Another Year of Legislative Success for the Children of Illinois!

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2From youth safety issues to juvenile justice, from children’s health to readiness for college and the work-force, from childhood hunger to an interim budget in a year of fiscal deadlock, the Illinois PTA has advocated successfully for all our children. The highlights are below. Illinois PTA will continue to advocate for every child, and urges you to join us this fall for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15, 2016.

Children’s Health and Safety

We have had successes in responses to children’s allergies and asthma, concussions, and childhood hunger.

Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: With as much as 25% of first time anaphylactic reactions occurring in a school setting, we cannot stress the need enough for the availability of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors. House Bill 4462, Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, now Public Act 99-0711, expands the protections currently in place to include additional circumstances in which a school district, public, or nonpublic school may have a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors available in a secure location so that they are accessible before, during, and after school, including while being transported on a school bus. The statue also provides for the training of state police in the administration of epinephrine auto-injectors. The expansions provided in PA 99-0711 will help prevent injury from a severe allergic reaction by Illinois children.

Asthma: On a related issue, students with asthma will now have additional safety measures in place. House Bill 6333, School Code–Asthma Action Plan, now Public Act 99-0843, provides for additional safety protocols with the requirements that:

  • the State Board of Education work with statewide professional organizations that have asthma management expertise to develop a model asthma episode emergency response protocol;
  • each school district, charter school, and nonpublic school adopt an asthma episode emergency response protocol before 1/1/2017 that includes the components of the State Board’s model;
  • all school personnel who work with pupils to complete a program every two years concerning asthma management, prevention, and emergency response; and that,
  • each school district, public, charter, or nonpublic school request an asthma action plan from the parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma each year.

Concussions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 3.9 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the US annually. They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. House Bill 4365, IHSA Concussion Reporting, now Public Act 99-0831, amends the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act to provide for the enhanced reporting of student-athletes who have sustained a concussion. Beginning with the current school year, all member schools that have certified athletic trainers are required to complete a monthly report on student athletes at that school who sustained a concussion during a school-sponsored activity that is either overseen by the athletic trainer or when the athletic director is made aware of a concussion sustained by a student during a school-sponsored (with student names removed). Beginning in 2017-2018, the data is to be compiled from the prior school year into annual report to the Illinois General Assembly. Is the legislature considering further protections for our children once they receive these reports? We will continue to monitor this topic for future legislation.

Childhood Hunger: Children don’t do well in school if they’re hungry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence. Approximately 1 in 5 Illinois children are affected by hunger. Senate Bill 2393, Childhood Hunger–Breakfast, now Public Act 99-0850, is intended to help with this ongoing issue. PA 99-0850, amends the Childhood Hunger Relief Act to provide for “breakfast after the bell” program beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, according to a model that best suits its students. This Act also provides that the Illinois State Board of Education is to:

  • collaborate with school districts and nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about equity, the opportunity gap, hunger and food security issues, and best practices for improving student access to school breakfast;
  • distribute guidelines for the program’s implementation; and,
  • post a list of opportunities for philanthropic support of school breakfast programs on its website.

The statute also allows schools and school districts to opt out under certain circumstances.

Education

Two new statutes have been enacted to address student achievement in Illinois.

College and Workforce Readiness: The lack of readiness for college and/or the workforce is a concern for parents, students, and employers across Illinois. Approximately one-half of Illinois high school graduates entering as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education. House Bill 5729, creates the Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Act (Public Act 99-0674). The statute is a plan to address these student achievement concerns by creating:

  • a postsecondary career expectations model to be adopted for public school students in grades 8 through 12, defining activities where school districts, parents, and community-based organizations should support students, and the related knowledge students should have;
  • a pilot program for competency-based high school graduation requirements;
  • transitional mathematics courses from high school to college level;
  • a statewide panel that will include ISBE to recommend competencies for reading, and communication and strategies for achieving this in high school coursework; and,
  • College and Career Pathway Endorsements and State Distinction programs to provide student incentives and encourage their exploration and development.

After-School Program Grants: Senate Bill 2407, Department of Human Services–Teen REACH Grant Program, now Public Act 99-0700, amends the Department of Human Services Act to provide that, subject to appropriation, DHS will establish a establish a competitive state grant program—Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope (Teen REACH)—to support local communities in providing after-school opportunities for youth 6 to 17 years old that will improve their likelihood for future success, provide positive choices, reduce at-risk behaviors, and develop career goals. These grants are to be awarded to community-based agencies, in which successful grantees are to plan and implement activities to address outcomes in 6 core areas: improvement of educational performance; life skills education; parent education; recreation, sports, cultural, and artistic activities; the development of positive adult mentors; and service learning opportunities. 

Juvenile Justice

We have been successful in advocating for justice-involved youth in relation to the reporting of serious incidents impacting their health and well-being, legal representation, and expungement of records.

Critical Incidents While in the Juvenile Justice System: With the passage of House Bill 114, Juvenile Court–Critical Incident Report, now Public Act 99-0664, provides additional protections to a minor who is committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. These protections include the Department notifying the court in writing of a critical incident which involves a serious risk to the life health or well-being of the youth within 10 days of the incident. The report is to include the actions the Department took in response to the incident.

Legal Representation for Youth: Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning,” do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police, and are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Senate Bill 2370, Juvenile Court–Counsel Representation, now Public Act 99-0882, requires that:

  • children under 15 be represented by legal counsel during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses,
  • all interrogations of youths under age 18 for any felony and misdemeanor sex offenses be videotaped, and
  • police read children the new Miranda-type warning detailed in the statute.

While Illinois PTA does not believe this bill went far enough in protecting the rights of children in police custody, it is a move in the right direction.

Expungement of Juvenile Records: House Bill 5017, Juvenile Court–Expungement, now Public Act 99-0835, amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 to provide that whenever a person has been arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for an incident that occurred before she or he turned 18 that would be an offense if committed by an adult, that person may petition the court for the expungement of related law enforcement and juvenile court proceedings. Once the related juvenile court proceedings have ended, the court is to order the expungement of all related records in the possession of the Department of State Police, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and law enforcement agencies for those circumstance specified under the act.

State Budget

Thank you to those of you who helped seek the passage of an adequate and sustainable budget in Illinois in a year of grid-lock and finger-pointing. Over 2,000 messages were sent by Illinois PTA supporters to legislators, the governor, and local newspapers regarding the need to support education, after school programs, and services for families and children with an adequate and sustainable budget. This created an atmosphere where there was at least some movement in a difficult year: the passage of a stop-gap budget with Senate Bill 2047 which provided funding through December, including for school funding, the Illinois State Board of Education, and state colleges. Is this enough? Absolutely not. We need an adequate and sustainable fully-funded budget to ensure that our children and Illinois families thrive and that schools, colleges and universities, and public service providers can plan for the future.

How can you help? Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues and plan to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

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

Understanding ESSA

Understanding-ESSA-logoPresident Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law last December. ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and made substantial changes to the previous version of the law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Many of these changes focused on moving responsibility for improving education from the federal government back to the states.

These changes were discussed in a workshop at the National PTA Convention focused on the law’s effects on family engagement, accountability, and assessment. The law calls for parent input on many of the requirements, and Illinois PTA is helping to provide that voice. A new website called Understanding ESSA helps to explain the details of ESSA and to track its implementation.

The website allows you to:

ESSA will significantly change how schools interact with families, how schools educate children, and how schools are held accountable. Check out Understanding ESSA to help follow these changes and use the Education News tag on the right-hand side of One Voice Illinois to find Illinois PTA’s information on ESSA and other education issues.

News from National Convention—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOn December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, a significant change in how federal, state, and local governments will guide your child’s education for the next decade or more. While you can read the full 449 pages of the bill, a workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando highlighted the key points that families need to know about the new law, and National PTA is creating an array of materials to distill this information into bite-sized pieces.

ESSA—The Basics

ESSA is divided into eight “Titles,” each of which address a different aspect of federal education funding and requirements. The two titles of largest interest to families are Title I, dealing with schools with high poverty levels, and Title IV, dealing with funding for student support, charter and magnet schools, and family engagement. Overall, ESSA reduces the high-stakes testing of No Child Left Behind, makes states responsible for defining success for students and schools, and requires that children be provided a “well-rounded education.”

ESSA and Family Engagement

Family engagement is crucial to student success, so much so that schools would have to spend $1,000 more per student to see the same increases in student achievement that come from an involved family member. ESSA recognizes the important role that families play in education. In fact, the word “parent” is the fourth most mentioned term in the entire law, just behind “state education agency.” For many of the decisions that states and school districts will have to make, families are to be “meaningfully consulted” for many of them.

Under ESSA, Title I schools must have a written parent and family engagement policy that welcomes all families. As part of this policy, each school must have a family meeting annually to explain what students will learn, the assessments used to measure student progress, the state’s academic standards, and the proficiency levels that students are expected to meet. In addition, 1% of the Title I funds are to be used for parent and family engagement. These funds can be used for teacher’s professional development on family engagement, home visiting programs, sharing best practices, and collaborating with other organizations like PTA.

Title IV of ESSA is focused on improving every student’s academic achievement. As part of Title IV, Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) are to be created to help school districts effectively engage families in in their children’s education. The SFECs are a new and improved version of the Parental Information and Resources Centers (PIRCs) that were part of ESEA/NCLB. The SFECs are to help implement more evidence-based approaches to family engagement.

While ESSA creates the SFECs, it is up to Congress to fund them each year. PTA is advocating for at least $10 million in funding for the SFECs (their authorized level in ESSA), an amount far less than the $39 million that the PIRCs were funded for under ESEA/NCLB. As of this writing, Congress has not appropriated funds for the SFECs, so contact your Senators and Representative today to ask for their support for family engagement. PTA has provided a pre-written letter that only requires your name, e-mail, and zip code (to identify your Representative) and two minutes of your time.

ESSA and Accountability

A significant part of ESSA was making states and local districts more responsible for the quality of students’ education. States will define their own academic standards and school accountability measures. States may also define their own teacher evaluation systems, but those systems are not required and do not have to include test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. The law specifically says that states cannot be required to adopt specific standards or particular assessments, accountability systems, or teacher evaluation models.

States will still need to produce a school report card, and Illinois’s report card is considered by many to be the best in the country. There are also minimum requirements for a state’s accountability system in ESSA. These are:

  • Student assessment (see section below)
  • A second academic indicator (e.g., student growth, high school graduation rate, etc.)
  • English language proficiency
  • At least one other indicator of school quality or student success (e.g., Advance Placement classes, family engagement, discipline reports, attendance, etc.)

Note that states are not limited to only one extra indicator in that last requirement. Connecticut uses 12 indicators to measure school quality. Illinois is also planning to take a broad approach in measuring school performance.

In addition, ESSA requires school districts to provide students with a “well-rounded educational experience,” as defined by the state, and provides grants to help school districts meet this goal. Among the areas that such funds can be used are:

  • Accelerated learning courses (e.g., Advanced Placement and international Baccalaureate programs)
  • College and career guidance and counseling programs
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, including computer science
  • Foreign language courses
  • Music and arts programs
  • Programs to teach American history, civics, economics, geography, and government

ESSA and Student Assessment

ESSA still requires states to have annual assessments in Math and English/Language Arts in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. States must also have a science assessment once in grades 3-5, once in grades 6-9, and once in grades 10-12. ESSA also requires that no less than 95% of all students or any subgroup of students participate in the state assessment.

While ESSA still requires annual assessments, it reduces the high-stakes nature of those assessments and provides resources for states and school districts to eliminate redundant assessments. Under NCLB, student scores were the sole determination of school performance, and schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) were subject to reduced funding, school reorganization, and other penalties. Because of the punitive nature of these consequences, many school districts significantly increased the number of assessments that they did in order to identify those students who could meet or exceed state standards with a little extra support.

Because student scores on an annual assessment are only a part of a school’s performance under ESSA, these assessments do not have the high-stakes accountability that they did under NCLB. In addition, ESSA calls for states to provide additional funds and supports to help schools not meeting the state’s measure of school performance rather than reducing resources. With the reduced emphasis on a single assessment of student performance determining a school’s performance, districts can move away from heavy use of their own assessments and focus only on those that help teachers measure and improve student success.

Illinois has already begun this process by developing a Student Assessment Inventory tool for school districts to evaluate how they are using assessment, what information they are receiving from those assessments, and where redundancies can be eliminated. The pilot project of this tool in three Illinois school districts resulted in a significant reduction in local assessments, improved professional development for teachers to create their own assessments for their classroom, and improved information on student performance to help teachers support their students’ education.

Additionally, Illinois’s State Assessment Review Committee (SARC) is currently conducting a PARCC Listening Tour to collect feedback from students, families, teachers, and administrators about this past spring’s PARCC assessment in Illinois schools. You can fill out a short survey to provide your feedback to the committee.

All feedback will be included in the SARC’s final report.

News from National Convention—Resolutions

PTA Convention 2016 LogoAt the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando, four resolutions were adopted by the convention delegates. PTA resolutions and position statements are official documents outlining the opinion, will, or intent of the association to address national problems, situations, or concerns that affect children and youth and that require national action to seek solutions to the issue. They serve an important purpose in formalizing and focusing the positions of the association on various important and relevant issues. The four resolutions adopted were:

Electronic Cigarettes and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Youth

The resolution on electronic cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems focused on the growing use of electronic cigarettes among children and youth as well as the increased poisoning of young children who come into contact with the concentrated nicotine liquids used in the e-cigarettes. The resolution calls for PTA to advocate for legislation restricting the advertising, marketing, and sale of e-cigarettes to youth under 18 as well as restrictions or prohibitions on using e-cigarettes in public places. The resolution also calls on PTA units at all levels to educate youth, parents, school boards, and local officials on the dangers of e-cigarettes.

The first part of the resolution, dealing with restrictions of sales and marketing, has largely been accomplished with the recent issuing of regulations by the Food & Drug Administration. In addition, Illinois PTA has been covering this topic and providing information on it for over 18 months, and we will continue to do so.

Homework: Quality Over Quantity

The resolution on homework recognizes the value of homework as an important part of a child’s education. However, there is a growing perception among parents that the homework load on children has increased in recent years, and research indicates that for the early grades that is true. The resolution notes that homework that requires parental input and supervision or additional resources such as a readily-available internet connection can further increase the achievement gap and create inequities based on family resources.

The resolution calls for PTA support teachers, schools, and districts in promoting meaningful homework and using evidence-based guidelines in assigning homework. The resolution also encourages PTAs to advocate for school districts, school boards, and administrators to review or implement homework policies that address quality, quantity, and equity concerns in their district.

Recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) Individuals as a Protected Class

The resolution on recognizing LGBTQ individuals as a protected class notes that every child should feel safe at school. Thirty percent of LGBTQ students have missed a day of school because they didn’t feel safe going to school, and LGBTQ students are more likely to be bullied in school, more likely to be homeless, and more likely to become involved in the Juvenile Justice System. The resolution also notes that harassment and bullying policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are associated with students feeling safer, lover levels of bullying, decreased incidents of sexual harassment related to sexual orientation, increased teacher and staff intervention, and a greater reporting of incidents.

The resolution calls for PTA to support recognizing LGBTQ as a protected group in current civil rights legislation, Department of Education guidance, and Department of Justice guidance. The resolution also encourages PTAs to review school bullying policies and to support amendments that specifically address sexual orientation and gender identification/expression as they relate to harassment and bullying. Finally, the resolution call for PTAs to advocate for additional professional development for teachers and staff on supporting all students and incorporating age-appropriate, medically accurate, and culturally sensitive information on LGBTQ issues into health and other appropriate curricula.

As noted in a convention workshop on supporting LGBTQ students and families, addressing this issue is about changing behaviors, not beliefs. It is about ensuring that every child feels safe and supported at school and that every family feels welcomed. The revised National PTA Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit has a section specifically devoted to supporting LGBTQ children and families to help PTAs address this issue.

Water Safety and Instruction

The resolution on water safety and instruction states that drowning is the third highest cause of death of youth 19 and younger and that over half of the drowning incidents for children 9 and younger occur in residential settings.

The resolution calls for PTAs to educate families, students, school personnel, and communities on water safety and swimming instruction. PTAs are also called to advocate for consistent, quality standards for water safety and swimming instruction and for policies and legislation to make such programs accessible for all students. Illinois PTA has addressed water safety in the past and noted in a recent One Voice Illinois post that a free pool safety sheet is available from the Consumer Product Safety Commission in both English and Spanish.