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Area school districts are joining those across the state in backing a proposal to improve Illinois’ public education system — and some of the state’s lawmakers are already on board, as well.
The Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school board approved a resolution earlier this month urging the Illinois General Assembly to approve “the necessary legislative changes” to implement the “four pillars” of education improvement under the so-called Vision 20/20 plan.
And the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board is expected to do the same at its Jan. 14 meeting.
Meanwhile, Jason Barickman, a Republican state senator from Bloomington who serves on the senate’s education committee as well as its advisory committee on education funding, said he is “very aware of the Vision 20/20 plan” and is “extremely supportive of it.” Barickman said he expects the education committee to begin discussing many of the Vision 20/20 plan’s priorities in the next Legislative session in mid-January.
“I’m excited to see Governor (Bruce) Rauner take office (on Jan. 12) and hope to work with his administration in obtaining their support on many of these concepts,” Barickman said. “I presume that as this comes together, a series of bills will be introduced to tackle some components of the plan.”
Vision 20/20 is a long-range blueprint for improving public education in Illinois that was developed by the Illinois Association of School Administrators in partnership with the Illinois Principals Association, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity, and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
Its four priorities are: shared accountability, 21st Century learning, highly effective educators, and equitable and adequate funding.
Vision 20/20 asks not just for action by state lawmakers, but also local action and the support of educators across the state.
“It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about kids,” PBL Superintendent Cliff McClure said.
“A lot of this is philosophical, setting the tone on what we believe education should be, as said by educators,” said GCMS Superintendent Anthony Galindo.
Equitable and adequate funding
The school-funding aspect of the Vision 20/20 plan seeks to correct the “inadequate” model currently used in public education. Barickman said the funding reform proposal outlined in the Vision 20/20 proposal is “the best I’ve seen thus far.”
“I think the result, from a funding perspective, would be more accountability and, hopefully, targeting the limited dollars Springfield has to the areas that need them most,” Barickman said.
According to a report by the Vision 20/20 partners, Illinois is ranked last among U.S. states in funding for public schools, with Illinois funding only 28 percent of public education costs compared with 43 percent across the nation.
Every year, the Education Funding Advisory Board establishes minimum funding recommendations for the Illinois State Board of Education to provide the basic costs of educating a child, but the minimum recommendation is routinely disregarded when appropriating funds, according to the Vision 20/20 report.
General state aid, or GSA, has been “prorated” at 89 percent over the last two fiscal years — meaning districts lost 11 percent of the state aid they were entitled to receive, according to the report.
“Proration reflects the poor political priorities and compromises that have been made over the last few years,” Barickman said. “When I say that, what I mean is that there is enough dollars in the education budget that the state passes to fully fund every school district at 100 percent of their GSA. ... But the reason there’s a cut is because those supporting the budget are driving education dollars to line items that are not general state aid.”
Barickman said the law requires school districts receive no less than $6,119 of funding for each student’s education per year. All of that funding, however, does not necessarily come from the state.
“That funding could come from multiple sources, primarily local and state tax dollars,” Barickman said.
So when GSA is prorated, it leaves districts to make up the difference with local tax money. And that disproportionately affects districts with lower property tax bases, Barickman said.
“You have this disparity where property-rich districts have more available funds than others,” Barickman said.
The Vision 20/20 plan seeks to make the funding “equitable and adequate.” The plan seeks to adopt an “evidence-based funding model” that would assign the appropriate “foundation level” of funding for each district individually, taking into account geographic conditions and student needs. It also seeks to enhance state funding for schools and restructure state revenues to match the 21st Century economy. Lastly, it seeks to create a two-year budget cycle for schools and require the state to provide “year-ahead budgeting” so districts can plan two years into the future when budgeting and allocating funds.
According to Barickman, the existing funding formula is “antiquated” and has been “abused by politicians over the last 20-some years.”
“It started out as a good formula under (then-Gov.) Jim Edgar, and one General Assembly after another has tweaked it to address one concern or another, but the sum of all of those tweaks is a formula that no longer works,” Barickman said. “It doesn’t get money to where it needs to go.
Barickman said he would like to see the funding policy reformed so that the law requires to fund school districts at 100 percent of their “foundation level” of $6,119 per student per year.
“Only if there’s additional dollars after that do you look at funding these other programs,” Barickman said.
Allowing greater flexibility in decision-making is another goal of Vision 20/20.
Among its recommendations under the “shared accountability” component is to assign funded and unfunded mandates into one of two categories: essential mandates (federal mandates that are fully funded and are focused primarily on student safety and civil rights) and discretionary mandates (non-federal mandates that are unfunded and related to the educational process).
A task force of broad representation would be assembled to determine the categorization. The Illinois State Board of Education, Regional Offices of Education and Intermediate Service Centers Compliance Probe would review applicable regulations to distinguish between essential and discretionary mandates.
Vision 20/20 also wants the state Legislature to adopt a law to allow school districts that forego state funding or demonstrate high performance to opt out of state-level regulations by submitting a “flexibility request.” If approved, the district would be granted a four-year “opt out.”
“By allowing districts operating without state funds, or exceeding desired student outcomes, to opt out of process-specific mandates, the state can focus on supporting and improving the districts that need assistance the most while reducing state education costs,” the Vision 20/20 report says.
Barickman said he believes the state imposes “way too many mandates on our school districts,” adding that school districts should have the right to “make decisions at a local level on many of these types of decisions.”
“The compromise that we’re trying to reach with the pro-mandate crowd is that we would allow school districts an opportunity to opt out of certain mandates through the use of a public hearing,” Barickman said. “But the goal, for me, is to let it be driven locally, as opposed to having the state impose its wisdom on these 800 or 900 school districts that we have around the state.”
Highly effective educators
Finding and hiring the best teachers and administrators is becoming more challenging as fewer people are entering the education profession. Eight percent of the nation’s teachers leave the profession each year, according to the Vision 20/20 report.
In Illinois, the educator licensure system restricts the ability of highly qualified teaching candidates from other states to be selected for Illinois schools, the report adds.
To address the issue, the Vision 20/20 plan seeks to streamline education licensure reciprocity agreements with states across the U.S., putting Illinois on a level playing field. It also seeks to expand alternative teaching licensure programs to allow teacher candidates without licensure to participate in professional development programs so they can teach at any school with appropriate induction and mentoring.
The plan also seeks to establish partnerships between local school districts and higher education institutions, in an effort to establish consistent admission and program criteria, as well as classroom experience requirements for colleges and universities offering teacher and administrator licensures in the state.
The plan also seeks to provide “relevant professional development.” Requiring the state to fully fund mentoring for new teachers, principals and superintendents is among the goals.
21st Century learning
Giving students a “21st Century” education involves an overhaul of the way students are taught. The Vision 20/20 plan recommends the state adopt policies to promote individualized learning plans; support student creativity and innovation; align “social and emotional standards” with the new Illinois Learning Standards; and engage parents, family and the community in the learning process.
Vision 20/20 also seeks to develop a “balanced” state testing program that produces “real data that can effectively inform instruction and support innovative instructional practices.” This would allow teachers to track students’ progress throughout the school year and identify those struggling or in need of assistance early in the school year.
Work lies ahead
Barickman said he thinks the Vision 20/20 plan’s concepts are a good start.
“I think this is a remarkable accomplishment for the education community to come together and affirmatively state what they’re for, as opposed to what we often get caught up in, which is simply saying what we’re against,” Barickman said. “I had an opportunity to meet with some of those involved with the creation of this plan, and I’ve commended them on their work.
“The tough work ahead is getting my colleagues in the Legislature to understand all of the components of the plan, the effects that the plan would have on their local districts, and ultimately obtaining their buy-in so that they’ll support the various legislation that will accompany this plan.”
Barickman said he expects numerous legislators to either sponsor or cosponsor legislation. Barickman said he has already offered to do so.
“My belief is that, as a Republican, I have an opportunity to lead on this issue, especially because of Gov. Rauner’s entrance to the Springfield dynamic,” Barickman said. “Suddenly, Republicans are going to have more relevancy in debate over public-policy matters like this, so the opportunity exists for us to lead, rather than sit back and let things unfold.”
McClure told PBL school board members in December that he thinks they will be hearing “a lot more” about Vision 20/20 in upcoming months. McClure said he would be attending a two-day Vision 20/20 “alliance summit” at the state capitol, and he said he would like a board member and possibly another PBL administrator to join him there.
“Vision 20/20 is something that we can all sit here and say has a chance,” McClure said. “I really believe in this, and I think a lot of superintendents are on board. It’s starting to catch some momentum.
“I think our job locally is to publicize Vision 20/20. It’s going to have to be a grass-roots effort. I can actually see some of these things getting passed (by lawmakers) if we have an actual grass-roots effort. So we’re going to be rolling that out (locally). Next month, I’d like PBL to pass a board resolution and allow us to fly the Vision 20/20 banner on our website.
“It’s not just about funding,” McClure said. “I think we really have to start talking about what we have for an end in mind for the education of children in the state of Illinois.”