Advocacy Day 2019—A Challenging and Rewarding Day

Illinois PTA hosted is Advocacy Day in Springfield last Wednesday, February 6th. Though the weather did not cooperate, making travel difficult or impossible for some PTA advocates, Illinois PTA was still able to visit with every legislator’s staff and meet with a few legislators as well. A few of our advocates who had ducked in to see the House in session just before lunch ran into our new governor, JB Pritzker! If you couldn’t make it, you can still contact your legislators about our advocacy issues through our latest Call to Action.

Our three primary advocacy topics this Advocacy Day were:

School Funding

Illinois’s new Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) model provides an equitable way of distributing state funding to schools by determining what research and data shows to be the cost of educating a student coupled with a school district’s ability to meet that cost through local property taxes. What that model also shows is that 83% of Illinois school districts are below 90% of their adequate funding level, and that bringing every district to their full adequate level of funding would cost an additional $7.37 billion. While the General Assembly has committed to an additional $350 million per year for ten years, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability estimates that at that rate it will take 31 years to reach full adequate funding. Illinois PTA does not believe that it is in our children’s or our state’s best interest to not fully fund schools until 2050.

Given the financial difficulties faced by the state, one cannot talk about additional spending without being willing to talk about revenue, and that was the other part of Illinois PTA’s focus on school funding during Advocacy Day. We spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax, a position of our legislative platform for years. We also would support a potential increase in taxes on services to bring us in line with our neighboring states. Finally, we spoke in favor of eliminating the scholarship fund inserted into the EBF bill at the last minute that diverts up to $75 million in public funds for private school vouchers with no clear accountability on how those funds are being handled.

Juvenile Justice

In 2017, Illinois PTA released a report on young adults involved in the justice system, and among the recommendations adopted by the convention delegates from that report was advocating for changes in how young adults ages 18 to 24 are handled by the justice system. That report continues to generate national interest, most recently in a new report by the Justice Lab at Columbia University.

Based on our position on this issue, Illinois PTA spoke with legislators in favor of SB 239 and HB 1465, companion bills just introduced prior to Advocacy Day that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for misdemeanors from 18 to 21 through a phased in process. We also supported providing counsel to all alleged juvenile offenders throughout their involvement in the justice system, reducing the disproportionate representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system, and assuring that juvenile court jurisdiction is based on age by eliminating automatic transfers to adult court.

Environmental Resolutions

Shortly after taking office, Governor Pritzker signed an executive order confirming that Illinois will abide by the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Based on our resolution on climate change, Illinois PTA asked legislators to make Governor Pritzker’s decision a reality by enacting legislation that would support renewable energy resources and regulate activities that contribute to the adverse effects of climate change. Illinois PTA also spoke out in favor of regulations that would prevent adverse environmental effects from fracking based on our resolution on hydraulic fracturing.

New PTA Partnership Helps Families Advocate for Safer Schools

School shootings are in the headlines far too often, causing us to worry that our child’s school might be the next one. Accompanying that worry is often a feeling of not knowing how to change anything to make your child’s school safer and perhaps the thought that it would never happen here.

That was Alissa Parker’s thought as she noted flaws in the security system at her child’s school when she attended a parent-teacher conference and shared them with her husband. Two months later, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary would claim the life of her daughter, Emilie.

Alissa Parker joined with fellow Sandy Hook mom Michelle Gay in founding Safe and Sound Schools, an organization dedicated to supporting school crisis prevention, response, and recovery. Since then, they have shared their story around the country, including at last year’s National PTA Legislative Conference.

Now National PTA is partnering with Safe and Sound Schools to launch the Parents for Safe Schools program. The program is designed to help families become educated and advocate for school safety. The program includes:

  • Resources to educate families on all aspects of school safety, including mental and behavioral health; health and wellness; physical environment; school law, policy, and finance; culture, climate, and community; and operations and emergency management.
  • Information on how to talk to your child about school safety.
  • A safety toolkit to facilitate conversations, problem-solving, and building partnerships in your school community around school safety.
  • A guide on how to start the safety conversation with your school leaders.
  • A comprehensive guide to the Parents for Safe Schools program with detailed resources to help you plan your advocacy. The guide covers creating a safety team, holding a safety fair, hosting a parent night, keeping the conversation over the summer, discussing safety beyond the school, and much more.

School safety is the responsibility of every member of your school community. The Parents for Safe Schoolsprogram provides the tools your PTA needs to engage your school community in advocating for safer schools. As the headlines continually remind us, it can happen here.

New Report Provides Additional Data Supporting Illinois PTA’s Emerging Adults Recommendations

Since the release of our 2017 Report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice System, Illinois PTA has been a leader in speaking out for differentiated treatment of those youth ages 18 to 25 involved in the justice system. Last Thursday, Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker participated in the Juvenile Justice Initiative(JJI) Reimagine Justice Summit in Chicago. The event focused on a new report by the Justice Lab at Columbia University that highlighted new data regarding emerging adults involved in the justice system, noting that these youth are disproportionately incarcerated in Illinois, often for low-level offences, and racial disparities are greatest for this group.

State Senator Laura Fine will be introducing a bill again this year to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice for misdemeanor cases from 18 to 21. Illinois PTA testified in favor of this bill last year when then-Representative Fine introduced it in the house and anticipates supporting the bill again this year as well as its companion bill in the House. At the JJI summit, Sen. Fine noted that Illinois PTA’s support was a critical element in many legislators’ voting for the bill. Illinois PTA advocacy makes a difference, and your voice matters. Additional information on the Justice Lab report is below.

The Justice Lab at Columbia University released a new report today at an event in Chicago, entitled Emerging Adult Justice in Illinois: Towards an Age-Appropriate Approach. The report explains that the current justice system—which automatically prosecutes and sentences all emerging adults (ages 18 – 25) in the adult criminal justice system—generates remarkably poor results in terms of youth outcomes, racial and socioeconomic equity, and public safety:

  • Emerging adults comprised 10 percent of the general population in Illinois, yet accounted for 34 percent of total arrests and 28 percent of individuals sentenced to incarceration in Illinois state prisons in 2013.
  • Of those emerging adults admitted to state prisons in 2013, 73 percent were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
  • Over a third of youth ages 18-21 admitted to the Cook County Jail in 2017—2,252 young people—were charged with misdemeanors or other petty offenses.
  • African American emerging adults are incarcerated at a rate 9.4 times greater than their white peers in Illinois. Illinois has one of the highest incarceration rates of African American emerging adults in the country, three times higher than New York and 2.5 times higher than California.
  • Nationally, 3 out of 4 emerging adults released from incarceration are rearrested within 3 years. These poor public safety outcomes are exacerbated by significant barriers to reentry, such as a growing prevalence of substance use disorders and homelessness among this age group.

Highlighting research in neurobiology, developmental psychology, and sociology, the Justice Lab reportexplains that emerging adults are a distinct developmental group and that most will mature out of crime in their mid-20s if given the opportunities to do so. The brains of young people continue developing into at least their mid-20s, far later than formerly thought. Emerging adults are more volatile in emotionally charged settings, more susceptible to peer influence, greater risk takers, and less future-oriented than fully mature adults. Yet, the criminal justice system treats emerging adults almost the same way as 40- or 50-year-olds, failing to provide effective, developmentally appropriate responses, and interfering with the normal maturity process.

“These disastrous justice outcomes are troubling but hardly surprising,” says Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Scientist and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab. “Research shows what every parent of a young person knows, that young people are still maturing and should be treated in a developmentally appropriate way that provides them with a chance to turn their lives around. Publicizing their names when they make mistakes, putting them into jails with older adults, and denying them the rehabilitation that is available in the juvenile justice system makes no sense.”

“The Illinois Parent Teacher Association [PTA] recognizes that youth ages 18 to 24 are developmentally different than those 25 and older,” says Brian Minsker, the President of Illinois PTA. “As we recommended in our 2017 report, it is time for our justice system to recognize and address such developmental needs of all system-involved youth.”

Despite its challenges, emerging adulthood is also a period of opportunity, as youth are malleable and can be influenced by positive peers and enriching, supportive environments. “Illinois has been experimenting with alternative interventions for justice-involved youth with great success for many years,” explains Elizabeth Clarke, Executive Director of Juvenile Justice Initiative. “Our experience has shown that age-appropriate, community-based programs, such as the Redeploy Illinois, can achieve better youth outcomes, reduce recidivism and enhance public safety while resulting in significant cost savings. We should strive to extend this opportunity to all our young people, including emerging adults, who are at a critical developmental stage in their lives.”

As the Justice Lab reportshows, Illinois policymakers have already begun to experiment with policies and practices that treat emerging adults in a distinct manner. Selen Siringil Perker, Senior Research Associate and lead author, notes, “as the home of the first juvenile court in America, I am heartened to see Illinois pursue reform initiatives focused on emerging adult justice. These include, for example, a new restorative justice community court in North Lawndale to serve youth ages 18 to 26 charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors.”

A legislative proposal to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice in misdemeanor cases up to age 21was also filed in the 2018 session of the Illinois legislature. “This legislative initiative is not without precedent,” explains State Senator Laura Fine, who sponsored the bill when she was a State Representative. “Illinois successfully raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 17 to 18 for misdemeanors in 2010, then for felony cases in 2014. Despite concerns that the expansion would overwhelm the juvenile justice system, juvenile arrests, detention and incarceration rates all plummeted after the change in law. We did it before and we can do it again.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois legislature passed a new bill that provides parole eligibility for most youth who are under age 21 at the time of conviction. The Justice Lab report noted that other areas of public policy, ranging from laws on alcohol consumption to recent legislative proposals regarding gun purchases, treat emerging adults up to age 21 differently than older adults.

“It is important to rely on cutting edge research when reforming the criminal justice system,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx said. “That is why I am grateful for the Columbia University Justice Lab’s reporton emerging adults in the criminal justice system. Our office is in review of this report and we look forward to collaborating with them and other stakeholders in the future to address the emerging adult population in Cook County.”

Illinois’ emerging adult justice reform efforts are indicative of a national movement to enhance public safety by providing more individualized, tailored, and developmentally appropriate responses to emerging adults. “Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state in the country to enact a law gradually raising the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to a youth’s 20th birthday by 2022,” says Lael Chester, coauthor and Director of the Emerging Adult Project at Columbia Justice Lab. “There also have been bills filed to raise the age past the 18th birthday in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2018. Many states will be watching Illinois with interest.”

Celebrating Legislative Successes in 2018—Education Issues

As we approach Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on February 6, 2019, we are taking the opportunity to reflect on the substantial legislative gains Illinois PTA made on issues affecting our children and youth in the areas of health, including mental health, safety, gun control, social and emotional learning, and special education. Today’s article looks back at new laws covering education issues, including special education and social and emotional learning.

IEP Parent Notification

Many parents and students may be unaware of the special services available and, as a result, may not receive the early and effective interventions needed. PA 100-0993, Individualized Education Program(SB454) amends the Children with Disabilities article of the School Code to provide that at a child’s initial Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting and at each annual IEP review meeting, the IEP team will provide written notice to the child’s parent or guardian advising as to whether the child requires assistive technology in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Section 504 Parent Information

Another statute, PA 100-1112, amends the Children with Disabilities Article of the School Code in connection with Mental Health Services (HB5770) to provide that a school board will provide notice through its student handbook, newsletter, and/or website that students who do not qualify for an individualized education program, may, however, qualify for services under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if the child has or is regarded as having a physical or mental impairment, beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.

Social and Emotional Learning

The Illinois PTA supports social emotional learning (SEL) programs in schools pursuant to our continuing position on this issue. SEL programs have been shown to have immediate improvements in mental health, social skills, and academic development. Incorporating non-violent conflict resolution and positive interactions with others—important components of social and emotional learning—may be an effective means of preventing further suspensions and needs for disciplinary action in the near future and many years from now. A 2017 meta-analysis from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University, the University of British Columbia, and Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) determined that SEL programs benefit students long-term. As many as 18 years later, students exposed to SEL in school continue to do better than peers in the following areas: positive social behaviors and attitudes; empathy; teamwork; and academics. They also were found to have fewer problems in connection with conduct, less emotional distress, and lower drug use. CASEL found that SEL skill development is best done through effective classroom instruction, student engagement in positive activities in and out of the classroom, and broad parent and community involvement in program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

In connection with this, we supported related bills – HB5786 and HB4657. PA 100-1035, In School Suspension Focus on Non-violent Conflict Resolution (HB 5786) amends the School Code regarding in-school suspensions so that the school district may focus on non-violent conflict resolution, and positive interactions with other students and school personnel, as well as permits a school district to employ a school social worker or mental health professional to oversee the in-school suspension program. PA 100-1139, Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Learning Task Force, (HB4657)amends the School Code, creating the Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Learning Task Force to develop curriculum guidelines, assessment guidelines and best practices on emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning.

Parenting Education

Research across numerous agencies has shown that programs that promote healthy social, emotional and cognitive development can improve the quality of life and potential for many children. In particular, properly developed parenting programs have been shown to promote positive parenting behaviors and effective discipline strategies, change adverse family patterns, and to reduce levels of child abuse and neglect. According to the National Academy of Sciences, abuse can change a child’s brain, including with respect to: the way the brain regulates emotions, such as fear and anxiety – altering the way a child connects with peers and adults; cognitive processing – including planning, reasoning and decision-making ability; and can lead to an increase in social problems, including drug abuse, violent and/or criminal behavior, to list just a few. The AAP Report also found that parenting education is an effective means to prevent abuse and mental illness before it starts.

PA 100-1043, Parenting Education Bill (HB4442) amends the School Code to require, in part, that the State Board of Education implement and administer a 3-year pilot program to support the health and wellness student-learning requirement with a unit of instruction on parenting education in participating school districts for the ninth through twelfth grade, encouraging instruction on the following: 1) family structure, function, and management, 2) child abuse prevention, 3) the physical, mental, emotional, social, economic, and psychological aspects of interpersonal and family relationships, and 4) parenting education competency development, aligned to the social and emotional learning standards of the student’s grade level. Importantly, it will also allow the State Board of Education to provide grants for those participating in the pilot program.

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.