means that a school is doing well when a student shows more than one year of academic growth over the course of the year even if they still do not meet the standards for their grade. This focus on growth will encourage schools to support all students and close achievement gaps.

 

  1. School funding is being reported.With Illinois’s new school funding formula, we have a way of estimating what it costs to educate a student in every Illinois school district—its Adequacy Target. The school report card now shows where each school district stands on funding compared to its Adequacy Target on the first page of the report card, as well as which funding tier (1 through 4) the district is in for the new funding formula. Next year’s report card will also include how much school districts are spending at each school.

 

  1. The lowest performing schools get more support.Under NCLB, schools that were not making Adequate Yearly Progress often had funding cut. Under Illinois’s ESSA plan, those schools that are Underperforming or Lowest-Performing get additional funding and supports to help them improve. Those schools will also partner with higher performing schools to help institute best practices for student success. The system to implement these supports is known as IL-EMPOWER.

These changes in the report card reflect many Illinois PTA and National PTA legislative priorities. From moving beyond a simple test score to measure school success, to focusing on student growth, to adequately and equitably funding education, PTA advocacy has helped to continue the progress being made towards providing every child a quality education. You can help lend your voice to future PTA advocacy efforts by joining the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network.

 

5 Things to Know About Illinois’s New School Funding Formula

Last August, Illinois adopted a new evidence-based funding (EBF) formulafor providing new state funding for schools. The new EBF formula estimates what it actually costs to provide a quality education to students in each of Illinois’s 853 school districts (called the adequacy target) as well as the local tax resources available to the district to meet that funding level (their local capacity). State funds are then distributed with more money being directed to the school districts with the largest gap between their local capacity and their adequacy target.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has released a new report covering how the new EBF formula is working. Here’s what you need to know about it.

  1. Collectively, Illinois school districts are $7.37 billion short of adequate funding.The legislature and governor have verbally committed to increasing K-12 education funding by $350 million each year over 10 years. Note that this amount covers less than half of the total additional funds needed to provide a quality education to every Illinois student.
  2. Only 146 districts (17%) had resources above their adequacy target. The other 707 districts (83%) are below their adequacy target.
  3. Those districts furthest from adequacy (known as Tier 1 schools), are spending on average $5,000/student less than their adequacy target. By contrast the school districts at or above their adequacy target (Tier 4 schools) are spending about $3,000/student above adequacy.
  4. Of the $366 million of additional state funding that went through the EBF formula, 89.1% went to Tier 1 schools.This indicates that the new formula is correctly directing the most new money to the districts most in need.
  5. 63% of the new funding went to school districts that had 59% or more of their students coming from low-income homes.6% went to districts with low-income students making up 40% or more of their population. Again, this indicates that the new EBF formula is directing additional funds to those students who need additional supports.

The new funding formula represents a significant step in the right direction towards improving Illinois’s least-equitable school funding in the country. However, closing the gap between current funding and adequate funding will require continued commitment from legislators and the governor to increase state school funding. As part of the new funding law, a Professional Review Panel was created to oversee implementation, and Illinois PTA has a seat on that panel. In addition, the scholarship fund set up by the law (which Illinois PTA opposed) to get around Illinois’s constitutional ban on providing public funds to private schools will divert up to $75 million to private schools each year and it is not entirely clear how those funds are being handled.