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.


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