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Today was FFA day. It was a real treat to see all the groups from around the state, and especially from the 70th district, in the capital today. Farming is a vital industry here in Illinois and it is wonderful to see so many young Illinoisans learning agricultural education.

You can learn more about the FFA in Illinois here
    
March 2, 2015

In this issue:
  Ø  High Stakes School Test Given Next Week
Ø  Bill Filing Deadline Passes
Ø  Illinois to Participate in Federal Able Act
Ø  Driving Restrictions to Include Seizures
Ø  Effort Made to Preserve Low Carbon Energy Production
Ø  Legislators Look at Violence Prevention Practices
Ø  NIU Presents Latest Forward Together Forward Scholars
Ø  Expectations of Preschool Development Grant Explained
Ø  Cub Scouts Cross Over

High Stakes School Test Given Next Week
A revolution in teaching methods and learning goals has been occurring in our K-12 schools since 2008 and students will be given a new test next week of how well they are reaching the new, more complex state learning standards.  The House Education Curriculum and Policies Committee held a hearing last week in response to a public outcry about the new test, amount of testing given in schools and the pressure that teachers, parents and students feel about making good test results.

The committee learned that despite all the concern about the test, if it is not given to at least 95 percent of the students in the next few weeks, the state stands to lose $1.3 billion in federal education funding and the federal waiver that allows local flexibility in meeting federal education standards.  For a cash strapped state like Illinois this is a very high stakes test.

At the core of the debate is the test called The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which replaces several old statewide exams for elementary and high school students.  In the words of the State School Superintendent Chris Koch, PARCC is the standardized test Illinois chose that measures learning toward the new state standards.  It’s hard because it measures critical thinking rather than just memorizing facts.

PARCC is a new type of test as well as tests students for different skills than usual so it’s understandable that there is a lot of apprehension about the test.   Nevertheless, local school districts must administer the test or face losing federal funding.  The U.S. Department of Education (ED) made clear the sanctions that Illinois could receive. 

Even with that warning from the ED, Chicago Public School Chief Accountability Officer John Barker testified his district plans to only test 10 percent of its students.  Stay tuned to see who blinks in the war of mandates and if sanctions befall anyone.

Bill Filing Deadline Passes
There was a flurry of activity at the capitol this past week as Representatives worked to file their legislation before the House deadline on Friday.  Committees will now start debating the 4,140 bills introduced in the House and 2,027 in the Senate.  In future weeks I will discuss some of the major pieces of legislation as they are passed out of committee and debated on the House floor. 

One of the few bills to already pass the House was my legislation HB155 which would allow the Secretary of State to issue Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm license plates.  Veterans of every military action can purchase license plates honoring their service except those residents who have earned the Southwest Asia Service Medal.  It’s time to correct that omission.

I have also filed two other bills to help veterans and those serving in the National Guard.  HB3122 allows employers to give preference in hiring veterans and not risk violation of any state or local equal employment opportunity law.  It also allows a preference for hiring spouses of honorably discharged veterans with a permanent disability.  HB3721 amends the service member’s employment tenure act to preserve the employment of members of the National Guard when they are called to active duty by any governor.

Illinois to Participate in Federal ABLE Act
In response to federal enabling legislation passed last December, I have introduced HB 3117 to encourage and assist individuals and families in saving private funds to support persons with disabilities.  Termed the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience), it creates tax deferred savings accounts similar to college savings accounts. 

The Illinois Department of Human Services is to set up rules for adults on how much can be deposited into the account each year and a maximum total amount for the beneficiary’s future care, treatment, and life enjoyment.  The funds will supplement benefits provided through private, federal and state medical and disability insurance.

The National Down Syndrome Society worked with other advocates to move this measure through Congress.  Each state must pass its own legislation to opt-into the program. 

Driving Restrictions to Include Seizures
In response to a local traffic accident which killed two young people, I have introduced HB 3143 that includes seizures in the medical conditions that must be reported to the Secretary of State.  Further, a person may be charged with reckless driving if they drive a vehicle within 36 months of having a seizure and do not have a physician’s approval.

I realize there are many medical conditions that can cause seizures which may be controlled successfully with medication.  Nevertheless for the safety of all traveling the highways, such drivers should rely on a physician’s advice and treatment.

Effort Made to Preserve Low Carbon Energy Production
It’s not unusual for corporations to close unprofitable production plants even if the company is making an overall profit.  Such could be the case with Exelon and its unprofitable nuclear electric plants at Clinton, Byron and the Quad Cities.  If the company shutters those unprofitable plants, electric customers across the state would feel the effects as well as the local economies of those communities. 

Legislators and Exelon discussed a bill (HB 3293) at a press conference on Thursday that could make the operations of those plants profitable by creating a low carbon portfolio standard.  Under the plan, nuclear would be classified as a low carbon energy source along with wind, solar, hydro, tidal wave and clean coal.  Electric utilities would have to purchase low carbon energy credits equal to 70 percent of the electricity used on the distribution system.

Exelon Senior Vice President Joseph Dominguez said the standard would only apply to utilities serving more than 100,000 customers and would provide a price cap for consumers.  It was estimated that consumers would pay about $2 per month more for electricity which would go to keep the three nuclear plants operating.

There was immediate opposition to the plan from the Citizens Utility Board and other low carbon electric producers who see this as increasing competition.  There will be lots of negotiations over this plan before it comes to a vote.

Legislators Look at Violence Prevention Practices
First lady Diana Rauner was the lead witness at the first meeting of a legislative panel created by Speaker Madigan to identify the best practices for preventing shootings and lethal violence in places of education.  Rauner is president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership focused on creating and supporting research-based programs for at-risk children from before birth to age 5. 

Many of those who testified suggested looking at the analysis of mass shootings at places like Sandy Hook Elementary School, Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech.  Reforms following such events include increasing the security of school buildings, increasing the monitoring of entry and exit points into school buildings, and improving the speed and frequency of school evacuation drills. 

Others recommended more proactive steps of intense psychological classification, monitoring, and treatment of persons who are judged to be at risk of becoming violent.  The Associated Press and its partner, the “Northwest Herald,” described the organizational meeting: 'Illinois Lawmakers Form School Shootings Task Force'.

NIU Presents Latest Forward Together Forward Scholars
Five Northern Illinois University students were recognized Sunday as the latest scholarship recipients in honor of the five NIU students who lost their lives in a 2008 campus shooting.  The recipients were selected for their community service, work ethic, integrity, leadership and academic curiosity.  They have all accomplished some amazing work in their young lives.

You can read about the recipients’ background at this link.  Donations from over 1,800 people have created a scholarship fund of over $860,000 to remember the victims.



2015 Forward Together Forward Scholarship recipients: (Left to right) Elizabeth Garcia, Courtney Crutchfield, Rep. Pritchard, Anthony Roberts, Tara Lenardi, and Samantha Garbacz.

Expectations of Preschool Development Grant Explained
In 2014, Congress appropriated $250 million to expand preschool programs for 4-year-olds from families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.  Illinois won one of the largest grants amid strong competition and will receive $80 million over the next 4 years.

To win the grant, the state’s Early Learning Council proposed an ambitious program for the state including investing an additional $50 million, professional development for teachers, parent engagement, health screenings and full-day programs.  The funding will be distributed to 18 communities—including Aurora, Elgin and Rockford—based on applications that included community organization engagement and available space for students. 

Illinois’ investment in preschool programs for birth through 5 year olds has grown to a high of $379 million in FY2009 and is $300 million in the current budget.  The governor has proposed an additional $25 million for FY2016.

Cub Scouts Cross Over

I had the pleasure of attending a graduation ceremony this past weekend for nine cub scouts from Pack 141 in Sycamore who “crossed over” into Boy Scouts.  Congratulations to them, their parents and leaders for some amazing work.  As you may know, I am a strong advocate for the scouting program (boys and girls) and the training they receive in leadership, citizenship, service and character values.  Our democracy depends upon these future leaders and this type of youth organizations.


The legislature will be in session this week but don’t hesitate to contact my office if Jesse or I may be of assistance.


Bob
Sycamore, IL – Displaying a significant level of trust and faith in State Representative Bob Pritchard’s (R-Sycamore) dedication to education in Illinois, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has named the veteran lawmaker to six of the seven education-related committees for the 99th General Assembly.  

“I’m looking forward to these committees- including the two new education committees, and am hopeful that they can achieve some of the goals which we have been striving for in public education during the last few legislative sessions,” said Pritchard.  “It is our responsibility to give the next generation the best possible chance for success and that is best achieved through quality education."

Pritchard will serve as the Republican Spokesperson for the Appropriations-Elementary & Secondary Education Committee and the new Elementary & Secondary Education – School Curriculum & Policy Committee, and as a member of the Appropriations – Higher Education, Elementary and Secondary Education – Licensing & Oversight, and Higher Education Committees. In addition to the education committees, Pritchard will also serve in the 99th General Assembly as the Republican Spokesperson for the State Government Administration Committee and as a member of the Juvenile Justice & System-Involved Youth Committee.
February 23, 2015
In This Issue:
  • Darkest Before Dawn
  • Focus on Results
  • Committees Begin Hearing Bills
  • Governor Targets Criminal Justice System For Reform
  • Reducing Cost of Local Governments
  • Video Gaming Influences Revenue
  • Hearing Reviews Controversial School Test Mandate

Darkest Before Dawn

This past week as I listened to Governor Rauner present what he called a “turnaround budget” I couldn’t help but recall the words of the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller.  His observation that it’s always “darkest before dawn” has inspired hope and optimism for centuries.  Illinois certainly needs hope and optimism.

The Governor presented a budget that for the first time in decades honestly limited spending to available revenue; no “smoke and mirrors” to mask the growing state deficits.  He quickly added that the only real answer to our financial challenges is to become pro-growth again.  I agree that we need a booming economy to expand the economic pie or our citizens, community agencies, and schools will forever be left to fight over ever smaller slices of the pie.

As if to put an exclamation point on the Governor’s budget message, Caterpillar—one of the state’s premier manufacturers and employers—announced Friday that after a two-year study it will not only keep its international headquarters in Peoria but also will expand it to 6 city blocks.  Rauner said Caterpillar didn’t ask for any tax incentive or break, they just wanted to be treated with respect and know Illinois is going to be fiscally responsible and run right, the way Caterpillar is run right.

Governor Rauner’s budget like previous governor’s budgets is a starting point for the legislature to use in crafting a spending plan over the next three months.  I applaud his priorities of education, early childhood, care for the most vulnerable, and reforms to better operate government and reduce costs over time.

Watch this clip of my comments immediately following the speech.

Focus on Results
The five House appropriation committees will soon be hearing testimony from agencies and groups who want a piece of the budget.  As I sit on two of these committees, I will be asking for results; is the public investment getting a good return and are you making progress toward the public goals for the programs. 


Those are the questions I encouraged early child care providers to answer as they visited Springfield last week.  I found it helpful to visit with parents, childcare center operators and 4-C staff (Community Coordinated Child Care).

The public needs to hear the data of how child care assistance programs help children develop mentally and socially, allow parents to get an education and improve their job skills, and help families become contributing members of the community through their employment.  

Committees Begin Hearing Bills
Nearly a month and a half after taking office, Representatives are now meeting in committees to review new legislation, investigate issues and craft the FY16 budget.  The work of the House is conducted in 51 committees which often cover broad subjects like agriculture or very narrow aspects of a subject like the seven committees covering education.  Over the next three months these committees will review the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been introduced.  You can view these bills by topic or bill number on the legislative website: www.ilga.gov.

I am looking forward to serve as Republican Spokesman on three committees and as a member of four others.  Please share your views on any bill or issue with me so that I can give voice to them as legislation is debated.

Governor Targets Criminal Justice System For Reform
There have been some exciting innovations in the criminal justice system that have altered criminal behavior, kept people out of prison and saved taxpayer money in the process.  The governor has formed a commission to see if these programs can be scaled up in Illinois to reduce prison recidivism and the cost of operating our prisons.

State prisons are holding 150 percent of the inmates that they were designed to handle.  The current population of about 49,000 inmates is expected to grow to 60,000 by 2025 at the current rate of growth.  The Illinois Department of Corrections spends about $1.3 billion annually to keep these prisoners.  There are additional hundreds of millions of dollars spent by county sheriffs to maintain jails.

In creating the Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission earlier this month, Governor Rauner directed the group to look at sentencing policies and the Code of Corrections to see how to lower the number of inmates while ensuring the safety to the public.  The new task force has been asked to report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly by December 31.

As a result of the governor’s initiative, all bills dealing with prison time--like my HB154—will be held until the commission presents its findings.  My bill would have limited the number of day’s credit toward early release that a prisoner could earn while serving a sentence for aggravated battery by causing great bodily harm or permanent disability to a peace officers or fireman.

Reducing Cost of Local Governments
Illinois is known around the country as having the most units of local government—6,963 in 2012-- but the Governor would like to encourage consolidations, streamline functions and eliminate unfunded state mandates that increase the cost of local governments.  In Executive Order #15-15 he directed Lieutenant Governor Sanguinetti to lead a Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Commission that would make its findings known by the end of the year.

Sanguinetti’s task force will conduct a comprehensive review of state laws that impose burdens on local schools and governments, and therefore taxpayers.  It is to identify opportunities to consolidate, streamline or eliminate duplicative governmental bodies.  The task force will also analyze the success of programs and legislation with similar goals implemented in Illinois and other states.

Northern Illinois University’s widely recognized Department of Public Administration has offered its help to the task force.  I have invited the Lt. Governor to visit DeKalb County on April 9 to talk with citizens about her focus on local government, business growth and property taxes.

I recently attended the Illinois State Library Association’s legislative luncheon where I heard about their efforts to consolidate government services and deliver programs more efficiently.  Dee Brennan, Executive Director of the Reach Across Illinois Library System (RAILS), pictured with me, explained their services for local libraries to share resources.

Video Gaming Influences Revenue
It has been over two years since the first video gaming machines became operational in Illinois and the results may be surprising.  By last December there were over 19,182 terminals that reported $ 972.5 million in net terminal collections in the first 27 months.  Of this total, approximately $243.1 million went to the state’s Capital Projects Fund and $48.6 million went to local governments where the machines were located.

In 2014 Cook County had the most video gaming terminals despite the fact that the City of Chicago has continued to ban video gaming.  Winnebago County was second and Kane County ninth in number of terminals.  The number of terminals state wide would be higher but for the number of communities that continue to ban video gaming in their areas.  The growth trend in number of terminals appears to be plateauing.

As Illinois’ video gaming numbers continue to increase, Illinois’ riverboats have lost adjusted gross receipts with the exception of the new casino in Des Plaines.  Eight of the ten Illinois casinos had reported losses greater than 12 percent since the calendar year 2013.  Overall, citizens continue to spend more money statewide each year on gambling, a figure that totaled $2.14 billion last year.

You can find the full report about gaming at www.cgfa.ilga.gov.

Hearing Reviews Controversial School Test Mandate
School districts, teachers and parents have been complaining about the amount of student testing that occurs during the school year—especially in the last quarter of the year.  At the center of the controversy is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test mandate.  A House Education Committee will hear testimony about the test on Wednesday.  If you have comments about school testing, get them to me as soon as possible so I can enter them in testimony before the committee.

Many people are opposed to both the new test and to the way it is being implemented here in Illinois.  Educators have raised concerns about the length of the test, inadequate technology, lack of testing infrastructure to match the space required to administer the test, overall school funding issues, and issues of student preparation to take the new type of test.  They add that test results will be reported too slowly to tailor teaching methods to improve student learning in real time.

Defenders of the test assert that PARCC is one of only two standardized assessments that are tied to the new statewide learning standards.  A contract was signed by the State Board of Education to use the PARCC test over a year ago and the state must follow through with the test or face federal Department of Education sanctions.  Sections of federal law direct the Department to withhold major subcategories of federal school aid from the school districts of a state that is not in compliance with nationwide testing mandates. 

I serve on a school assessment task force that has identified over a dozen tests that are administered by various school districts during the year.  The task force is in the process of surveying districts, teachers and parents about the number of tests, purpose for them and their cost.  Results of the survey and recommendations about assessments are due to the Governor and General Assembly by May.

Have a great week and stay warm.  If you have concerns about school closings due to the cold, be sure to contact your district Superintendent.

Bob
Representative Pritchard gives his thoughts on Governor Rauner's Budget Address in this video.

Sycamore, IL – Representative Bob Pritchard (R-Sycamore) is in total agreement with the major priorities laid out by Governor Rauner in his first State of the State Address today. 

“From helping businesses be more competitive, to funding education and tax reform including property tax relief, I think the Governor identified the right issues and impediments to solving them,” Pritchard explained.  “I am ready to work in a bipartisan manner to craft legislation that will get our state moving in the right direction.”

Some of those impediments increase the cost of doing business in Illinois and explain why companies and citizens are leaving the state according to the legislator. 

“I will continue working to lower worker compensation, employment insurance and liability costs that are among the highest in the nation,” Pritchard said.  “Our property taxes are too high and I was glad to see the Governor focus on ways to lower those taxes.”

As for the Governor’s highest priority--education—Pritchard agreed with more funding for early childhood, preK-12, higher education and investing in technical and vocational training.


This morning I joined Illinois' First Lady Diana Rauner in supporting Go Red Day at the Illinois Statehouse. The American Heart Association offers "Life's Simple Seven," steps to live a healthier life. They include tips on physical activity, a healthy diet, blood pressure and cholesterol. For more information about heart health, visit http://mylifecheck.heart.org/.