Archives for category: Illinois

A well-educated citizenry is essential to democracy. The Education Law Center reports good news for the schools and students of Illinois:

On September 30, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in Cahokia Unit School District No. 187 v. Pritzker, a case challenging inadequate and inequitable school funding that could potentially alter the landscape of school funding jurisprudence in the state.

The plaintiffs in the Cahokia lawsuit are twenty-two, low-wealth school districts across the state. They filed their lawsuit in 2018, charging that the State of Illinois has persistently underfunded their schools, depriving their students of their right to a high quality education under the Education Clause of the Illinois constitution.

The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas Geoghegan of the law firm Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd. in Chicago.

In 1996, in Committee for Educational Rights v. Edgar, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Education Clause was a non-justiciable political question because the “quality of education” was not “capable of or properly subject to measurement by the courts.” The Court held that defining the quality of education was a matter for the State Legislature.

In the ensuing years, the Legislature took up that mantle, adopting the Illinois Learning Standards, which detail the specific educational experience to which all students in Illinois are entitled. The State also adopted tests to measure students’ progress on the Learning Standards.

In 2017, in response to intense political pressure, the Legislature enacted the Funding Act of 2017, designed to provide the resources essential for all students to achieve the State’s Learning Standards. In 2018, the State Board of Education determined, pursuant to the Funding Act’s criteria, that an additional $7.2 billion was required to provide adequate and equitable resources for all students. The Funding Act established a deadline of 2027 for full funding of the adequacy amount.

However, even in the first year of the Act’s decade-long phase-in to full funding, the state failed to provide the requisite installment of state school aid. This failure lies as the heart of the Cahokia lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs contend that the State is already so far behind on funding the new formula that full funding will not be achieved even by 2047.

The Cahokia plaintiffs presented data establishing a correlation between inadequate State and local per-pupil funding and failure rates on state assessments. The plaintiffs also demonstrated a wide disparity in passing rates on state assessments between students in low-wealth districts, which are inadequately funded, and in affluent districts.

In July 2018, the State defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that the case was beyond the reach of the courts, or “not justiciable,” based on the Supreme Court’s 1996 Edgar ruling. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. In April 2020, in a split decision, the Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed the dismissal, noting that the Legislature’s enactment of the Illinois Learning Standards did call into question the holding in Edgar. However, the appeals court also ruled that overturning this precedent is the exclusive province of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Appellate Court Justice Milton S. Wharton filed a vigorous dissent, asserting that the court has a duty to address the issues in the case “instead of ignoring or postponing this critical issue of utmost urgency and importance to our citizens and our State with an overly broad application of Edgar ‘s holding.” Justice Wharton concluded that since Edgar, the Legislature has “determined the education students must receive” and, as a result, “courts no longer need to make that determination in order to resolve claims that students in under-resourced districts are not receiving the high quality education mandated by our State constitution.”

The Cahokia plaintiffs filed a petition for leave to appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court in July. The Supreme Court’s decision to accept the case provides the opportunity to revisit its decision in Edgar in light of the Legislature’s actions since 1996 that have defined the substantive contours of a quality education for Illinois public school students.

In 2017, in a case very similar to Cahokia, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reconsidered its previous ruling that constitutional education adequacy claims were non justiciable. In William Penn School District, et al., v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, et al., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs (a coalition of school districts, parents, children and advocacy groups) were entitled to proceed to trial on their school funding claims. The Court declined to follow its earlier decision, now holding that it was possible to devise a judicially enforceable standard of educational adequacy. The Court further held that failure to adjudicate school funding claims would make a “hollow mockery of judicial review.”

A similar decision by the Illinois Supreme Court would allow the plaintiffs to proceed to trial to prove their case and would finally provide, as Justice Wharton declared, “an avenue [for] under-resourced school districts like the plaintiffs to insist on funding that is adequate to serve their students” in the manner to which they are entitled under the Illinois constitution.

Education Law Center is providing assistance to the Cahokia plaintiffs’ attorneys and working with the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on an amicus brief before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

Fred Klonsky writes here about Illinois’ inequitable flat tax. Black and brown communities have paid $4 billion more than they would have if the state had a progressive income tax.

Governor J.B. Pritzker is acting like a responsible, intelligent leader. Imagine that! He actually wants to protect the lives and health of the children and adults in school. He won’t permit them to decide whether they can be free to infect others with a deadly disease. He understands that public health takes precedence over private whim.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker took the unusual step Thursday of preemptively filing a lawsuit to ensure school children wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when schools reopen in a few weeks.

The action filed late Thursday in Sangamon County Circuit Court by the state attorney general seeks a judge’s approval of Pritzker’s order that schoolchildren, teachers and staff wear coverings over mouths and noses among other measures to reduce the chance that the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus can spread.
‘As a father, I would not send my children to a school where face coverings are not required because the science is clear: face coverings are critical to prevent the spread of coronavirus,’ Pritzker said in a prepared statement.

It’s typical for the governor to be in court as a defendant seeking validation of a policy or action. In this instance, no lawsuit has been filed, but a public school district and two private academies have informed the Illinois State Board of Education that Pritzker no longer has authority under emergency rule-making to require face masks in schools and that they will be developing their own safety rules.

It was time to get ahead of the issue, Ann Spillane, Pritzker’s chief legal counsel, told The Associated Press.

‘Students need to prepare, parents need to know what’s coming, administrators need guidelines. Confusion on these things leads to risk,’ Spillane said. ‘œWe’re sending a signal that this issue is not up for debate. The governor doesn’t have an option.’

A lawyer representing Hutsonville Community Unit School District No. 1 in southeastern Illinois, Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville and Families of Faith Christian Academy in Channahon wrote letters in the last month to the state board explaining that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in a 1922 case that government cannot make rules ‘œwhich merely have a tendency to prevent’ the spread of infectious diseases, particularly if ‘œarbitrary and unreasonable.’
Thomas DeVore of Greenville also noted that Pritzker has said there’s not enforcement for violators of the guidelines, which DeVore contends turns ‘œrules’ into ‘œrecommendations.’ He did not return a message left at his office after hours Thursday.

With the surging spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, Pritzker on March 13 ordered public schools closed – eventually for the rest of the term. Despite a leveling off of cases in Illinois, there are concerns here and, especially in other parts of the nation where case numbers are rising again, about reopening the classic community center, the school, in an age where people are urged to wear face masks, stay 6 feet apart, and step up the hygiene protocol dramatically.

Pritzker in June released of a set of guidelines for safe congregation in schools from kindergarten through college, but among others, the state’s two major teachers’ unions have continued worries about keeping congested classrooms, hallways and playgrounds safe.

With public health officials announcing 25 additional deaths Thursday among 1,257 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, the state has now lost 7,251 lives to virus-related complications. Nearly 160,000 have been infected; tens of thousands of those have recovered.

Dissidents who bristle at government telling them what to wear and how to act in public gained traction last spring when Republican Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia, represented by DeVore, won an opaque victory in Clay County against Pritzker, arguing that his ability under state law to impose emergency rules ended after 30 days – on April 8.

Despite the fact that it only applies to Bailey, and the ruling precludes further challenge, supporters have taken up the charge. DeVore has notified the government on behalf of individuals, retail establishments, and now schools, that they don’t plan to comply.

The expose published by ProPublic and the Chicago Tribune about the isolation of students with disabilities in locked “quiet rooms” got immediate response from the Governor and the State Board of Education in Illinois.

This is known as seclusion.

The governor said he will introduce legislation to end and prohibit the barbaric practice. 

The Illinois State Board of Education announced Wednesday that it will take emergency action to end the seclusion of children alone behind locked doors at schools, saying the practice has been “misused and overused to a shocking extent.”

Responding to a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation published a day earlier, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the isolation of children in the state “appalling” and said he directed the education agency to make emergency rules for schools. He will then work with legislators to make the rules into law, he said.

The rules would not totally ban the use of timeout rooms but would end isolation. The state board said children would be put in timeout only if a “trained adult” is in the room and the door is unlocked. Timeouts also must be used only for therapeutic reasons or to protect the safety of students and staff, the board said.

The board also said it will begin collecting data on all instances of timeout and physical restraint in Illinois schools and will investigate “known cases of isolated seclusion to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action.” State officials had not previously monitored these practices.

H/T to Laura Chapman for alerting me to this important news.

ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune collaborated to produce this shocking investigation of the mistreatment and abuse of students with special needs in Illinois.

This is a story of shameful cruelty to children. Read it and weep.

THE SPACES have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.

But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.

The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.

In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”

For this investigation, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained and analyzed thousands of detailed records that state law requires schools to create whenever they use seclusion. The resulting database documents more than 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year and through early December 2018.

Of those, about 12,000 included enough detail to determine what prompted the timeout. In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion…

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1.

The story contains stories of children locked in small rooms, where they urinate on themselves, bang on the walls and doors and scratch them. Some of the children have serious mental or emotional disorders. Some are disobedient. None deserves to be treated with such inhumanity. Experts say that punitive “seclusion” is not only cruel but ineffective.

After reading this report, I asked ProPublica where seclusion has been banned.

This was the answer:

These four states ban any type of seclusion (Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Pennsylvania) and that these are the remaining 15 you’re looking for: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming (with varying levels of exceptions).

Thanks to ProPublica for shedding light on this horrible practice.

 

Mike Klonsky, veteran activist in Chicago, reports that Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill abolishing the state Charter School Commission.

As Mike says, “We count our victories one by one,” and this is a big one. It spells the end to the reckless charter expansion encouraged by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, concentrated in Chicago. Rauner and Rahm believed in the magic of privatization.

No doubt about it, the glow is off the charter school hoax. The bloom is off the rose, or as we said in years past in New York City, the bloom is off the berg.

Since 2011, when the Commission was established and signed into law by former Gov. Pat Quinn (yes a Democrat), I’ve worked with several struggling school districts around the state when they’ve had to go before the Commission to plead their case. Together we built a research base which was used to debunk the false claims of the charter operators in an effort to stop invasions by powerful, charter school networks. In some cases we were successful and others we weren’t.

I found the decisions by commission members to be be completely arbitrary and biased. Keep in mind that the commission was originally the dream of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and that the money for the commission’s original staffing and other expenses came from the pro-charter Walton Foundation. The Commission has been riddled with conflicts of interest from the start.

Commission members have been generally charter-friendly political appointees chosen by the governor and approved by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). In the eight years prior to Pritzker’s election, commission members were handpicked by Rauner, a right-wing governor hellbent on starving and ultimately taking over local school systems, including CPS, using charters and school vouchers as weapons.

But Rauner wasn’t the only problem. You might remember when the Commission, acting under pressure from House Speaker Mike Madigan, reversed CPS’s rejection of Concept (Gulen) charter schools’ application at a time when the FBI was investigating Concept’s operations. Records show that the Commission’s Springfield lobbyist, Liz Brown-Reeves, a former Madigan aide, accompanied him on his Gulen sponsored trip to Turkey in 2012….

Currently, there are 140 charter schools in Illinois, 126 of which operate within Chicago Public Schools diverting money, students and teachers away from regular CPS schools. So far there is no evidence that these charters outperform the CPS schools they are trying to replace. In the CPS budget for next year, the district expects to receive $4 million less funding than expected from the state this past school year because “diversions to schools approved by the Illinois State Charter School Commission (SCSC) were higher than expected.”

The power to overrule the decisions of local districts now goes to the state board, which is appointed by the governor.

 

The Chicago Teachers Union reports on some gains. Most notable is that individual school districts will be able to limit charter school expansion into their districts, a battle now being fought in California. The issue is whether the wishes of charter entrepreneurs should outweigh democratic local control of schools. Illinois says no.

 

While some gains have been made, equity agenda in Springfield requires real leadership from Lightfoot

The CTU is calling on Chicago’s new mayor to ‘Keep the Promise’ for education equity by supporting the restoration of our bargaining rights—and an elected, representative school board.

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union made some powerful gains in this spring’s Springfield legislative session. The union won passage of legislation to reign in and reform the charter industry—including the right of individual school districts to control charter expansion in their districts. Until both houses passed the legislation, the Illinois State Charter School Commission had unilateral power to ignore school districts’ attempts to close down bad operators in their regions. Now, that power is ended.

Legislators also increased the number of days that retired teachers and support staff can serve as substitute teachers by 20 percent without sacrificing their pension benefits. The bill is designed to help alleviate an acute shortage of substitute teachers, and put retired veteran educators back in the classroom. Before the legislation was passed, retirees could be forced to forfeit their entire pension if they substituted for more than 100 days per year, roughly twenty weeks out of a full school year.

And the legislature has sent a bill to the governor’s office that would suspend a teacher test that was widely decried as of dubious value—and a dangerous driver of the state’s acute teacher shortage.

Two other CTU initiatives—a bill to restore the CTU’s right to bargain over critical issues like class size and staff shortages, and a bill to create an elected, representative school board—both stalled in the senate, where Senate President John Cullerton sandbagged that legislation at the request of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot. The earliest the effort could be taken up again by the state legislature is this October.

“The mayor ran on her support of an elected representative school board and on an agenda of real equity for neighborhood public schools,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “Cullerton has, unfortunately, a long track record of carrying the water for the previous mayor on some terrible legislative initiatives. The new mayor should reverse that practice, respect the platform on which voters elected her, and move to get both of these initiatives passed.”

Chicagoans are the only residents in the state denied the right to elect their school board. The bill would have created distinct, walkable districts that ensure that every neighborhood in the city is represented on the school board. The 21-member board is about 40% the size of the City Council, and on par with the number of state representatives who are elected by Chicagoans to serve in Springfield.

For more than a quarter of a century, Chicago’s public school educators have also been denied the right—unlike educators across the state—to bargain over so-called ‘non-economic’ issues like class size and outsourcing. Those restrictions have allowed Chicago’s mayor to push massive privatization of school services—from health services for special needs students to janitorial services. That privatiziation agenda has driven deep deficiencies in health services for special education services and chronic cleanliness and maintenance issues in the public schools, at the same time that class sizes have exploded and the district confronts sweeping shortages of critical frontline staff like school nurses and social workers.

“We’ll continue to work to introduce and fight for passage of this legislation until we get it done,” said Sharkey. “Mayoral control of the board of education has been a dismal failure. It’s time for the mayor to fulfill her promises to Chicagoans, get behind these initiatives and start the hard work of building a school district built on real equity for our students. We elect our mayor, our aldermen, our state legislators—and Chicagoans should have the same right when it comes to our public schools that every other part of the state has the right to exercise.”

J.B. Pritzker, Democrat billionaire, beat Governor Bruce Rauner, Republican billionaire.

Rauner, who served for four years, is a hard-right Republican.

Will Pritzker find a new path and act like a liberal Democrat or will he be Rauner-lite?

Here are Fred Klonsky’s wishes for J.B. Pritzker and the Democratic controlled Legislature of Illinois:

I am providing a list of new year’s resolutions for the new governor and the old legislative leaders.

An elected representative school board for Chicago.

The voters of Chicago have made their views clear that we want one. Every other school district in the state has the right to elect their school leaders. No hybrids. No ifs. No buts.

Pass a plan for a graduated income tax, leading to a constitutional amendment, and put it on the ballot.

The state’s revenue supply is not enough to pay the state’s bills with a system in which the richest and the poorest working people in the state pay the same income tax rate.

Repeal the 3% cap on pensionable teacher salaries.

Contract bargaining should return to a collective bargaining process between local school boards and teacher representatives.

Get rid of the Charter Commission.

The Charter Commission’s sole job is to overturn the decisions of local communities whether to have a charter school or not. Legislative attempts to restrict its power have failed. Now is the time to just get rid of it.

Repeal the private school tax credit.

As part of the budget deal with Governor Rauner, the Democrats agreed to a dollar for dollar tax credit for private and parochial schools. This was a deal hatched by Mayor Rahm, Rauner and Cardinal Cupich. In 2019 it should be unhatched.

Open the link and read them all!

I wish Governor Cuomo would read Fred Klonsky and follow his sound advice for New York!

Chalkbeat reports that two veterans of the disgraced Families for Excellent schools are heading for Chicago.

Since there is so much money available to launch new charters, someone has to do it.

Families for Excellent Schools was a front for tycoons and billionaires who despise public schools and advocate for privately managed charter schools. When Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to rein in zeta Moskowitz’s power grab (she wanted to open 14 new charters, he approved only eight), FES unleashed a $6 million TV blitz attacking de Blasio for trying to ruin the lives of black and brown children, who would be thrown out of schools that did not yet exist. Cuomo was showered with money by FES supporters, and he announced himself to be the charter industry’s champion, even appearing at their lavish rally. Cuomo persuaded the legislature to give NYC charters whatever they wanted, including free public space.

In 2016, FES became the lead financier of the pro-charter coalition in the Massachusetts refendum on whether to expand the number of charters. FES raised at least $15 million and tried to hide the names of its donors. Despite heavy spending, Question 2 was overwhelmingly defeated. After the election, the state’s political ethics office demanded that FES release the names of donors, which it did. The donors were super-rich and included both Democrats and Republicans. The state fined FES $426,000 (all the money on hand) and banned it from Massachusetts for the next four years. Soon after, the FES executive director was accused of sexual misconduct at a Reformer retreat (Camp Philos) in DC. He was fired, and FES closed its doors.

Professor Maurice Cipunningham of the University of Massschusetts chronicled the role of FES and Dark Money in the 2016 election. Google his 2016 and 2017 articles about FES.

Now, of course, not everyone went down with the ship. There’s lots of millions out there for ambitious young people who want to undermine and privatize public schools.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues his crusade to push public schools out of Chicago.

In a wave of closings and consolidation, the mayor found room for a new charter school run by a megachurch and a hip hop artist. The mother of the hip hop artist serves on the zchicago Board of Education.

“Chicago Public Schools on Friday moved ahead with school closing and merger proposals that would affect thousands of kids next school year.

“Under a previously announced plan, four South Side schools would close over the summer and the district would send hundreds of displaced students to surrounding schools. One building would be demolished to make way for a new high school, and privately operated charter schools would take over two other sites, under the district’s plan.

“Students at two predominantly African-American elementary schools near downtown would merge with more diverse campuses. One of those buildings, in the growing South Loop area, would gradually convert into a new high school.

“In addition, Hirsch, one of the city’s lowest-enrolled high schools, would share space for a privately run charter school program that’s backed by a local megachurch and a foundation headed by hip-hop artist Common…

“Hirsch, one of the city’s most underenrolled neighborhood high schools, would open its campus to the Art In Motion charter school next fall. CPS said the charter program, which is backed in part by the New Life Covenant Church and Common Ground Foundation, would first open to seventh- and eighth-graders before expanding to include a high school program.

“Mahalia Hines, a member of the Chicago Board of Education and mother of the hip-hop performer Common, also serves on the board of her son’s foundation.”

Does Illinois have conflict of interest laws?