Pritchard's Perspective for November 16th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to

November 16, 2015
In This Issue:
Ø  Reasons to be Thankful
  Ø  House Shows Signs of Compromise
  Ø  Economic Engine Running on Fumes
  Ø  NIU Helps Attract Federal Program to Rockford
  Ø  Governor Lifts EDGE Tax Credit Suspension
  Ø  Agreement Reached on Unemployment Insurance Reform
  Ø  Groups Challenge New Teacher Candidate Assessment
  Ø  PARCC Test Undergoes Changes

Reasons to be Thankful

As we approach a “day of thanksgiving” next week, I encourage you to take time to count your blessings and give thanks to your creator.  The holiday has its roots with the pilgrims who celebrated for three days their first harvest in 1621.  President Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and President Lincoln in 1863 set the date as the last Thursday of November.
Among my blessings are a bountiful harvest on the farm and the ability to share the fixings for a thanksgiving dinner with those in need.  There are many food pantries, churches, non-profits and other organizations preparing meals for the hungry and help for the hopeless.  Remember them and share from your blessings this season of giving.

House Shows Signs of Compromise
A flurry of movement in the budget gridlock over the last few weeks by the governor and House and Senate members reflects a growing desire on all sides to pass a budget.  There were three significant votes in the House last week that give cause for some optimism even though the Speaker of the House continues to work against the Governor’s initiatives.
The first sign of compromise between the Governor and legislators was a roll back in the childcare emergency measures put in place when the fiscal year began without a budget.  Governor Rauner agreed to raise eligibility for childcare subsidies to families making up to 162 percent of the poverty level and return the ceiling to the old level of 185 percent of poverty once a budget was passed.  Additionally, the governor’s office said that it will establish a bipartisan, bicameral task force aimed at ensuring the long-term stability of the program.

In exchange, some House Democrats agreed to not call an override vote on Senate Bill 570, a bill the Governor vetoed because it would have stripped his ability to manage spending in the program during an emergency.  Speaker Madigan nevertheless called the bill for a vote.  It failed to reach the necessary level to override the veto.
Another bipartisan agreement involved eligibility of seniors and the disabled for long term care.  Again, the Governor reached an informal agreement with legislators to keep the current eligibility standards in place until a new rating system is approved and not overturn his veto of HB2482. 
HB2482 would have locked into statute a Determination of Need (DON) score of 29 and a provision that would allow qualifying individuals to be eligible for both institutional, and home and community-based long term care services, thus driving up costs and eliminating the ability of the Governor to manage spending.  Despite the agreement by some of his members, the Speaker scheduled a vote to override the governor’s veto.  Again the Speaker’s efforts failed.
The House also approved HB4305 overwhelmingly to transfer $1.26 billion from non general revenue funds for such things as roads, cities and townships revenue, 9-1-1 centers, lottery and gambling winners, and police training.  The Governor had stopped payment of these programs because the state lacks the authority to appropriate the money.  
With the spending authority, the Governor could release the funds.  Again, the Speaker intervened.  He attached the language to an existing House bill, rather than a Senate bill, which takes longer to be approved by the Senate.  In addition, he placed a parliamentary hold on the bill from even going to the Senate.
The legislative leaders and the Governor are scheduled to meet on November 18 for the first formal discussion on budget and reforms since May.  Speaker Madigan has already indicated he will be out of state and unable to attend.  With continued calls from voters for compromise, perhaps the current gridlock will end. 

Economic Engine Running on Fumes
Last week the House conducted a Committee of the Whole hearing to discuss the value of higher education and impact that a lack of state funding this year is having on students, the institutions and efforts to create value in the economy.  Leaders from several state universities and community colleges testified they will continue operations this school year, but face significant downsizing next year and must change their business model.
The Presidents of the University of Illinois, Western Illinois and Chicago State quickly mentioned the lack of state funding over not just this year, but the last decade has created a real crisis of confidence in the state’s commitment to the value of higher education.  They mentioned that colleges and universities are significant employers for their regions and the state, help prepare a workforce that attracts business to Illinois, and create technology that grows the economy.  All of this is being affected by the state’s defunding of higher education.
The universities admitted that the lack of state funding in the past has forced them to increase tuition.  As a result nearly one-third of college freshman are finding it more affordable and attractive to attend universities in another state.  Student counseling and mentoring, especially necessary for first generation, minority and struggling students, have suffered.

NIU Helps Attract Federal Program to Rockford

Senator Dick Durbin (right) was in Rockford last week to help announce the first pilot project of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) of Chicago.  The program will bring small and medium-sized manufacturers in this area together to share ideas, develop and learn about industry-changing new technologies, and contribute to the American manufacturing revolution going on through DMDII. 
The Rockford based program will be a collaboration of the UI LABS and the EIGERlab Innovation Network of Northern Illinois University.  The focus will be to take the digital technologies developed from DMDII projects into the workplaces of small and mid-size manufacturers across Northern Illinois.  Regional manufacturers that tap into the DMDII expertise will discover how to innovate together in ways that improve and accelerate production processes.  The goal is to generate jobs, boost profits and share in work that restores America’s competitive edge.
DMDII is a unique public-private partnership and the fourth National Manufacturing Innovation Institute established in the United States.  The model used here will be replicated across the country.  Rockford is well-known as a regional manufacturing hub.

Governor Lifts EDGE Tax Credit Suspension
In further response to the gridlock over the budget, Governor Rauner announced plans last week to resume EDGE Tax Credit agreements that were suspended in June.  The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) will also start the certification process for the 49 Enterprise Zones—including the one for DeKalb County--that were approved in August and are now scheduled to begin operation on January 1.  
The Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) program allows eligible businesses to claim a nonrefundable credit against their Illinois corporate income taxes.  Since the program began in 1999 it has encouraged job creation that is 250 percent of the number promised and private investment of $4.50 for every dollar of tax credit.
New EDGE credits will not be issued for the relocation of jobs from one Illinois location to another and no credit may be used until the FY16 budget is approved.  Existing EDGE arrangements are not impacted. 

Agreement Reached on Unemployment Insurance Reform
Bipartisan agreement has been reached between business groups and labor organizations to reform and improve Illinois’ unemployment insurance system.  A bill--SB1941—codifying the changes was approved unanimously in committee last week. 
The agreement avoids a massive ramp up in unemployment insurance costs for employers and a decrease in benefits to the unemployed.  It also tightens up the law so people who get fired for certain just causes won’t receive benefits.  Workers benefit from the deal by allowing those who are laid off, but also eligible for Social Security, to collect full benefits under both programs.  Illinois is currently one of only two states to subtract 50 percent of the Social Security unemployment benefit from dual eligible recipients.

Groups Challenge New Teacher Candidate Assessment  
The State Board of Education (ISBE) began using a new capstone assessment for teacher candidates this year, but not without growing concerns.  The House Curriculum and Policy Committee held a hearing last week to gather comments from both advocates and opponents of the new test. 
Exit exams for teacher training programs are not new, but the Education Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) goes much farther in examining the evidence of a teacher candidate’s work in lesson planning, instruction and student assessment.  A group of evaluators from a private vendor scores the student teacher’s portfolio and video of their classroom activities. 
Opponents of the new assessment feel it is unnecessary, costly—especially for low income students, will discourage minority candidates, and ignores testing a candidate’s teaching of children from varied language and cultural backgrounds.  There are also concerns that the video is taken too early in the student teaching experience so results are available at graduation. 
ISBE feels edTPA provides a better assessment of a student teacher’s readiness to be in the classroom than the previously used assessment.  Several universities testified the exam has helped to improve their teacher preparation courses.

PARCC Test Undergoes Changes
The governing board for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has announced a restructuring of the test and flexibility in who administers it.  The changes come in response to an increasing number of states opting out of the spring PARCC test and others asking for different tiers of participation and opportunities for customization.
PARCC was created to provide a standardized test of student performance that could be compared among states and internationally.  Participating states wanted the cost savings that come from developing test questions across multiple states, but now also want flexibility for their individual complex and dynamic needs.
There is no word yet on how the Illinois State Board of Education will respond to this new flexibility or what the cost impact will be from so many states opting out of PARCC.  One school superintendent told me whatever test is used, the most important issue is not significantly changing the standardized test for a period of time so districts can see trends in student learning and the response to intervention for improved student growth.