Beyond the public health impact, COVID-19 has been devastating for the state’s economy and working families. With most business and commerce shut down to prevent spread of the deadly coronavirus, the impact to the state’s finances has been severe and immediate. On April 15, the governor announced a projected $2.7 billion deficit for the rest of Fiscal Year 2020 and a Fiscal Year 2021 deficit that could reach $7.2 billion.
With the projected hit to state finances, the IFT organized and mobilized to advocate for public education (preK-12, colleges, and universities) funding, vital state services, and much-needed economic relief for Illinois residents.
The Illinois House and Senate convened for an abbreviated session May 20-23. This was the first time either chamber had met since early March. May 31 is typically the last day of session, but with a limited agenda and focus on the state’s budget, the House and Senate completed their work in the four-day shortened session.
In February, there was a possibility of continued increases to Evidence-Based Funding for K-12 education and a long-overdue funding increase for higher education. However, the economic picture in the country and the state are much different today. With the economic impact of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of whether there will be federal dollars to replace lost state revenues, The state approved a maintenance budget that includes relief for citizens most-impacted by the fiscal downturn. To maintain spending, the state may borrow up to $5 billion from the Federal Reserve. The borrowing plan was far better than the alternative – a 35% across the board cut in state spending.
The House and Senate also passed legislation dealing with substantive issues related to COVID-19. This included a K-12 package to codify many of the measures enacted in previous executive orders, unemployment changes for non-instructional education employees, and an expansion of the state’s vote by mail program for the 2020 election.
Following is an overview of the FY 2021 budget and other legislative changes:
FY2021 Budget - SB 264 (Harmon, D-Oak Park)
Same appropriation for the evidence-based model (EBM) as prior year
Because funding for the EBM is constant from last year, there will be no changes in the funding tiers, with the intent that each district will receive the same funding as they did the prior year
Generally, the same appropriation for public universities and community colleges
Same appropriation for the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP)
Retiree health insurance programs
Funds the certified payment for TRIP/TRAIL (retired teachers health insurance)
Funds the certified payment to CIP (retired community college health insurance)
Funds the certified payment to the state’s pension systems including TRS, SURS and SERS, and the state’s share of funding CTPF
Rent and mortgage assistance
Includes nearly $400 million for rent and mortgage relief
K-12 Education Legislation
SB 1569 (Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield) Omnibus education bill – codifies many of the K12 education policy changes previously included in the governor’s executive orders. The legislation:
Extends deadline for renewal of professional educator licenses set to expire on June 30, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
Allows ISBE to extend Financial Oversight Panels due to expire.
Removes the state requirement for standardized assessments if the U.S. Department of Education waives the requirement.
When governor declares a disaster, defines school employees as essential workers and allows preschool for all grantees to serve children ages 0 to 12.
Allows up to five remote learning planning days as pupil attendance days when calculating length of the school term.
Waives the five clock-hour requirement for school attendance during the COVID-19 crisis.
Allows school districts to utilize e-learning days for remote learning days.
Codifies the parameters established in Governor Pritzker’s executive order establishing remote learning when schools are closed due to a public health emergency.
Allows student teachers to complete student teaching requirements through remote learning and waives edTPA requirements for new teachers during a public health emergency.
During a public health emergency, when an evaluation cannot be completed, specifies that a tenured teacher who was deemed “Excellent” on their most recent teacher evaluation will default to an “Excellent” rating. All other incomplete evaluations will default to “proficient”.
Waives student curricular mandates regarding Patriotism and Representative Government, Physical Education, and others during a declared disaster.
Prohibits school districts from withholding report cards from students who do not present evidence of a dental or eye exam when a disaster is declared.
Waives timelines for teacher remediation plans unless the parties mutually agree otherwise in writing.
SB 1857 (Martinez, D-Chicago) The bill extends earlier legislation allowing a retired teacher who receives Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) benefits to substitute teach in a school for up to 120 days per school year without jeopardizing their pension benefits. HB 2096 (Willis, D-North Lake) The bill allows school districts to open bids for construction electronically. SB 2135 (Link, D-Gurnee) The bill amends the Open Meetings Act to allow public bodies, such as school boards, to hold meetings via audio or video conference during times the governor has issued a public health related disaster proclamation. Requires that members of the public be able to discuss, provide testimony, and vote. HB 2455 (Hoffman, D-Belleville) The bill allows PSRP’s to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits during the summer break. The provision expires on December 31, 2020.
Vote by Mail Expansion – SB 1863
Changes are for the November 2020 election only
State holiday – Election Day, November 3, 2020, will be a state holiday for government offices, K12 schools, and university civil servants
Legislation requires a school to serve as a polling place if the election authority requests use of the site
Vote by mail - Applications
By August 1, election authorities will mail or email a vote-by-mail ballot application to any voter who cast a ballot in the 2018, 2019 or 2020 primary election
Applications will also be sent to any voter who registered or changed their address after the March primary
By September 15, the Secretary of State will send reminder notices to voters who received an application but haven’t returned it
Those registering for the first time can request a mail ballot at the time they register
A vote by mail application will also be available on the State Board of Elections website
Vote by mail ballots can be returned either through the mail or election officials may set up secure collection sites
Voting in person
Voters will still be able to vote in person
Election authorities may also provide a curbside option so voters can drive up and complete a ballot while remaining in their car
Voters will still be able to vote in person via early voting
For the 15 days prior to Election Day, permanent early voting locations will be open from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm on weekdays and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekends and holidays
The legislation expands the pool of people who can serve as election judges - 16-year-olds would now be able to serve as election judges
People who are unemployed who serve as election judges would not have their unemployment benefits negatively impacted
The state received $16.7 million in federal funding through the CARES Act that will help pay for these changes