PTA Advocacy is Easier than You Think

TakesActionHeader_Final_1050px cropLike many Illinoisans, you are probably concerned about the lack of a current state budget and the outlook for next year’s budget. You might be wondering if your child’s school will be able to stay open for the full 2016-2017 school year or if it will open at all. You would be willing to contact your legislators in Springfield, but you don’t know what to say or maybe who exactly is your state representative or state senator. Illinois PTA’s new Voter Voice advocacy tools are here to help.

Illinois PTA currently has an active campaign to urge the governor and state legislators to pass a state budget to support the education, health, and welfare of children and families in Illinois. By following the previous link or going to our Take Action page, you can easily send a pre-written e-mail to the governor, your state senator, your state representative, and your local newspapers. You can add additional information on how the budget crisis is affecting your family, your child, or your school. Enter your e-mail address and zip code (and perhaps street address for zip codes that are in two or more districts), and Voter Voice identifies your legislators and sends the e-mail out automatically. It literally only takes a minute. Illinois PTA members from across the state have already sent over 1,500 e-mails as part of this call to action. Join them and take action today!

Don’t miss future calls to action. Sign up to receive Illinois PTA advocacy e-mails. We do not share your e-mail address, and we only send e-mails when action is needed by our members.

News from the Illinois PTA Legislative Conference—The Illinois Budget

LegCon 2016 02-2At the Illinois PTA 2016 Legislative Conference, one of the focus issues was the Illinois budget situation. Today is the 280th day without a budget in Illinois, and this lack of a budget is having profound effects on the lives of children, families, and our state’s economic future.

The “Do Nothing” Budget

Illinois currently has approximately $34.4 billion in obligated funding for the 2016 Fiscal Year (FY16) that runs from July 1, 2015 to June 20, 2016. These obligations include the K-12 funding, the one funding item that Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law last summer, as well as items that must be funded because of the law, federal consent decrees, or lawsuits brought against the state. In addition to $6.9 billion in K-12 education spending, these obligations include:

  • $6.8 billion in pension contributions. Though the state may not be making these payments currently, it is legally required to do so. Failure to make pension contributions in the past several decades, along with borrowing from the pension funds to pay current bills, has resulted in Illinois having the largest underfunded pension system in the country.
  • $1.7 billion in insurance payments. The state-run insurance plans are not currently making payments to providers, but the state must make these payments eventually.
  • $2.1 billion in debt service. The state must pay the interest on its debt.
  • $2.3 billion in local government transfers. These are funds collected by the state that belong to local government entities, such as local portions of sales taxes and gasoline taxes.
  • $8.9 billion in Medicaid payments. The state originally planned to not make Medicaid payments but hoped providers would continue to provide services. As a result of a lawsuit, the state is now making these payments.
  • $4.3 billion in state employee salaries. The state continues to pay state employee salaries rather than shut the government down.

While these and other obligated state spending totals about $34.4 billion, state revenues are projected to only be about $32.1 billion for FY16, meaning that without a state budget in place, our “do nothing” budget approach is running a $2.3 billion deficit.

No Public Debate Budget Cuts

While our “do nothing” budget is still spending more than the state brings in, there are also “do nothing” budget cuts that have occurred without public debate because they have not been funded through budget bills, consent decrees, lawsuits, or federal funds that pass through the state coffers. The effect of these cuts will be long-lasting, as laid-off employees move on to other jobs in other states. Voices for Illinois Children has documented many of these cuts in a report. Among them are:

  • Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE): While ISBE employees are being paid and school districts are receiving non-grant funds from the state, ISBE itself is not funded. This means that Illinois will not be offering every high school junior a free college entrance exam (ACT in years past, SAT currently) this year. While some school districts are able to pick up this cost for their students, most do not have the funds to do so.
  • Higher Education ($1.9 billion in FY15): The state has not provided any funding for Illinois colleges, universities, or community colleges. Included in this is funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants that provide up to $5,000/year for tuition and fees for low-income students. The lack of MAP funding was generally covered by colleges and universities for the fall semester in anticipation of a state budget passing. This spring, most are now telling students that the MAP grants will not be covered by the college or university and that these students may need to pay back the MAP grants if a state budget is not passed. Colleges and universities have seen their credit ratings downgraded, and accreditation groups have warned that those institutions who cannot demonstrate that they have the resources to provide a quality education may have their accreditation pulled, making degrees from those institutions worthless. Eastern Illinois University has laid off hundreds of employees, and Chicago State has issued layoff notices for all employees for the end of the semester. While the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has weathered the lack of a budget the best, UIUC has seen a 70% increase in tenured professors leaving the university and a 400% increase in retention cases where offers are made to keep professors from leaving. Many of those leaving are world-class researchers who bring in millions of dollars in research funding to Illinois each year. These cuts to higher education will have long-term consequences in terms of the skills of Illinois’s workforce and ability to attract and retain employers.
  • Teen REACH After School Programs ($13 million in FY15): At least 18 programs have closed and 94 staff have been laid off, resulting in 14,000 teens now having nothing to keep them busy and off the streets after school.
  • Redeploy Illinois ($4.8 million in FY15): 23 counties are no longer providing these diversion programs for non-violent juvenile offenders and three counties are reviewing closures. Those 23 counties served 275 youth through Redeploy Illinois in FY15 at a cost of $1.6 million. The cost to incarcerate those same 275 youth is $30.5 million. By not funding this program, Illinois is costing itself even more money and making its budget problem worse.
  • Teen Pregnancy Prevention: While contracts have been put in place for FY16, these contracts are lower than for FY15, are capped at $50,000, and are not being paid by the state. As a result, sex education programs in areas with high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) cannot be offered. In addition, staff cuts and reduced hours of service (often only open one day a week) have made it more difficult for Illinois teens to access the services that are available, especially downstate where those in need may need to drive for an hour or more to reach an open facility.
  • The Autism Program ($4.3 million in FY15): The Autism Program (TAP) was a nationally-recognized network of autism support services for Illinois families. The elimination of funding for TAP has resulted in program closures in Chicago and Charleston and reduced programs in Rockford and elsewhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum, and earlier intervention with support services is crucial for helping these children become productive adults.
  • Breast and Cervical Cancer Screenings ($13.5 million in FY15): While pass-through funds from the federal government are providing approximately 30% of FY15’s funding level, the state is not providing any funding for these services. As a result, agencies providing these screenings have cut hours and services, increased waiting lists, or closed. These screenings are often the only ones available to low-income uninsured women, and reduced screenings mean that these cancers will be detected later or not at all, requiring higher-cost treatments (often paid for by the state) and increasing deaths.
  • Meals on Wheels ($11 million in FY15): Pass-through federal funds are providing approximately half of the budget for home-delivered meals for senior citizens, but there is no state funding. As a result, at least 3,200 seniors have lost these meals. Rockford has eliminated 250 meal slots, increasing their waiting list to 400 seniors. They estimated that they served 17,000 fewer meals in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
  • Support Services for Seniors ($8 million in FY15): Federal pass-through funds account for about 60% of the FY15 budget; however, the lack of state funding has resulted in the closure of home care and adult day care services in Canton, Chicago, DeKalb, East St. Louis, Freeport, Moline, Peoria, and Rockford, affecting 2,355 senior citizens. Case management and adult protective services have also been eliminated for 2,713 seniors. Home care services in Cook and Lake Counties are at risk for 25,000 seniors. When these services are eliminated, many senior citizens will need to move into more expensive assisted living facilities or have a family member leave a job to take care of them.
  • Substance Abuse and Prevention Programs ($67.5 million in FY15): There is no state funding for non-Medicaid services, which has resulted in at least 1,000 mental health and substance abuse workers being laid off. An estimated 47,000 individuals have been denied services, been placed on increasingly longer wait lists, or provided reduced services. For many of these people, the lack of services mean that they are more likely to end up in the justice system at a higher cost to the state.
  • Child Care Assistance: While the legislature and governor agreed to child care assistance funding in December 2015, the governor reduced the income eligibility level from 185% of the poverty level to 50% of the poverty level. The result of this reduction means that a person working a 40-hour minimum wage job makes more than twice the income cutoff for child care assistance. Put another way, a single mother with a 20-hour part time minimum wage job makes too much money to receive child care assistance.

Education is an Investment

We often hear politicians say that education is an investment. That often simply means that children are our future, and spending money on them now won’t see returns until many years in the future. But education truly is an investment, and a very profitable one for Illinois at that.

Higher education levels mean for Illinois:

  • Lower welfare and criminal justice system costs
  • Higher tax revenue
  • Lower Medicaid costs
  • Lower child care costs
  • Better health and child development
  • Greater economic growth

Walter W. McMahon, an emeritus professor of economics and of education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign calculated the return on investment (ROI) of education spending in Illinois in the Journal of Education Finance. His study looked only at the monetary costs and benefits of education spending in Illinois. He found the following return on investment:

  • K-12 education spending: 9.5% ROI
  • Community College spending (2-year degree): 12.9% ROI
  • College/University spending (4-year degree): 12.3% ROI
  • And for comparison, a Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index fund: 7.2% ROI

Education spending in Illinois out-performed the stock market as an investment. In fact, Illinois education spending pays for itself every 2.3 years in state budget savings alone.

The Bottom Line

The Illinois PTA convention body passed a motion urging every Illinois PTA member to contact their legislator concerning the budget. You can use our new Voter Voice tool to locate your legislators and then use the compose message button to send an e-mail to the governor, your senator, and your representative at the same time. The key points you will want to make are:

  • Revenues must be increased. Our current “do nothing” budget is running a deficit of over $2 billion.
  • Choosing not to pass a budget is still making a choice. It is a choice to cut funding for higher education, social services, and more. It is a choice to make these cuts without a hearing, without any public input, without any debate, and without any discussion as to whether these cuts are the best use of our limited resources.
  • Education is an investment, not a cost. Every dollar spent on education in Illinois is earned back in 2.3 years.

New Report Highlights 21st Century School Facility Needs

5481051885_877b676b7a_bWhen thinking about what makes a quality school, most people cite quality teachers, good curriculum, and perhaps modern technology. Very few think about the school building itself; after all, in many cases the building has been there largely unchanged for decades.

In 1995, a U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, School Facilities: Condition of America’s Schools, found that half of all schools had problems with indoor air quality and 15,000 schools had air considered unfit to breathe. In the 20 years since that report, the United States has invested $2 trillion in improving school infrastructure, including removing asbestos, lead pipes, and lead paint; however, there has not been a comprehensive look at where our school facilities are today since then.

A new report by the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools highlights the current state of our school buildings and provides recommendations for improving them. The report set out to understand three critical points:

  1. The scale of elementary and secondary public school infrastructure
  2. The significant effort that communities are making to provide safe, healthy, and adequate public school facilities
  3. The future investment needed to ensure adequate public school facilities for all students, including those in low-wealth communities

School buildings represent the second largest public infrastructure investment in the United States, behind only transportation, but as the report notes, the federal government provides almost no capital construction funds for schools and state support varies widely. Local school districts bear the greatest burden for investing in school infrastructure, but for low-wealth districts that cannot afford to make significant capital investments, more frequent maintenance is often required using money from their operating funds—the same budget that pays for teacher salaries, instructional materials, and general programming.

School infrastructure is significant because one in six Americans—nearly 50 million students and 6 million adults—are in nearly 100,000 school buildings every school day. Research shows that high-quality school facilities help to improve student achievement, reduce truancy and suspensions, improve staff satisfaction and retention, and raise property values. High-quality schools are also critical to providing equitable education opportunities for all students.

As part of the report, the Center for Green Schools has created an interactive website that lets you view a state profile of school infrastructure and the ability to drill down through an interactive map to view a specific school district’s data. An infographic summarizing the report’s findings is also available for sharing on social media.

The report concludes with four ideas to prompt constructive discussions in communities about school facilities, since it is at the community level that these changes must occur. Those four ideas are:

  1. Understand your community’s public school facilities
  2. Engage in education facilities planning
  3. Support new public funding
  4. Leverage public and private resources

Photo © 2011 by David Woo under Creative Commons license.

Do’s and Don’ts of PTAs and Elections

4446461866_2a2822cd2d_bIllinois’s primary election is coming up on March 15th and the presidential election is November 8th. While most local elections in Illinois are in odd years, your school district may have a bond referendum on the ballot. With elections dominating the news, it’s a good time to review what PTAs can and can’t do as 501(c)3 organizations.


  • Endorse individual candidates. The IRS prohibits 501(c)3 organizations from endorsing individual candidates.
  • Solicit or accept donations or sponsorships from a political campaign fund. Such donations give the appearance of support for the candidate by the PTA. Candidates can donate personal funds to support PTA activities (e.g., paying a membership fee from their own pocket to join your PTA).
  • Link the PTA name or logo with a political candidate or party. PTA members running for office may cite their PTA leadership experience as one of their qualifications for office, but cannot have the PTA appear to endorse them. Likewise, if a PTA leader is asked to speak at a candidate’s campaign event, they should be introduced without citing their PTA position (e.g., “Our next speaker is local PTA president Jane Smith.” Is not allowed).
  • Send ballot issue or election literature of any kind home with students. The backpack express may be a convenient way of sharing PTA information, but for election issues, the PTA must use its own resources to share that information.


  • Sponsor voter registration efforts. PTAs must register everyone qualified to vote that asks to do so and can’t screen registrations (e.g., only registering Democrats or Republicans).
  • Encourage citizens to vote. PTAs can publicize election dates and polling places as well as a list of all candidates running for office.
  • Produce voter education materials. Voter guides or voting records must include information for all candidates (or note that the candidate was contacted and did not respond).
  • Host candidate forums. All candidates must be invited to participate in the forum, though some may choose not to do so. Each candidate should be given equal time to speak.
  • Support or oppose ballot issues. PTAs can endorse issues such as bond referendums if their membership votes to do so. Likewise, PTA Councils can endorse issues if a majority of PTAs in the council are directed by their membership to do so. In addition, while candidates may have a position for a ballot issue as part of their platform, that does not mean that the PTA supports that candidate, and the PTA cannot
  • Produce literature on your PTA’s position on an issue. PTAs may produce literature on their position on an issue that their membership has voted to support or oppose. The IRS limits the money spent for such activities to “an insubstantial amount” of the PTA’s gross revenue (i.e., all the money the PTA takes in during its fiscal year). This amount is generally viewed as being less than 5% of gross revenue. Note that this limit applies to all of the PTA’s lobbying throughout the year. If your PTA votes to spend PTA funds to develop advocacy materials, it must be approved at a general membership meeting and recorded in the minutes.

Photo © 2010 by Alan Cleaver under Creative Commons license.