State Legislature Passes Black Caucus Education Bill

Franczek P.C.
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Franczek P.C.

After months of hearings on educational policies aimed at addressing racial inequities in education and a short lame duck session, the Black Caucus’s education bill has passed both houses and now awaits the Governor’s signature. The bill has implications for graduation requirements, accelerated placement, and the history curriculum, among other topics. While the initial version of the bill called for lengthening the school year in response to learning challenges during the pandemic, those provisions were removed. Similarly, new requirements related to early screening in reading and math, interventions, and professional development related to evidence-based reading instruction were removed. Proposed additional funding and revisions to the Evidence Based Funding model are also absent in the final version of the bill. Nonetheless, the changes approved by the legislature will have significant impacts for public schools across the State.

Graduation Requirements

One focus of the bill is increasing the rigor of high school for students to ensure they are prepared for post-secondary education. The bill approaches this issue in two ways. The first is through increased graduation requirements: starting in 2022-2023, students entering 9th grade must complete one year of a course that includes intensive instruction in computer literacy (which can be part of an English, social studies, or other class) to graduate; starting in 2024-2025, students entering 9th grade must have at least two years of laboratory science to graduate (as opposed to science courses generally); and starting in 2028-2029, students entering 9th grade must complete at least two years of a foreign language to graduate.

The second approach is providing students access to courses required or recommended for acceptance at Illinois public universities. ISBE and the Illinois Board of Higher Education are required to create a report by May 1, 2021 detailing such course requirements and recommendations. ISBE must post the report on its website, and districts must share it with students in grades 8 through 12 before the student’s course schedule is finalized each year. Additionally, by 2022-2023, public high schools must provide access to each course identified in the report to any of its students who request to enroll and find an alternative (such as partnering with another school district, community college, or private course) if unable to do so.

Accelerated Placement

Another focus of the bill is increasing access to accelerated and advanced classes for students of color and avoiding bias in the selection process. Beginning in 2023-2024, the bill requires districts’ accelerated placement policies to allow for automatic enrollment in the next most rigorous level of advanced coursework offered by the high school if the student meets or exceeds standards on a State assessment. Scores in English language arts apply to placement in English, social studies, humanities, and related courses; scores in math apply to placement in math courses; and scores in science apply to placement in science courses. The advanced coursework may be dual enrollment, AP, IB, honors, enrichment, or gifted. Parents can opt out if they prefer their student participate in a different class. For students entering 9th grade, results from the State assessment taken in middle school may be used. For other high school grades, results from a locally selected, nationally normed assessment may be used instead of the State assessment. The bill also requires outreach, support for students newly enrolled in advanced coursework, and review of data to increase access to accelerated classes. The bill does not prevent the district from allowing other students to enroll in advanced coursework, pursuant to its policy.

Curriculum

The bill also addresses curriculum, focusing on two priorities: 1) computer literacy and science – critical to participation in higher education and the modern workforce, and 2) inclusive history and social studies instruction – critical to an accurate and comprehensive narrative that shows more than oppression for Black people. The bill requires all school districts to ensure students receive developmentally appropriate opportunities to gain computer literacy skills beginning in elementary school. Districts must also annually report to ISBE information regarding their educational technology capacity and policies. And, starting with the 2023-2024 school year, districts must provide an opportunity for students to take at least one computer science course in grades 9-12.

The bill also requires ISBE to adopt revised social science learning standards by July 1, 2021 that are inclusive and reflective of all individuals in this country. Additionally, the bill creates the Inclusive American History Commission (details below) to provide assistance to ISBE in revising these standards. Finally, the bill adds to the Black History curriculum the history of the pre-enslavement of Black people, the reasons Black people came to be enslaved, and the study of the American civil rights renaissance.

Commissions, Task Forces, and Panels

The bill creates of the Whole Child Task Force to identify trainings and resources needed to create and sustain trauma-informed schools; review available training related to restorative practices, implicit bias, anti-racism, trauma-responsive systems, mental health services, and social-emotional learning services; and make recommendations on the data to be collected and reported to ensure progress toward consistent use of restorative, anti-racist, and trauma-responsive strategies and practices with the goal of establishing an equitable, inclusive, safe, and supportive environment in all schools for all students.

The bill also directs the Illinois P-20 Council to, by December 31, 2021, make recommendations for short-term and long-term learning recovery actions for public school students. The report must address closing the digital divide, evaluating academic growth and proficiency, establishing a system for collection and review of student data at the State level, providing students academic and social-emotional support, considering options like extending the school day and year as well as year-round schooling, and strengthening the transition from secondary to postsecondary education.

The Professional Review Panel, which studies topics related to the implementation and effect of Evidence-Based Funding, is directed to ensure that the Adequacy Target calculation accurately reflects the needs of students living in poverty or attending schools in areas of high poverty, racial equity within the EBF formula is explicitly explored and advanced, and the funding goals are sufficient to provide adequate funding for every student and to fully fund every school.

Additionally, the bill creates the Inclusive American History Commission to review available resources that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the State and country; provide guidance to educators to ensure instruction and content are not biased to specific cultures, time periods and experiences; and develop tools and support for professional learning on locating and using resources for non-dominant culture narratives and sources of historical information.

Miscellaneous

With respect to increasing the diversity of educators, the bill removes the current GPA requirement for alternative educator licensure programs. The bill also increases funding allotments for the Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarship program based on available appropriations.

For young students receiving specialized supports, the bill provides that students who are receiving early intervention services and are found eligible for IEP services and turn 3 during the summer can continue to receive early intervention services until the start of the school year.

The bill still needs Pritzker’s signature to take effect. We will continue to monitor legislative updates, as some measures cut from this bill may be taken back up or evolve in the future.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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