Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield a Big Success

It was a beautiful fall day in Springfield on Tuesday as Illinois PTA members gathered for Advocacy Day. The Illinois PTA table in the capitol rotunda welcomed advocates and greeted passersby all day. By the end of the day, 79 legislators or their staff had had face-to-face contact with Illinois PTA. If you couldn’t make it to Springfield on November 15th, you can still contact your legislators and the governor through our online campaign.

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Illinois PTA advocates were speaking out on three focus issues throughout the day:

  • The lack of a state budget for the last 17 months
  • Senate Bill 550, which would require testing for lead in drinking water in all Illinois schools
  • House Bill 5726, which would ban the sale of energy drinks to minors

The budget issue was generally greeted with a lot of sympathy and head nodding, but also a bit of weariness as legislators and staff have likely been hearing about the issue on an almost daily basis for the last year and a half. Our other two issues drew much more interest, and if you add your voice to PTA’s one voice through our online Advocacy Day campaign, we may be able to get both bills passed during the veto session.

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Participating in the online campaign is easy and only takes a couple of minutes. Each letter is already written for you, though you can modify it if you wish to add information on how these issues are affecting your family, your schools, or your community. Then add your signature, type in your e-mail address so your legislators can get back to you, and include your zip code (and maybe your street address) so Voter Voice can look up your state representative and state senator for you. Finish off by hitting the “Continue” button, confirming your contact information, and sending off the letters.

Help protect Illinois children and families by speaking up today. The fall veto session only runs through next week, so the faster you act, the more time there is for legislators to act on these critical issues.

 

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.

Illinois Atlas of Austerity Maps the Costs of the State Budget Impasse

9638528_origThe state of Illinois has currently been without a budget for almost one complete year. Illinois PTA focused on the budget issue at our 2016 Legislative Conference and has called for PTA members to contact their legislators and the governor to urge them to pass a budget. A new website provides an interactive visual representation of the effects the lack of a state budget has had across Illinois, letting you see how the impasse has affected your community.

The Illinois Atlas of Austerity is the brainchild of Melissa Heil, a graduate student in the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She created the site to explore how geographic perspectives and tools can be used to improve public understanding of current issues like the budget impasse.

The atlas is organized by topic, each of which provides maps and information detailing how the lack of a state budget has affected various organizations throughout the state. The topics include:

Due to the fluid nature of the budget situation, these maps, based on publicly-available information, do not provide a comprehensive summary of the full effect of the lack of a state budget, but rather serve as a snapshot of some of its effects during the past year.

If you have not yet contacted your state legislators and the governor as part of the Illinois PTA campaign, do it today! We have a prewritten letter ready to go, so all you have to do is add your signature, e-mail address, and zip code (needed to identify your legislators). It only takes a minute, so take action today!

 

Helping Your School Go 1:1 with Technology

7691519996_162e98b0ec_bTechnology is becoming ever more necessary in our society, in our jobs, and increasingly in our schools. Many school districts are now planning on “implementing 1:1”—providing each student with a networked device, whether it is an iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or other technology. Just as PTAs were asked to help put computers in the classroom in the past or LCD projectors and Smartboards more recently, they are being asked to help implement 1:1 in their school district.

With those past technologies, it was not unusual for computers to sit at the side of the classroom gathering dust because the teacher didn’t know how to use them or to see a Smartboard used as simply a fancy chalkboard. Tom Murray, the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools (an initiative Illinois PTA has written about before), has laid out six keys to a successful 1:1 implementation:

  1. Begin with the Why and Focus on Learning Outcomes. Districts must ask why they want to go 1:1 and what they want their classrooms to look like in five or ten years. They also need to consider how teaching and learning will change with the availability of technology.
  2. Personalize Professional Learning. Teachers must have relevant, on-going, engaging, hands-on professional development with technology in order for the potential of that technology to be realized in the classroom. One-time technology “boot camps” that focus mainly on how to use a device or application doesn’t change classroom instruction.
  3. Redesign the Space. As Mr. Murry states, “Many of today’s classrooms have amazing 21st century tools sitting in 20th century learning environments.” Adding technology to classrooms with desks in rows facing the teacher, just like those in 1890, will have limited benefit. In order for teachers to help students build collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking skills, the classroom needs to be flexible and provide space for movement, collaboration, and inquiry.
  4. Leadership and Culture Set the Tone. A culture of innovation requires leaders who promote risk-taking and empower teachers to fail forward just like startup companies do. Those leaders also need to model the instructional practices they want teachers to use in the classroom when conducting faculty meetings and in-service professional development.
  5. Ensure a Robust Infrastructure. An old laptop with a dying battery that takes five minutes to boot up does not help learning in the classroom. School districts must not only plan to purchase technology but also plan on how and when to upgrade that technology. Those upgrade plans must extend beyond the technology in students’ hands—a flaky Wi-Fi connection hinders learning as much as or more than a slow laptop.
  6. Equity in Access and Opportunity. While there are many good reasons for installing blocking software on student-accessed technology (e.g., pornography, gambling, etc.), it is important to not over-block needed content and resources. This is especially true in 1:1 implementation when students will need to use devices at home. Districts also need to consider how to increase access for those who do not have an internet connection in the home.

These are all important points that PTAs should be asking their district about when asked to help fund technology in their school. Mr. Murray notes that this list is only the beginning of the conversation, and Illinois PTA has covered other questions PTAs should be asking about technology. We all want our children to have the best in their school, and PTAs often find it difficult to tell a school “no” when asked to make purchases, but without critical questions about technology use before providing PTA support, education outcomes will not change and PTA funds will have been wasted, just like those dust-gathering computers a decade ago.

 

Photo ©2012 by Michael Coghlan under Creative Commons license.