Pritchard's Perspective for September 1st

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

September 1, 2017
In This Issue:
·         Historic School Funding Reform Becomes Law
·         Accountability Plan Also Approved
·         Illinois Offers Support for Hurricane Harvey Relief
·         Report Shows Advantage of Attending Illinois Schools
·         Governor Signs Act to Improve Safety
·         The Cost of Corruption
·         IDOT Recycling Efforts Making Impact
·         Budget Impasse Has Lasting Effects on NIU
·         More Bills Signed into Law
·         Activities of Legislators

Historic School Funding Reform Becomes Law
When Illinois celebrated its 100th birthday as a state, officials cut the ribbon for a new state office building near the Capitol called the Centennial Building.  The gift prepared by the cash-strapped legislature for our 200th celebration next year just might be the historic new school funding legislation signed into law this week. 
While voices opposed to parts of the compromised legislation can be loud, we must not overlook the bigger picture of moving our state toward paying a “majority” share for the cost of education, offering property tax relief, and lifting the underfunded districts up to the adequate level needed to help their students get a quality education.  With the law taking effect, schools will now get access to appropriations in the budget and avoid a funding crisis that would have caused some schools to be unable to pay staff next month.
The road to passage and signing of SB1947 into law began four years ago.  At first the attempt to improve adequacy and equity in funding education did not add new state money but rather just moved money around from a well-funded district to one that lacked basic resources. 
The Governor appointed a task force three years ago that fundamentally changed the discussion and proposed an evidence based model of best practices in programs and staffing.  The resulting law calculates the cost of educating the students unique to each district and then adding as much as $7 billion in new state funding to achieve that level of adequacy over the next dozen or so years.
The compromise needed to pass the legislation includes the state paying for Chicago Public School employee pensions much like it does for all other districts and reforms sought by school administrators and downstate legislators.  There are several ways for property tax payers to see relief, a streamlined school waiver process for responding to state mandates, and a tax credit for donations to a scholarship fund that will allow low-income students to attend private schools if the public school they attend does not meet their educational needs.

Accountability Plan Also Approved
The State Superintendent of Schools announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education has approved Illinois’ plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.  The plan gathers, examines and responds to multiple indicators of school quality and student growth.
The long-term goals of the Illinois plan are for all students to attain by 2032: 90 percent or more of third-grade students are reading at or above grade level; 90 percent or more of fifth-grade students meet or exceed expectations in mathematics; 90 percent or more of ninth-grade students are on track to graduate; and 90 percent or more of students graduate from high school ready for college and career.  The Illinois plan can be found here. 

Illinois Offers Support for Hurricane Harvey Relief
Governor Rauner has mobilized the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to help aid the relief efforts for the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.  IEMA will coordinate the Illinois’ response with the efforts of Louisiana and Texas.  In addition, the Illinois Red Cross has contributed resources to the areas hit the hardest by the storm and ComEd has deployed electrical repair teams to support infrastructure recovery. 
Our area certainly knows the importance of outside support following a natural disaster and it is heartwarming to see so many individuals offer financial help for the recovery through their favorite charities.

Report Shows Advantage of Attending Illinois Schools
With so many high school students considering attending college in another state, they may find a recent report from the Illinois Board of Higher Education startling.  The report compares student success in a number of areas and demonstrates that Illinois community colleges and public universities produce among the best outcomes.
According to the report, Illinois public universities produce more degrees relative to the number of students enrolled than their peers and perform substantially better than the national average.  Illinois is also among the national leaders in the rate of bachelor’s degree completion among transfer students from community colleges.
Illinois public universities are among the national leaders in completion rates for adult learners as well.  You can find the full IBHE newsletter here, and the full graphics on the graduation comparison rates here.

Governor Signs Act to Improve Safety
Many people seem to be confused about a bill recently signed by Governor Rauner called the “Trust Act” or Senate Bill 31.  According to law enforcement officials who negotiated the bill, it is intended to make everyone in a community—including immigrants—feel comfortable calling on first responders in an emergency, to report a crime or give eye-witness information about a crime. 
According to one sheriff, the role of local law enforcement is to protect and to serve, not scare and harass.  The bill does not offer any legal protection to illegal aliens or prevent local officers from cooperating with federal immigration officials or executing court orders. 
The governor made clear the bill does not create a sanctuary state but rather allows police to focus on crime and violence reduction.

The Cost of Corruption
Few will deny that Illinois has a reputation for corruption in state and local politics but there is no agreement about its apparent or hidden costs.  The latest issue of Tax Facts provided by the Taxpayer’s Federation of Illinois seeks to quantify those costs that can be identified and discuss the hidden costs of corruption which the author characterizes as much greater.
Author Jim Nowlan begins by defining corruption as “personal gain at public expense.”  He notes that reports of corruption occurred even before Illinois became a state and hundreds of convictions have occurred since then including judges and four governors. 
The newsletter discusses the costs of agencies, boards and attorneys created to deter and prosecute corruption which exceed $500 million.  The hidden costs include difficulty in attracting businesses and new residents to the state, the cost of delays in receiving permits and licenses, difficulty in attracting job applicants and vendors, and, of course, voter cynicism.
The report concludes that Illinois appears more corrupt because it has adopted a “culture of accepting corruption.”  According to the author, citizens can affect the amount of corruption through several actions: 1) watch out for it, 2) investigate and prosecute it, 3) pass tough punishment for violators, and 4) change the culture in which it breeds.

IDOT’s Recycling Efforts Making Impact
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has made significant strides over the past few years to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve cost savings through the use of recycled materials.  A recent Illinois Highway Sustainability Materials report documents the use of recycled materials to supplement aggregates, concrete, hot-mix asphalt, steel, and sealants as well as for soil modification and pavement markings.
The report noted that nearly 1.8 million tons of recycled materials were used in building Illinois highways in 2016 which is an 11 percent improvement compared with 2015 and a fourfold increase over the amount of recycled materials used in 2009 construction projects.
The amount of recycled materials used is largely dependent on the funding availability as well as the project type.  IDOT’s recycling efforts have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 46 percent or 166,195 tons in 2016.

Budget Impasse Has Lasting Effects on NIU
Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) Interim President Lisa Freeman recently shared the challenges facing the institution following two years without a state budget and plans for rebuilding confidence and stability.  Speaking at a DeKalb Area Chamber of Commerce function recently, Freeman said the lack of state funding and the uncertainty about funding the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) for students contributed to the decline in student enrollment over recent years and difficulty in hiring faculty and staff. 
Freeman said support for students is the top priority and noted several strategies to help raise enrollment rates.  Among her plans are a focus on increasing scholarship funding, aggressive marketing strategies to attract more students to NIU, reorganization of some student services and engaging alumni to help share the value of an NIU experience.
These efforts and the fact the legislature passed a budget are already having positive effects according to the Interim President.  Fall enrollment numbers that will be released soon are expected to show a stop in the decline of enrollment.  Staff morale is also improving.  Freeman said it will take years for the University to fully recover, and the institution must prioritize resources for the future should any other fiscal uncertainties arise.

More Bills Signed Into Law
The Governor continues to review legislation passed this spring and sign many of them into law.  Here are a few you should know:
HB3110 increase the notice requirements for social services contracts.  The bill provides that any contract between a State agency and an authorized service provider may be terminated, suspended, or reduced by either party to the contract upon 30 days prior written notice.  Moving forward, service providers will have greater notification if State agencies do not have funds or plan to reduce, terminate or suspend contracts.
HB3139 will require every school district, charter school, alternative school and school receiving public funds to collect and review its student chronic absentee data.  These schools must also determine what systems of support and resources are needed to engage all students in daily attendance and learning.  While schools in my legislative district already do this, unfortunately not all districts focus on absenteeism.
SB204 creates the Thriving Youth Fund.  This initiative is designed to provide an additional funding source to programs the Department of Human Services currently administers, such as TeenREACH, Redeploy Illinois, Homeless Youth, and Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services.

Activities of Legislators

Now that many major state issues have been addressed, the General Assembly has not scheduled any meetings.  Legislators can continue their regular activities like community events, parades and meetings with constituents.  A group of us recent met with the Fox Valley Chapter of Credit Unions to discuss legislative issues and learn about their efforts to help customers.  
Have a great weekend; and call my district office if we may be of assistance.  I’ll look for you at the Maple Park Festival and Sandwich Fair!

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