As work begins on FY16 budget appropriations, testimony is being heard from various programs and institutions with regard to Governor Rauner's proposed budget cuts. NIU testified in the higher education appropriations subcommittee this past Thursday. 

You can read more here
March 30, 2015
In This Issue:
  Ø FY2015 Closure
  Ø  Focus on Israel and the Holidays
  Ø  House Turns to Debating Legislation
  Ø  NIU Outlines Successes and Plans
  Ø  Illinois Chamber Looks to Honor Development Projects
  Ø  Sycamore Residents Get Long-Awaited Visit to Springfield
  Ø  Lt. Governor Sanguinetti Visits DeKalb

FY2015 Closure
Once a budget is passed and the money appropriated, most state agencies and providers across the country focus on delivering services and don’t worry about being paid.  Most does not include Illinois.  True to past history, the legislature last May passed a budget that ran out of money months before the end of the fiscal year in June, especially for childcare, court reporters and guards at our state prisons. 
If you ran one of these programs or received benefits from them, the anxiety level was extremely high last Monday.  After months of negotiations about how to “find” $1.65 billion without raising taxes, the plan came together and HB317 and HB318 were passed in the House on Tuesday and in the Senate on Thursday.  The Governor has signed the legislation and the Comptroller is busy signing checks and distributing them. 
Many now ask if the legislature has learned a lesson about budgeting and working together to solve tough problems.  For one, I hope so as the focus now turns to the FY2016 budget and its bigger imbalance of revenue and spending.  
Details of the FY2015 budget solution are instructive for how to approach next year’s budget.  First, the bills were negotiated by the four legislative caucuses with strong leadership from the Governor.  Then the bills passed with bipartisan support. though probably no one liked taking fund balances from accounts dedicated for other purposes or making cuts to most agencies and programs this late in the fiscal year. 
The budget was balanced by reducing spending—generally 2.25 percent across the board in the case of FY2015-- and then making adjustments based upon priorities and individual situations.  The Governor is looking to make significant reductions in program spending next year in part through better department management, reducing inefficiencies and duplication, and setting priorities.  While families, businesses, and local governments do that every day, it’s a new concept to state governments of the past decade or so.
HB317 also contained money for the Governor to respond to unanticipated situations and to backfill cuts in priorities like education.  Look for this discretion in the next budget.  
Yes, the FY2015 solution contained more revenue just as many believe FY2016 will require.  It’s important, though, to start with what’s needed to operate the government (something akin to zero based budgeting or budgeting for outcomes) and then look at revenue.  The legislature has created budgets the other way in recent years—looked at revenue and then spent at least that amount. 
HB318 transferred $1.36 billion from other state funds and resisted the authority in the FY2015 budget to borrow more money.  The Office of Management and Budget assured legislators that such funds had sufficient reserves and could continue doing what they were created to do.  The budget package also included a supplemental payment from hospitals under the Medicaid program which would garner more federal funding.

Focus on Israel and the Holidays
The legislature is in recess for the next two weeks for what is called a Spring break.  Many will also be celebrating Easter or Passover, both of which have religious ties to the nation of Israel.  It was only appropriate then that the Midwest Consul General for Israel, Roey Gilad, addressed the full House on Thursday.  He explained the Israel election process, addressed what the results mean moving forward, and its impact on U.S.-Israel relations.
        Gilad cited the longstanding business relationship between Israel and Illinois; 200 Illinois companies do business with Israel.  Products exported to Israel include agricultural, electronic, machinery, manufactured commodities and chemicals.  He called on Governor Rauner to lead a trade and development delegation to his country to further strengthen this relationship.
Consul General for Israel Roey Gilad

House Turns to Debating Legislation
House and Senate committees have been listening to advocates and opponents of legislation since February, and then voting which bills should advance to floor debate.  In all, there were 2,399 Senate pieces of legislation considered and 4,591 in the House.  For the most part, committee work came to an end last Friday with the deadline for passing bills out of committee.  
The next phase of a bill becoming a law involves floor votes and consideration by the other chamber.  Most of the introduced bills has gone to the bill graveyard and will not be considered further this spring.  The Illinois House advanced 512 bills from committee to the House floor including 33 that I sponsored or cosponsored.   Less than 12 percent of all bills filed this spring were able to achieve approval by a House committee. 
I will be talking more about legislation as it comes for a vote or passes the House in the weeks ahead.

Illinois Chamber Looks to Honor Development Projects  
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce believes Illinois is a great place to grow a business and they want to recognize those companies that chose to locate, expand and contribute to the economy in our state.  Together with the Illinois Economic Development Association (IEDA) and ComEd, they are seeking nominations of projects that significantly added to the economy and addition of jobs in 2014.   
There are 18 geographic categories and six types of business development that will be honoredIf you know of a worthy local project that was completed in 2014, submit a nomination with this form.  Deadline is May 1.  
NIU Outlines Successes and Plans
When representatives from Northern Illinois University (NIU) came to testify before the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee last week they featured the major product of the university--students.  On display were the diversity of the student population and the learned skills in sales and marketing, leadership and business, and research of three students.  
Shown (L-R) with President Doug Baker are students
Christian Villalobos, Joe Frascello and Anthony Roberts.
President Doug Baker talked about the importance of giving students real work experiences through internships and his efforts to mobilize NIU alumni in providing such opportunities.  He also described the ‘Alternative Spring Break’ that many students had just taken where they went to different parts of the country (mostly warm) for service, learning and volunteer programs.  He said the program gives students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and provides opportunities to analyze and solve problems in real-world settings.
He also touted the successes of the seven degree granting colleges and its faculty including Dan Gebo, who was recently named Illinois Professor of the Year.  As students struggle on many college campuses, it was encouraging to see that Professor Gebo believes a teacher also needs to be part counselor and part mentor to ensure that students develop their full potential.
As with all the universities that have come before the Appropriation Committee, legislators asked questions about university affordability and efforts to cut operating costs.  Baker pointed out the sharp defunding of higher education by the state since 2002 –now just 22 percent of NIU’s budget--and corresponding rise in student fees to fill the hole.  He then went on to describe NIU’s efforts to limit cost increases through cuts in administrative staff and operating costs, and reviews of each department’s programs.

Sycamore Residents Get Long-Awaited Visit to Springfield
           For many, visiting Springfield is just a matter of doing it.  For people with developmental limitations, it’s a big deal to plan, arrange travel, and coordinate.  Last week a few clients of Opportunity House finally got their dream.  They not only visited the capitol, and learned background of the capitol and what the legislature does, but also saw where President Lincoln organized his cabinet, and the museum that honors his life.  
Communities are very fortunate to have organizations like Opportunity House and Open Door that help persons with disabilities expand their experiences and live safe and healthy lives.  This model of care for mental and developmentally challenged individuals was on display in the capitol as well on Wednesday.                                                                                        
Going Home Illinois, a group that encourages the closure of state mental health facilities for community based facilities, lobbied their position in the capitol.  The group advocates that, not only could the state save a lot of money, but also that community based care provides a better quality of life for clients.  Opponents are quick to point out that not all communities can meet the needs of clients with severe needs of support.
Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti will be in DeKalb on April 9 to visit with NIU students and staff, local government officials and businesses.  I hope you have an opportunity to meet this energetic official who is focused on citizen engagement, local government efficiency and mandate relief. 

I will be traveling around the district to discuss state issues in the next two weeks, let me know if you’d like to visit. 


Rep. Pritchard comments on the vote yesterday to fix the budget hole in FY15. 

March 23, 2015

In This Issue:
Ø Many Believe FY2015 Shortfall Solution at Hand
Ø  Bills Pass Out of Committees as Deadline Approaches
Ø  Discussion Begins on a Municipal Bankruptcy Law
Ø  Lobby Days Continue
Ø  New Effort to Reduce “Fair Share”
Ø  State Board of Education Discusses School Finances

Many Believe FY2015 Shortfall Solution at Hand       

       Negotiations to fill this year’s budget hole which have been ongoing since January could be completed this week. The budgets for a number of programs run out of money on April 1 and the legislature goes on spring break Thursday until mid-April. No legislator wants to be home to face families losing childcare, court reporters being furloughed, or prison guards leaving their posts.
       The FY2015 budget—like many before it-- was intentionally built upon insufficient revenue. The majority party plan appeared to be borrowing and preventing the income tax from dropping as it was scheduled to do in January. With Governor Rauner winning the election, those plans were scuttled. The discussion since then has been to use balances in a number of designated funds to fill the $1.6 billion hole.
       Three of the four legislative leaders and Governor appear to have reached an agreement so the pressure will be on Senate Democrats to jump on board by Thursday. The chief judge in each circuit was to have developed an emergency operations plan by last Friday to keep the courts functioning even if a supplemental appropriation is not made for court reporters. Courts with electronic recording systems will be able to operate and others may rearrange testimony to occur on days when reporters are not furloughed. No plans have been announced for other programs.

Bills Pass Out of Committees as Deadline Approaches
       Legislators have until Friday to present their bills to the various House committees and seek approval to move them to the House floor for further amendments and action. Here are a few of the dozens of bills that passed out of committee last week:

HB 3345 amends the minimum wage law to increase the wage of $8.25 per hour to $9 an hour effective July 1, 2015, and then to $10 an hour in 2016. To help small businesses compensate for the increased workforce costs, the bill also provides a small business temporary tax cut. No help is being offered to non-profit, university, or local government organizations already struggling to balance their budgets.
       Governor Rauner has indicated a willingness to raise the minimum wage if it is tied to comprehensive reform of business laws including lawsuits, workers’ compensation, and local worker freedom. A similar bill, SB11, has been overwhelmingly approved by the Senate.
HB3110 captures sales tax on airline fuel at the point of delivery to the airplane and ends purchases from satellite sales offices in outlying municipalities like Sycamore which avoid additional Chicago and Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) taxes. The use of satellite sales offices is being litigated so this bill is seen as subversion of a negative court ruling. The sponsor estimates that in 2013 the RTA, Chicago, and Cook County lost $52.7 million in aviation fuel taxes. This is another example of the high cost of doing business in Illinois and why companies are finding ways to take their business and jobs elsewhere.
HB3824 ends the Illinois income tax credit (deduction) for paying residential real property taxes and provides an annual $500 property tax refund for each parcel of qualified property. The measure will collect millions of dollars in additional income taxes for the state since the credit that property taxpayers received is much larger than the proposed refund.
HB1376 requires that all sales of homes include a report and video inspection of the sewer line by a licensed plumber. While homeowners already have to disclose any known problems to the buyer, this bill will add a minimum of $500 to the sale. There is no evidence that problems with sewer lines are a large problem or warrant a state-wide solution.
HB3428 requires colleges and public universities to give college credit to high school students for advanced placement courses when the student receives a score of 3 or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement test. Advocates argued this assures the student will receive college credit if they do well on the test and will reduce their cost of a college education.
HB3528 allows universities to give scholarships, grants, or other financial assistance to students who are not permanent residents or citizens of the U.S. This will expand the pool of candidates for already insufficient financial aid to reduce the cost of higher education. It also will benefit undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children and want to gain the skills necessary for more productive lives.

Discussion Begins on a Municipal Bankruptcy Law
        As fiscal pressures grow on Illinois local governments, local officials, residents and lenders are becoming more aggressive in looking for ways to reorganize the debt obligations. A hearing was held last week on a bill--HB 298--that would amend the Municipal Code to allow cities, towns, and villages to file petitions and exercise powers pursuant to applicable federal bankruptcy law.
       Municipalities in other regions of the country, such as Central Falls, Rhode Island and Detroit, Michigan, have declared bankruptcy through the laws of their states. Detroit was used as the main example of what can, and what cannot, happen under a Chapter 9 filing and witnesses included lawyers who represented Detroit in that case.
       Proponents tried to alleviate fears about the bill and dispel any misconceptions about Chapter 9 filings. Testimony stressed the high benchmark for a bankruptcy filing to be accepted and the possible impact on the municipality itself and the state as a whole.

Lobby Days Continue
       A number of groups continue to hold meetings in Springfield and then members visit the capitol to share information about their programs, press for funding, or discuss legislation. Here you see firefighters from DeKalb and Sycamore who received a round of applause from fellow Representatives for their public service.

       Middle and high school students were on hand to demonstrate some of the work they are doing in Career and Technical Education classes. Teachers made clear there are many good careers available that don’t require a four-year college degree. Pork and beef producers came to Springfield last week to share samples of their products and discuss state regulations that are pushing some farmers out of business.
       The Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day (I-GOLD) attracted thousands of members to the capital last week to show support for their Second Amendment rights. They said Illinois residents continue to be subjected to time-consuming requirements when applying for concealed-carry permits.

       On March 16th, the online application for Firearm Owner Identification cards (FOID) went active. Paper applications will now no longer be accepted. FOID cards are required to purchase firearms or ammunition. The applications for FOID cards and conceal carry permits can be found on the Illinois State Police website and a call center has been established for those individuals who do not have computer access (217-782-7980).

New Effort to Reduce “Fair Share”        

       This past week the Governor ordered state departments under his control to stop withholding compulsory union payments from nonunion employee paychecks until the issue can be further adjudicated. An earlier Executive Order over such payments was determined to be illegal by the Attorney General and was therefore ignored by the Comptroller.
      Current state practice has required departments to withhold an amount from all employees for contributions to unions that represent that department. These monies are then paid to the unions for what is called “fair share” payments to be prepared to represent the nonmembers in labor-management disputes. Unions called the Governor’s moves non-contractual and unauthorized.

State Board of Education Discusses School Finance
       The State Board of Education will be meeting Wednesday to discuss the financial condition of schools and legislation to change the way education is funded in Illinois. You may listen to the discussion over a link provided on the board’s website.
       There will be an overview of General State Aid just before the 10:30 meeting. Part of the board meeting will be devoted to discussion of SB1 funding reform and the board will be asked to approve the financial profile of school districts. Overall, districts’ financial profile scores are shifting toward the mid-range of Financial Review and Financial Early Warning, while the number of districts that are deficit spending continues to increase.
       This is the second week of the performance-based assessment testing window and various schools across the state will be administering the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). To date approximately 3.9 million tests have been completed by students across the country and 690,000 of those here in Illinois. It is obvious that students taking the test on paper rather than on computer, especially in the lower grades, have less test-taking stress and are believed to be giving a more accurate assessment of their knowledge and writing. The PARCC test needs considerable reworking before next year.

I look forward to hosting a group of clients from Opportunity House in Sycamore this week on their first trip to the capitol. Every citizen should visit Springfield to see the legislature in action and the Lincoln Presidential Museum. I hope you have a great week and, as always, feel welcome to contact Jesse in my Sycamore office or Shelly in my Springfield office if we can be of assistance.


The Illinois State Police (ISP) recently announced the Agency will begin accepting on-line Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) applications beginning Monday, March 16, 2015, to provide a more streamlined and modernized application process.
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard
March 16, 2015
In This Issue:
  • Bills Move Out of Committee
  • Value of Physical Education Questioned
  • Youth Experience Government in Action
  • House School Funding Task Force Begins Work
  • Informing the Public in the Digital Age
  • Asking the Question of Why Higher Education Costs More in Illinois
Bills Move Out of Committee
        With only two weeks left before the Speaker’s deadline for bills to move out of committee and to the House floor, Springfield is a lot like college basketball’s March Madness. Members are rushing from one committee where they are discussing bills to another where they are presenting their bills.  It’s a crazy time which may explain why what some feel are crazy ideas are passed.
       One example of that was HB133, which would regulate seafood labeling. The bill at best is redundant of federal law and at worst would be confusing for consumers should two labels be required on every seafood item.  Even more damaging is this bill will increase the cost for businesses to comply and, since Illinois has a lot of food distribution centers, increase the complexity of food distribution to Illinois retail outlets and those in other states that do not require “country of origin” labeling.
      Another bill-HB1- is touted to be a comprehensive solution to the heroin abuse epidemic in Illinois—imposes a number of mandates that are estimated to increase costs to consumers and businesses by $25 million.  The mandates include that all pharmacies become unused drug collection centers and incur all associated costs, insurance mandates, reporting requirements of county coroners, sentencing guidelines for heroin convictions, more drug prevention programs in schools, and higher Medicaid costs.  The bill also requires the dispensing of opioid antagonists (to counter heroin effects) to all first responders, schools and families of heroin addicts.  It is these kinds of unfunded mandates that the Governor has said make Illinois a difficult place in which to do business. 

Value of Physical Education Questioned
        On a day when the Illinois Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) came to Springfield to discuss the benefits of exercise on brain activity and student learning, several bills were heard in the House Education Committee to allow schools to excuse students from physical education (PE) classes.
       HB1330, HB1443 and HB2536 would allow schools to either make PE optional or excuse students from PE for various reasons.  Proponents say that these kinds of bills will give school districts more flexibility, allow students the option to take needed academic classes, and would put Illinois along with every other state in the country in not requiring daily PE.  Some even suggest that the Illinois PE mandate has not significantly reduced the number of physically overweight youth.
I visited with PE teachers and American Heart Association representatives about the benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, on brain function. According to a study by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. Exercise increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain and it aids the body in releasing a plethora of hormones, some reducing stress and most helping to provide a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.  

Youth Experience Government in Action
        This past week two youth groups from our area were in Springfield to study government up close and visit with some of the leaders in our state.  Boone County States Attorney Michelle Courier brought a group of students who visited the legislature and judiciary systems.
       Some of my high school Youth Advisory Council students also visited and spent two busy days talking with legislators, constitutional officers, department officials and media.
Members of my Youth Council pictured with Representatives Demmer and Sosnowski at the speaker’s podium
        One of the greatest values of the trip to Springfield is the chance for students to visit with different officials, learn about their challenges of office and raise a number of their questions. This year I was especially appreciative that the Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller, House Majority leader and House Republican leader spent time with the group.
Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti shares her experiences with the Council
        One of the students, Hannah Weirich from Hinckley-Big Rock, said “I loved talking with everyone because they all had unique stories….I am better able to understand why politicians make the choices that they do.”  Julia Lemp from Kaneland added “I learned so much about the way our government works and about the career path I hope to pursue."       
         My Youth Council consists of students from each high school in the district who meet for 4 months to study state and local government and public service careers.  

House School Funding Task Force Begins Work
       The House Education Funding Task Force I mentioned last week met for the first time in what appears to be a long process to change how the state distributes school funding.  The committee heard testimony on SB1 and how prorating general state aid has a more negative impact upon low property wealth districts and students in poverty. Since the task force has a number of members who do not normally serve on education committees, it will have to spend some time learning the basics of school funding and the disparity of funding per pupil in a property wealthy district compared to one with low property wealth. 
        The task force will be asked to consider equity in funding among districts as well as the adequacy of state funding for education. Two models are being considered for determining the adequacy of funding. The “successful school model” looks at what high-achieving, but low-spending districts spend on educating a student ($8,899 in the latest report). The “evidence-based model” looks at the cost of implementing best practices based upon student needs which would vary dramatically from district to district, but would nevertheless be much higher. The legislature has been using a foundation level of $6,119 per student for several years and not appropriating enough money to even reach that level.

Informing the Public in the Digital Age
       Several bills filed this session seek to remove or adjust the state mandates that require public notices from local governments and schools be published in a local newspaper.  Proponents argue that posting these notices and reports on a web site would be less costly and still easily accessible.
        A recent audit conducted by the Citizens Advocacy Center (CAC) concludes many units of local government don’t comply with making already mandated reports on their websites.  A study of over 750 public body websites in Illinois found only 73 percent complied with the posting notice of upcoming meetings, 57 percent complied with posting proposed meeting agendas, and less than half, 48 percent, complied with posting approved meeting minutes.
        Public notices published in local newspapers are also available on the Illinois Press Association’s website in a form easy to search and compare among the different governmental units.  As much as I would like to help local units of government reduce their cost of public notices, it is hard to remove the newspaper notice requirement when so many units of government aren't posting information or keeping their websites current.

Asking the Question of Why Higher Education Costs More in Illinois
         The House Higher Education Appropriation Committee has been receiving testimony from public universities and community colleges about their operations, performance results and response to a proposed budget cut of 31 percent next year.  Responses to at least two questions bear repeating and further study.
        First, why has student tuition at Illinois public universities increased so dramatically in the last 15 years and is considerably higher than out-of-state universities in the same conference?  The common response from the four universities who have testified so far is “a reduction in state support.”  State support for public universities has gone from over 60 percent of some university’s operating budget to less than 20 percent since 2002.  Student fees have gone up to compensate for the state decline.
       One university did admit that tuitions have risen much faster than inflation because of the state law requiring “Truth in Tuition”—which freezes the cost of tuition for each entering class for up to six years.  Universities have anticipated inflationary costs and raised tuition rates.  Another university admitted they had done less than they could to manage their operating costs, review the cost of providing certain majors or courses, or adopt cost saving ways to provide instruction. It was equally enlightening to hear one university say the cost of operating a university in Illinois is much higher than in neighboring states.  Perhaps he was referring to our onerous procurement laws, unfunded mandates or labor rules.
       The other question I found interesting was if you can’t withstand the 31 percent budget cut proposed by the governor, what level of cut can you withstand?  Two brave universities responded with a 5 to 10 percent cut.
      This response reminded me of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and perhaps holds at least a partial solution to our state’s spending problems.  In the movie, actor Jimmy Stewart was trying to save his savings and loan company in the time of a financial panic. To prevent a run on the bank, he wanted to limit the withdrawal of his members’ investments.  He convinced each member to withdraw only a portion of their investment in order to keep the savings and loan solvent.  Perhaps we should ask that question of each agency and client of state programs—how much can you get by with to help the state get out of its financial hole?
Enjoy the spring weather this week and continue to share your thoughts and ideas.

March 9, 2015rch 9, 2015
In This Issue:
  • House Finally Takes Up School Funding Overhaul
  • Amount of Student Testing a Growing Concern
  • Slower than Molasses in January
  • Agriculture Captures Attention at the Capitol
  • YMCA Plays Important Role in Community

House Finally Takes Up School Funding Overhaul
It’s been three years since the Senate started discussing major changes to the great disparity in funding for K-12 schools across the state.  Then all of the school management groups came together and proposed their own package of solutions last fall to improve public education in Illinois.  Even Governor Rauner has made world class education a center point in his agenda and has proposed spending nearly $293 million more on education next year.  It now appears Speaker Madigan is ready to engage the House in this discussion.

Last Thursday Speaker Madigan created a bipartisan education task force that will focus on studying the way the state distributes funding to public schools and how changes in the school aid formula could impact schools throughout the state.  The task force will consist of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans including legislators representing Southern Illinois, the collar counties, suburban communities and Chicago.  House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) will chair the task force and I have been appointed the Republican spokesperson.  See the announcement in the State Journal Register here

A plethora of bills have been introduced in the House and Senate this year aimed at equitable and adequate funding, shared accountability, 21st Century Learning and highly effective educators.  The House Appropriation Committee for Elementary and Secondary Education discussed one of these bills last week—SB1, a revision of SB16 from last year-- which focuses on changing the funding formula created in 1997.

As the House task force begins its work, it should build upon all the testimony and bill debates of prior years.  Key among these learnings should be that funding needs to be based on student needs: more funding for students in poverty, English language learners, and students with disabilities.  To help the poorly funded districts, more state money needs to be pumped into education, not redistributed from other districts.  Regional cost factors should be included, school efficiency and effectiveness should be considered, all-the-while focusing on adequate student progress. 

Amount of Student Testing; a Growing Concern
If you have kids or grandkids in school you are well aware of all the testing that students are asked to take these days.  Weeks of testing that combined with “preparing for the test” leaves too little time for actual instruction. There seems to be a parent and student revolt brewing that I witnessed over the past few weeks.

Most recently I attended a meeting of Sycamore High School students and parents who were very articulate in their concerns about too much testing and not enough time for instruction.  House Education committees have heard testimony from parents, teachers and some school officials over the shortcomings of the newest test—Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career Success (PARCC).  Then there was a bill—HB306—that passed out of committee last week that would allow parents and guardians to have their student excused from the PARCC test (next year if the bill becomes law).

We certainly need to measure whether students are learning the material, so teachers can make individual adjustments and we can compare our student success with other areas of the country.  A standardized test of student master of our learning standards is required by the federal government for Illinois to receive its nearly $1.3 billion in federal funding.  However, do we need all the tests that local schools give in addition to those required by the state and federal programs? 

As I mentioned last week, I serve on an Assessment Task Force that is surveying schools about all the tests they administer.  I hope these findings will lead to a rethinking of the type and number of tests given and lead to less time preparing and taking these tests.

Slower Than Molasses in January
For all the childcare assistance programs, court reporters and others who have run out of state funding this fiscal year and are waiting impatiently for a supplemental appropriation, negotiations are going “slower than molasses in January". 

The governor has been negotiating with legislative leaders for a funding solution since he took office but legislators are unwilling to give the governor authority to use available state funds.  The FY2015 budget was passed intentionally with insufficient funding so the budget would seem balanced--we now know it was $1.6 billion underfunded. 

Senate Democrats last week passed SB 274 out of committee which only covers one-third of the funding shortfall and doesn't include the needed authority to spend the money.  After a meeting between the governor and Senate Democrats last week, an observer said the Senate Democrats were more interested in politics than solving this problem. 

The Governor picked up on this message when he talked with citizens in DeKalb.  He pointed out how “big bosses” are controlling government and taking money from the real needs of people.  In a speech likened to that of President Franklin Roosevelt during the depression, Rauner painted a picture of a new day when prosperity returned to DeKalb.  He urged his audience to help change government; get involved in how local government spends its money.  Public pressure like that mentioned by the governor in DeKalb and in similar meetings across the region seems to be the only way to break the political roadblock in Springfield and reach a funding solution anytime soon for funding critical programs through June.

Agriculture Captures Attention at the Capitol
Legislators were served lunch and given a basket of Illinois farm products last week as a reminder of the importance and variety of Illinois agriculture.  Some of the more than 25,000 high school students enrolled in agricultural education programs across Illinois were at the capitol to distribute the food and message about AG careers, the importance of state support for AG education, and their leadership experiences in the FFA youth organization.
Bob visits with students from the Somonauk-Leland-Sandwich FFA Chapter as they filled baskets of Illinois food products for legislators

It was Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day and the youth were joined by farmers and agribusiness representatives who pointed out their industry sector employs 1 in every 17 workers in the state.  From processed food to renewable fuel; transportation and machinery production to crops and livestock, the agricultural industry adds approximately $200 billion to the state’s economy.

A group from Boone County talked with me about the $170 million impact of county fairs on rural communities like Belvidere. Beyond the economic value though, fairs provide family-friendly entertainment, education about agriculture, and fundraising opportunities for local groups.  They brought back fond memories of showing livestock and garden produce from my youth at the Sandwich Fair.

(L-R) Marion Thornberry, Jack Ratcliffe, Lyle Lee and Gary Hecathorn--members of the Illinois Grange--discuss the importance of county fairs and especially the Grange sponsored Boone County Fair.

YMCA Plays Important Role in Community
Representatives of 114 YMCAs across Illinois were also in the capitol last week to tell legislators how the Y strengthens the foundations of community through their work in youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.  I enjoyed visiting with a contingency from the Kishwaukee Y, DeKalb, and hearing more about their programs including efforts to combat diabetes.

(L-R) Gary Evans, Kara Gallagher, Katrina Luetkebuenger, and Rob Wilkinson visit about healthy living.

I am sponsoring a bill--HB1514—this year to create a 3-year Diabetes Prevention Pilot Program in DeKalb, St. Clair and Rock Island Counties.  The bill directs the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to designate a single community based not-for-profit provider to manage and administer the pilot program and collect data that can be used to scale up such programs state-wide.  

As you may know, Executive Director Rob Wilkinson is leaving the Kishwaukee Y to work with Y programs across Northern Illinois.  He has been a great part of the success of our local program and we send him off with our best wishes. 
Bob Pritchard

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan on Thursday announced the creation of a bipartisan task force focused on studying the way in which the state distributes funding to Illinois’ public schools. Rep Bob Pritchard has been named the minority spokesperson for the task force. 

You can read more about the task force here

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.