The 95th General Assembly has been noted for internecine warfare between Governor: Rod Blagojevich, Senate President: Emil Jones and Speaker Michael Madigan, all Democrats. In spite of this hostile legislative environment there were some legislative initiatives that were approved. These include:
Creating Future Higher Ed Policy
House Joint Resolution 69, sponsored by Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Edward Maloney, will develop a long-term, comprehensive master plan for higher education in Illinois. The resolution directs the Board to undertake the master plan through creation of the Task Force on Higher Education and the Economy, chaired by IBHE Chairwoman Carrie Hightman. The master plan will help ensure that the state’s higher education system is preparing an ever-more diverse student population for the increasingly competitive job market. The plan will also highlight successful policies that the state could adopt or expand on and promote effective use of state funds. The joint resolution has been adopted by both houses.
Fostering a Coordinated Education
System from Preschool to Graduate School
House Bill 1648 creates a P-20 (Preschool through Grade 20) Council, which will be responsible for establishing a statewide agenda that better integrates all levels of learning in Illinois. The bill was sponsored by Representative Jerry Mitchell and Senator Deanna Demuzio. The Council will recommend best practices, focusing on opportunities for P-12 educators and postsecondary educators to work more closely together and better prepare students for success. The bill has been sent to the Governor. In addition, House Resolution 491, sponsored by Representative Sandra Pihos, provides that the Council’s duties shall include proposing recommendations concerning accountability in education. The resolution has passed the House.
Increasing College Readiness
Research shows that lack of academic preparation – not affordability – is the single biggest barrier to college enrollment. Many students graduate high school without the skills needed to do college-level work. Senate Bill 858, the College and Career Readiness Pilot Program sponsored by Senator Maloney and Representative David Miller, creates teams of advisers from high schools and community colleges who will assess ACT scores and help students select classes that meet college admissions requirements or the demands of the modern workplace. Teams will also work to better match high school curriculums with the expectations for college-level work. This pilot program will better prepare students for the rigors of college and the workplace. Senate Bill 858 has passed both houses.
Developing Strong School Leaders
Quality teachers significantly improve students’ chances of success, and research shows that well-prepared principals and superintendents help teachers excel. To ensure our schools are being led by highly-qualified leaders, House Joint Resolution 66, sponsored by Representative Mike Smith and Senator Demuzio creates a task force to recommend improvements in training and supporting these leaders. The task force will develop strategies for implementing various recommendations of the Commission on School Leadership as outlined in its report to the Board last August, “School Leader Preparation: Blueprint for Change.” The state has also expanded mentoring programs for superintendents, which helps keep the most innovative educators working in our public schools. The joint resolution has been adopted in each
Reining in Textbook Costs
Many students struggle to pay for increasingly expensive college textbooks. Senate Resolution 298, sponsored by Senator Mattie Hunter, resolves that each public university and community college must undertake measures to reduce textbook costs. Institutions must document measures taken to curb textbook expenses and report progress to the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board, which in turn will brief the General Assembly. A package of bills, based on an IBHE study of textbook costs, that would have created textbook advisory committees at community colleges and public universities, provided a tax break for purchase of required course materials, and disclosed information to help students be more savvy consumers, passed the Senate but was not acted on in the House. SR 298 resolution has been adopted by the Senate.
— Leo Welch