The Woke PTA’s Guide to Advocacy

Source: One Voice Illinois

wokeptaThe last few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of civic engagement. Huge demonstrations have drawn out people who have never marched. Congressional switchboards have received more calls than ever before. Your PTA may have many members who are now looking for ways to advocate on behalf of children through PTA. Here’s a guide to help your newly #WokePTA started with advocacy.

IRS Limits

All PTAs are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, which limits how they can advocate. The primary requirement is that your PTA addresses issues, not people. That means that your PTA cannot endorse candidates, but can (if your membership votes to do so) support a school referendum, advocate for policy changes in your school district, or speak out about pending legislation.

In IRS terms, this is the difference between “political campaign activity” (working for or against a candidate) and “lobbying” (working for or against legislation). The former is prohibited; the latter is allowed. Participating in “political campaign activity” can result in a PTA losing its 501(c)3 status and having to pay certain excise taxes as well.

The other constraint that the IRS places on 501(c)3 organizations is the amount of money they may spend on lobbying. The IRS limits lobbying activity to an “insignificant” portion of an organization’s budget, and defines insignificant as 5 percent. This means that your PTA can spend up to 5% of its budget on things like information handouts and yard signs about a school referendum. Given that most grassroots advocacy involves fairly low-cost activities, this limit should not hinder your PTA’s advocacy efforts to a significant degree.

Engaging in State and National Issues

One of the benefits of being a PTA is having people following issues and legislation on the state and national level. Both Illinois PTA and National PTA have easy-to-use advocacy tools to alert members about pending legislation that they should contact their legislators about.

You can sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network by providing just your e-mail address and zip code (to identify your state legislators). When Illinois PTA issues a call to action, you will receive an e-mail with a link to our Voter Voice tools that will have a pre-written e-mail that you just need to sign to send to your legislators. It literally takes a minute or two. The Voter Voice tools provide additional resources to help you find out about pending legislation and contacting legislators as well.

National PTA also uses Voter Voice for their advocacy efforts, and you can sign up using the Quick Sign Up box. National PTA also publishes a monthly PTA Takes Action newsletter that provides timely information on national issues.

You should also note that meeting with your legislators, either state or national, doesn’t necessarily involve a trip to Springfield or Washington, DC. Your legislators may have a local office in your community or nearby that you can visit as well. You can use the Voter Voice tools to look up your legislators and locate their district offices. Even if you cannot meet with your legislator, meeting with their staff can be productive as well. Last fall, Illinois PTA presented a webinar on how to meet with legislators as part of its preparation for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield. The recorded webinar will walk you through how to set up an appointment and what to do when you have your meeting.

Addressing Local Issues

Advocating with PTA is not just about state and national legislation. PTA advocacy can make a significant difference in local issues as well. As Illinois’s budget crisis approaches 2 years, many school districts are conducting bond referenda to provide needed revenue for their schools. Your PTA can support or oppose a referendum if your membership votes to do so. Illinois PTA has covered the things that PTAs can and can’t do regarding elections, and National PTA recently teamed with Nonprofit VOTE to provide election guides in both English and Spanish.

If your school district has school board elections coming up this spring, your PTA can host a candidate forum. All candidates must be invited to participate in the forum, though some may choose not to do so. Each candidate should be given equal time to speak. Your PTA can have specific questions that it puts to all of the candidates, and you can also take questions from the audience. In the latter case, you may want to have audience members submit questions on index cards so similar questions can be reduced to one comprehensive question.

Local PTA advocacy is not limited to just referenda and school board candidate forums. Your PTA may be concerned about supporting special education students, gifted students, LGBTQ students, immigrant students and families, homeless students, or other groups. There may be school district policies that your PTA does not believe provide the best education or environment for the students of the district. If your PTA wants to address a local issue, but doesn’t know where to start, Illinois PTA’s video on How to Advocate the PTA Way walks you through how to pick an issue, create an advocacy campaign, and bring it to life.

Additional Resources

PTA has been advocating on behalf of children for 120 years, on issues such as child labor, school nutrition, and juvenile justice. PTA can make its biggest difference in the lives of children when it changes policies and laws that affect them throughout a school district or across a state or the nation. The benefit of this long history of PTA advocacy is that there are a lot of resources to help your PTA be successful advocates.

National PTA Provides New Resources for PTA Advocates

Source: One Voice Illinois

pta-advocacy-chagnes-lives-coverPTA is the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy organization, with a legacy of work that has improved the lives of every child in this country. On Friday, January 27, National PTA announced its 2017 Federal Public Policy Agenda with a Facebook Live event (view recording).

As part of this announcement, National PTA released PTA Advocacy Changes Lives, National PTA’s guide to impacting public policy. The guide highlights PTA’s advocacy work and provides information on topics such as family engagement, juvenile justice, supporting children with special needs, health, and safety. Each section also includes a Why PTA Advocacy Matters section that shares a personal story of how PTA advocacy has changed the lives of children at the local level. If your PTA is looking for a way to make a difference in your school or your district, the PTA Advocacy Changes Lives guide is a great place to start.

Also included in the announcement was the release of National PTA’s legislative checklist for the 115th Congress. The checklist includes the following goals:

  • Adequately fund education programs through a regular appropriations process
  • Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)
  • Reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act
  • Reauthorize and modernize the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  • Improve the well-being and learning environment of children
  • Expand and enhance early childhood education opportunities
  • Protect youth, families, and communities from gun and other violence

The checklist provides additional details on each of these goals.

4 New Year’s Resolutions for PTA Leaders

Source: One Voice Illinois

resolutions-list-600x400The start of a new calendar year is about the midpoint of the PTA year. Your PTA may have been less active during the holiday season when so many other events are going on at school and in life. Now that the new year is beginning, it is a good time to reflect on what your PTA has accomplished so far, think about what you still want to do, and consider how you can improve things as your PTA starts back up. Here are four New Year’s resolutions for PTA leaders to contemplate as their term heads into the home stretch.

  1. Be an advocate. PTA was founded to speak up for those who have no political voice—our children. As the new year starts, resolve to encourage your PTA members to be advocates for children and to be an advocate yourself. A great way to start is to encourage your Illinois representative to support SB550 during the lame duck session on January 9th and 10th. This bill would require testing every unique drinking water source in all Illinois schools for lead and notifying families if levels exceed the federal action level. This bill picked up numerous sponsors after Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in November, and a big push now can pass this bill in the House and send it to the governor. Just go to our pre-written e-mail, add your signature and contact information, and enter your address (to identify your representative) to add your voice to the hundreds of others calling for safe drinking water for our children. Don’t forget to share the link with your members as well.
  1. Share more often. Your PTA has already done some great things for your school’s children, families, teachers, and administrators. Share your successes with your entire school and encourage them to join the PTA to help support what you plan to achieve this spring. People often avoid joining the PTA because they are afraid you’ll ask them to volunteer. Let them know that joining the PTA is to support your efforts and that volunteering is appreciated but not required.
  1. Be more thankful. Volunteers are the life blood of a PTA. Take the time to support your volunteers so that they feel their time and contributions are valued. Find fun ways to publicly show your thankfulness for their hard work.
  1. Prepare for change. Your PTA will be electing new officers this spring. Review your bylaws regarding when and how you should form your nominating committee. Make sure your officers and committee chairs are keeping procedure books to help make finding their replacements easier. Think about what you have learned that you wish you had known when you started your term, and prepare to share that information along with your PTA resources with your successor. Plan to make the transition to new leadership as smooth and seamless as possible.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Lead in School Drinking Water—What Families Need to Know

Source: One Voice Illinois

sb550-fountainNote: Illinois PTA has an advocacy campaign running now through January 10, 2017 to urge the Illinois House to join the Illinois Senate in passing SB550, a bill that would require testing every unique drinking water source in all Illinois schools and report high lead levels to families.

If you were looking to make a pipe, lead looks to be just about the perfect metal to use. It’s fairly soft as metals go, so it’s easy to work with. It doesn’t react strongly with water like iron or steel, so water running in the pipe or in the ground around the pipe won’t make the pipe corrode to a significant. It’s relatively abundant and has been mined for millennia. It seems like the perfect metal for the job; so much so that the word plumbing comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. There’s just one problem with lead—exposure to it causes numerous health problems for adults and especially children.

How Lead Gets in Drinking Water

While lead doesn’t react strongly to water like iron or steel, it still corrodes (like iron rusts) when exposed to water, especially if the water has high acidity or low mineral content. Lead poisoning in ancient Rome was not due to its lead pipes, as the high calcium levels in the water formed a protective layer inside the pipes between the lead pipe and the water. It was the use of lead cookware and as an additive in food (e.g., as a preservative in wine) that resulted in lead poisoning.

In the United States, lead pipes were used not only in indoor plumbing but also in the line that ran from the water main to the house. When copper pipes were used, they were often connected with brass fittings (which contain small amounts of lead to make them easier to make) or with lead solder. The longer that water is exposed to these lead-containing items, the higher the lead level in the water. This is why testing for lead in water uses the “first draw” (i.e., water that has sat in the pipe for a while) for the sample.

Homes and buildings built after 1986 are less likely to have lead pipes, brass fixtures and fittings, or lead solder. That is due to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using the Safe Drinking Water Act to reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, fittings, fixtures, and solder in order to be considered safe to use for drinking water.

Lead Exposure Standards

The EPA is required under the Safe Drinking Water Act to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no health effects are likely to occur. These are non-enforceable health goals based only on possible health risks and are known as Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs). For lead in drinking water, the MCLG is zero because any exposure to lead can lead to health issues and because lead bioaccumulates (i.e., builds up over time) in the body.

Since drinking water suppliers likely cannot completely eliminate lead, EPA has set an “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb). One part per billion is like one grain of sand in a sandbox, one drop of ink in a 14,000 gallon backyard swimming pool, or one second in 32 years. The 15 ppb action level was set based on costs and benefits of removing lead from drinking water, not on safety like the MCLG above.

When measuring lead exposure in people, a blood sample is tested. For adults, the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking action is 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). For children, the level is only 5 μg/dL due to the increased health effects of lead on their development and their smaller body size.

It is important to note that drinking water is not the only way that children are exposed to lead. Lead in paint, dust, sole, air, and food may also be sources of lead exposure for children. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up to 20% or more of a person’s exposure to lead. For infants who consume mostly powdered formula mixed with water, 40% to 60% of their exposure can come from drinking water.

Health Effects of Lead on Children

Even low levels of lead exposure in children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Permanent intellectual disability
  • Reduced ability to pay attention
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Anemia

In addition, lead builds up in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother’s bones along with maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is especially true if the mother does not have enough calcium in her diet. Lead in the mother’s bloodstream can also cross the placental barrier, exposing the fetus to lead. This in utero lead exposure can result in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

School Drinking Water and Lead

As noted above, lead levels in drinking water increase over time as the water sits without moving. For schools, this effect can be particularly important because of how drinking water is used in schools. Afternoon and evening activities at a school are often limited to only part of the school building, meaning that water fountains and sinks in other parts of the building do not run water from the end of the school day until the beginning of the next day. Water is also likely to sit in pipes over weekends and school holidays and breaks.

What You Can Do

The first thing to do is join Illinois PTA’s campaign to pass SB550 in the Illinois House. This bill, which has already passed the Illinois Senate, would require every school in Illinois—public, private, and parochial—to test for lead in the water of every unique drinking water source and to report high lead levels to families. The campaign has a prewritten e-mail to send to your Illinois representative urging them to support SB550 during the lame duck session on January 9-10, 2017. All you need to do is provide your name, contact information, and address (so Voter Voice can look up who your representative is for you). It only takes a minute of your time to speak up for safe school drinking water.

In addition, the EPA has an information page on lead in drinking water, as does the CDC. EPA also provides a Safe Drinking Water Hotline that you can call or e-mail to get your questions answered. The CDC has a general lead exposure information page and information on how to prevent children’s exposure to lead.

The Illinois ESSA Plan Draft #2 Highlights

Source: One Voice Illinois

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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law almost one year ago. During this past year, Illinois and every other state has been working hard to develop a plan to implement ESSA in their state, with the final plan due to the US Department of Education on April 3, 2017. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has released the second draft of the state plan, with comments due to ISBE by December 27, 2016. Illinois PTA has been representing the voice of families and children on several of the state committees making recommendations during the creation of the plan. Here are the highlights of what is currently in the state plan.

Accountability

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), school accountability was determined by the results of a single test. In Illinois, that was the ISAT for grades 3 through 8 and the PSAE/ACT for high school juniors. Schools needed to have a specific percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards as well as the same percentage of students in subgroups such as African-American students, Hispanic students, and special education students also meeting or exceeding state standards. Schools that did not meet those percentages (known as making Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP) were labeled as failing and subject to penalties. As a result, many states lowered their state standards and simplified their state tests to get as many students meeting or exceeding those lower standards.

With the development of the Common Core State Standards, implemented in Illinois as the New Illinois Learning Standards, a set of high-quality, high-expectation standards replace the older, lower standards. With those new standards came a new assessment aligned to those standards, the PARCC assessment. The PARCC test required students to demonstrate proficiency in what they had learned, not just memorized facts. But school accountability was still based on NCLB and its AYP standard. Under ESSA, that has changed significantly.

ESSA requires states to develop their own school accountability measure. The measure must include:

  • Student assessment
  • A second academic indicator (e.g., student growth, high school graduation rate, etc.)
  • English language proficiency
  • At least one other indicator of school quality or student success (e.g., Advanced Placement classes, family engagement, discipline reports, attendance, etc.)

States will determine what indicators they will use and how to weight each one in their accountability measure, but academic indicators must be given “significantly more” weight than school quality/student success indicators. It is unclear what the US Department of Education considers significantly more weight at this time, but Illinois’s draft plan #2 considers three different weights (70/30, 60/40, and 51/49). Depending on the weighting chosen, the annual assessment (now PARCC for grades 3-8 and the SAT for high school) will have a different level of importance in determining school accountability.

Illinois is currently considering student growth for its second academic indicator for at least grades 3 through 8 and possibly for high school as well. Draft plan #2 had four different growth models that are being looked at for the lower grades. A second high school assessment such as the PSAT may be needed to adequately growth at the high school level, though that approach comes with additional costs to the state. It may be possible to use a student’s 8th grade PARCC results as part of a high school growth indicator, but since that assessment is not used across the country or in private schools, it would be difficult to measure student growth for students who enter the Illinois public schools during their high school years.

Other accountability issues addressed in the draft plan include:

  • Reducing the size of identified subgroups to 20 (i.e., a school will only need 20 Pacific Islanders, for example, for those students’ data to be reported as a subgroup).
  • Creating a “Former English Language Learner (ELL)” subgroup to continue to track their progress after they are considered proficient in English.
  • Developing reporting for new groups, including homeless students, students in foster care, and students with a parent serving in the military.

ISBE is also reviewing all of the required data that schools and districts must provide to ensure that additional reporting requirements are not overly burdensome.

English Language Learners

Illinois has a state policy of educating students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) in their native language for core content or, where the native language is not as common, at least providing support in their native language, while also teaching English as a second language. As part of supporting ELLs, Illinois has been participating in the development of English language proficiency standards and assessments that incorporate the current college- and career-ready goals. ISBE will be meeting with stakeholders to determine what will constitute English language proficiency, with recommendations submitted by June 30, 2017.

ESSA also requires states to identify languages other than English that are present to a significant extent among the student population. For Illinois, 10 languages meet that standard, with Spanish being the most common. Illinois currently provides PARCC instructions in those 10 languages, but only the PARCC math assessment has been trans-adapted into Spanish. ISBE is considering public comments that suggested providing assessments in languages other than English when 30% or more of the ELL students speak the same language.

Title I Funding

In order to receive Title I funding, each school district in Illinois must submit a plan that was developed in consultation with stakeholders (e.g., families). Many of the required elements in this plan are similar to those under NCLB, but new requirements include:

  • How the district will identify and address disparities in teacher distribution.
  • How the district will ensure that every child is taught by a highly effective teacher.
  • How the district will support efforts to reduce the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom, including high rates for specific subgroups of students.

ISBE is also adding two more requirements to the plan based on public comment that are not required under ESSA:

  • How the district will identify and address disparities in library resources.
  • How the district will support efforts to encourage and support the arts.

Providing Public Comment

Illinois PTA already serves on several of the committees helping ISBE to develop the state ESSA implementation plan. If you are interested in providing comments directly to ISBE regarding draft plan #2, submit them to essa@isbe.net no later than December 27, 2016. Be sure to include your name or your organization’s name, as well as the section number and the page number that your comment is addressing.

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield a Big Success

Source: One Voice Illinois

It was a beautiful fall day in Springfield on Tuesday as Illinois PTA members gathered for Advocacy Day. The Illinois PTA table in the capitol rotunda welcomed advocates and greeted passersby all day. By the end of the day, 79 legislators or their staff had had face-to-face contact with Illinois PTA. If you couldn’t make it to Springfield on November 15th, you can still contact your legislators and the governor through our online campaign.

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Illinois PTA advocates were speaking out on three focus issues throughout the day:

  • The lack of a state budget for the last 17 months
  • Senate Bill 550, which would require testing for lead in drinking water in all Illinois schools
  • House Bill 5726, which would ban the sale of energy drinks to minors

The budget issue was generally greeted with a lot of sympathy and head nodding, but also a bit of weariness as legislators and staff have likely been hearing about the issue on an almost daily basis for the last year and a half. Our other two issues drew much more interest, and if you add your voice to PTA’s one voice through our online Advocacy Day campaign, we may be able to get both bills passed during the veto session.

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Participating in the online campaign is easy and only takes a couple of minutes. Each letter is already written for you, though you can modify it if you wish to add information on how these issues are affecting your family, your schools, or your community. Then add your signature, type in your e-mail address so your legislators can get back to you, and include your zip code (and maybe your street address) so Voter Voice can look up your state representative and state senator for you. Finish off by hitting the “Continue” button, confirming your contact information, and sending off the letters.

Help protect Illinois children and families by speaking up today. The fall veto session only runs through next week, so the faster you act, the more time there is for legislators to act on these critical issues.

 

Join Us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15th

Source: One Voice Illinois

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November 15, 2016 is Parents Day as part of American Education Week. It is also Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield, an opportunity for PTA members from across Illinois to speak up for children.

While you may not feel like you can be a PTA advocate, you likely already have been one. If you have spoken to your child’s teacher or your building’s principal about an issue, you have been an advocate. Illinois PTA has prepared to make Advocacy Day in Springfield as simple as possible, even if you have never spoken to a legislator before.

From 9:30am until 2:00pm, Illinois PTA will have an information table in the capitol rotunda. Come to the table to get handouts to give to your legislators, talking points to cover, and if you have pre-registered to attend Advocacy Day in Springfield, your free Illinois PTA business cards. We will have experienced PTA advocates whom you can follow as they speak with legislators and who can accompany you while you attend the meetings you have scheduled with your legislators.

Illinois PTA will also be presenting a webinar series to prepare you to advocate in Springfield. Each webinar will start at 7:30pm and last for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. The webinars will be recorded and made available for those who cannot attend the webinar. Illinois PTA uses GoToMeeting for its webinars, which can be attended using your browser or an app for Android, iOS, and Windows. The webinars will be:

  • September 29: Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities
    Learn about the key issues affecting children that the Illinois PTA is focused on this year, including juvenile justice, children’s health and safety, family engagement, school funding, and the state budget.
  • October 13: How to Meet with Legislators
    Learn how to contact your legislator to schedule a meeting in Springfield or in their district office, what to say and do when you meet them, and how to use Illinois PTA materials to support your arguments.
  • October 27: Advocate the PTA Way
    PTA advocacy is not just with legislators in Springfield and Washington. Learn how you and your PTA can advocate at your local level with your school district and school board, school principal, or community. We will also cover IRS requirements on PTA advocacy and PTA guidance on issues such as teacher strikes and bond referenda.
  • November 10: Hot Topics Briefing
    Learn the latest on the topics we will be advocating on in Springfield on November 15th. We will cover both the background of these issues and Illinois PTA talking points you can use with your legislator.

Sign up to attend one or more of the webinars and to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15th.

Another Year of Legislative Success for the Children of Illinois!

Source: One Voice Illinois

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2From youth safety issues to juvenile justice, from children’s health to readiness for college and the work-force, from childhood hunger to an interim budget in a year of fiscal deadlock, the Illinois PTA has advocated successfully for all our children. The highlights are below. Illinois PTA will continue to advocate for every child, and urges you to join us this fall for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15, 2016.

Children’s Health and Safety

We have had successes in responses to children’s allergies and asthma, concussions, and childhood hunger.

Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: With as much as 25% of first time anaphylactic reactions occurring in a school setting, we cannot stress the need enough for the availability of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors. House Bill 4462, Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, now Public Act 99-0711, expands the protections currently in place to include additional circumstances in which a school district, public, or nonpublic school may have a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors available in a secure location so that they are accessible before, during, and after school, including while being transported on a school bus. The statue also provides for the training of state police in the administration of epinephrine auto-injectors. The expansions provided in PA 99-0711 will help prevent injury from a severe allergic reaction by Illinois children.

Asthma: On a related issue, students with asthma will now have additional safety measures in place. House Bill 6333, School Code–Asthma Action Plan, now Public Act 99-0843, provides for additional safety protocols with the requirements that:

  • the State Board of Education work with statewide professional organizations that have asthma management expertise to develop a model asthma episode emergency response protocol;
  • each school district, charter school, and nonpublic school adopt an asthma episode emergency response protocol before 1/1/2017 that includes the components of the State Board’s model;
  • all school personnel who work with pupils to complete a program every two years concerning asthma management, prevention, and emergency response; and that,
  • each school district, public, charter, or nonpublic school request an asthma action plan from the parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma each year.

Concussions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 3.9 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the US annually. They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. House Bill 4365, IHSA Concussion Reporting, now Public Act 99-0831, amends the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act to provide for the enhanced reporting of student-athletes who have sustained a concussion. Beginning with the current school year, all member schools that have certified athletic trainers are required to complete a monthly report on student athletes at that school who sustained a concussion during a school-sponsored activity that is either overseen by the athletic trainer or when the athletic director is made aware of a concussion sustained by a student during a school-sponsored (with student names removed). Beginning in 2017-2018, the data is to be compiled from the prior school year into annual report to the Illinois General Assembly. Is the legislature considering further protections for our children once they receive these reports? We will continue to monitor this topic for future legislation.

Childhood Hunger: Children don’t do well in school if they’re hungry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence. Approximately 1 in 5 Illinois children are affected by hunger. Senate Bill 2393, Childhood Hunger–Breakfast, now Public Act 99-0850, is intended to help with this ongoing issue. PA 99-0850, amends the Childhood Hunger Relief Act to provide for “breakfast after the bell” program beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, according to a model that best suits its students. This Act also provides that the Illinois State Board of Education is to:

  • collaborate with school districts and nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about equity, the opportunity gap, hunger and food security issues, and best practices for improving student access to school breakfast;
  • distribute guidelines for the program’s implementation; and,
  • post a list of opportunities for philanthropic support of school breakfast programs on its website.

The statute also allows schools and school districts to opt out under certain circumstances.

Education

Two new statutes have been enacted to address student achievement in Illinois.

College and Workforce Readiness: The lack of readiness for college and/or the workforce is a concern for parents, students, and employers across Illinois. Approximately one-half of Illinois high school graduates entering as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education. House Bill 5729, creates the Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Act (Public Act 99-0674). The statute is a plan to address these student achievement concerns by creating:

  • a postsecondary career expectations model to be adopted for public school students in grades 8 through 12, defining activities where school districts, parents, and community-based organizations should support students, and the related knowledge students should have;
  • a pilot program for competency-based high school graduation requirements;
  • transitional mathematics courses from high school to college level;
  • a statewide panel that will include ISBE to recommend competencies for reading, and communication and strategies for achieving this in high school coursework; and,
  • College and Career Pathway Endorsements and State Distinction programs to provide student incentives and encourage their exploration and development.

After-School Program Grants: Senate Bill 2407, Department of Human Services–Teen REACH Grant Program, now Public Act 99-0700, amends the Department of Human Services Act to provide that, subject to appropriation, DHS will establish a establish a competitive state grant program—Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope (Teen REACH)—to support local communities in providing after-school opportunities for youth 6 to 17 years old that will improve their likelihood for future success, provide positive choices, reduce at-risk behaviors, and develop career goals. These grants are to be awarded to community-based agencies, in which successful grantees are to plan and implement activities to address outcomes in 6 core areas: improvement of educational performance; life skills education; parent education; recreation, sports, cultural, and artistic activities; the development of positive adult mentors; and service learning opportunities. 

Juvenile Justice

We have been successful in advocating for justice-involved youth in relation to the reporting of serious incidents impacting their health and well-being, legal representation, and expungement of records.

Critical Incidents While in the Juvenile Justice System: With the passage of House Bill 114, Juvenile Court–Critical Incident Report, now Public Act 99-0664, provides additional protections to a minor who is committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. These protections include the Department notifying the court in writing of a critical incident which involves a serious risk to the life health or well-being of the youth within 10 days of the incident. The report is to include the actions the Department took in response to the incident.

Legal Representation for Youth: Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning,” do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police, and are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Senate Bill 2370, Juvenile Court–Counsel Representation, now Public Act 99-0882, requires that:

  • children under 15 be represented by legal counsel during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses,
  • all interrogations of youths under age 18 for any felony and misdemeanor sex offenses be videotaped, and
  • police read children the new Miranda-type warning detailed in the statute.

While Illinois PTA does not believe this bill went far enough in protecting the rights of children in police custody, it is a move in the right direction.

Expungement of Juvenile Records: House Bill 5017, Juvenile Court–Expungement, now Public Act 99-0835, amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 to provide that whenever a person has been arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for an incident that occurred before she or he turned 18 that would be an offense if committed by an adult, that person may petition the court for the expungement of related law enforcement and juvenile court proceedings. Once the related juvenile court proceedings have ended, the court is to order the expungement of all related records in the possession of the Department of State Police, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and law enforcement agencies for those circumstance specified under the act.

State Budget

Thank you to those of you who helped seek the passage of an adequate and sustainable budget in Illinois in a year of grid-lock and finger-pointing. Over 2,000 messages were sent by Illinois PTA supporters to legislators, the governor, and local newspapers regarding the need to support education, after school programs, and services for families and children with an adequate and sustainable budget. This created an atmosphere where there was at least some movement in a difficult year: the passage of a stop-gap budget with Senate Bill 2047 which provided funding through December, including for school funding, the Illinois State Board of Education, and state colleges. Is this enough? Absolutely not. We need an adequate and sustainable fully-funded budget to ensure that our children and Illinois families thrive and that schools, colleges and universities, and public service providers can plan for the future.

How can you help? Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues and plan to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

Understanding ESSA

Source: One Voice Illinois

Understanding-ESSA-logoPresident Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law last December. ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and made substantial changes to the previous version of the law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Many of these changes focused on moving responsibility for improving education from the federal government back to the states.

These changes were discussed in a workshop at the National PTA Convention focused on the law’s effects on family engagement, accountability, and assessment. The law calls for parent input on many of the requirements, and Illinois PTA is helping to provide that voice. A new website called Understanding ESSA helps to explain the details of ESSA and to track its implementation.

The website allows you to:

ESSA will significantly change how schools interact with families, how schools educate children, and how schools are held accountable. Check out Understanding ESSA to help follow these changes and use the Education News tag on the right-hand side of One Voice Illinois to find Illinois PTA’s information on ESSA and other education issues.

News from National Convention—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Source: One Voice Illinois

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOn December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, a significant change in how federal, state, and local governments will guide your child’s education for the next decade or more. While you can read the full 449 pages of the bill, a workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando highlighted the key points that families need to know about the new law, and National PTA is creating an array of materials to distill this information into bite-sized pieces.

ESSA—The Basics

ESSA is divided into eight “Titles,” each of which address a different aspect of federal education funding and requirements. The two titles of largest interest to families are Title I, dealing with schools with high poverty levels, and Title IV, dealing with funding for student support, charter and magnet schools, and family engagement. Overall, ESSA reduces the high-stakes testing of No Child Left Behind, makes states responsible for defining success for students and schools, and requires that children be provided a “well-rounded education.”

ESSA and Family Engagement

Family engagement is crucial to student success, so much so that schools would have to spend $1,000 more per student to see the same increases in student achievement that come from an involved family member. ESSA recognizes the important role that families play in education. In fact, the word “parent” is the fourth most mentioned term in the entire law, just behind “state education agency.” For many of the decisions that states and school districts will have to make, families are to be “meaningfully consulted” for many of them.

Under ESSA, Title I schools must have a written parent and family engagement policy that welcomes all families. As part of this policy, each school must have a family meeting annually to explain what students will learn, the assessments used to measure student progress, the state’s academic standards, and the proficiency levels that students are expected to meet. In addition, 1% of the Title I funds are to be used for parent and family engagement. These funds can be used for teacher’s professional development on family engagement, home visiting programs, sharing best practices, and collaborating with other organizations like PTA.

Title IV of ESSA is focused on improving every student’s academic achievement. As part of Title IV, Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) are to be created to help school districts effectively engage families in in their children’s education. The SFECs are a new and improved version of the Parental Information and Resources Centers (PIRCs) that were part of ESEA/NCLB. The SFECs are to help implement more evidence-based approaches to family engagement.

While ESSA creates the SFECs, it is up to Congress to fund them each year. PTA is advocating for at least $10 million in funding for the SFECs (their authorized level in ESSA), an amount far less than the $39 million that the PIRCs were funded for under ESEA/NCLB. As of this writing, Congress has not appropriated funds for the SFECs, so contact your Senators and Representative today to ask for their support for family engagement. PTA has provided a pre-written letter that only requires your name, e-mail, and zip code (to identify your Representative) and two minutes of your time.

ESSA and Accountability

A significant part of ESSA was making states and local districts more responsible for the quality of students’ education. States will define their own academic standards and school accountability measures. States may also define their own teacher evaluation systems, but those systems are not required and do not have to include test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. The law specifically says that states cannot be required to adopt specific standards or particular assessments, accountability systems, or teacher evaluation models.

States will still need to produce a school report card, and Illinois’s report card is considered by many to be the best in the country. There are also minimum requirements for a state’s accountability system in ESSA. These are:

  • Student assessment (see section below)
  • A second academic indicator (e.g., student growth, high school graduation rate, etc.)
  • English language proficiency
  • At least one other indicator of school quality or student success (e.g., Advance Placement classes, family engagement, discipline reports, attendance, etc.)

Note that states are not limited to only one extra indicator in that last requirement. Connecticut uses 12 indicators to measure school quality. Illinois is also planning to take a broad approach in measuring school performance.

In addition, ESSA requires school districts to provide students with a “well-rounded educational experience,” as defined by the state, and provides grants to help school districts meet this goal. Among the areas that such funds can be used are:

  • Accelerated learning courses (e.g., Advanced Placement and international Baccalaureate programs)
  • College and career guidance and counseling programs
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, including computer science
  • Foreign language courses
  • Music and arts programs
  • Programs to teach American history, civics, economics, geography, and government

ESSA and Student Assessment

ESSA still requires states to have annual assessments in Math and English/Language Arts in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. States must also have a science assessment once in grades 3-5, once in grades 6-9, and once in grades 10-12. ESSA also requires that no less than 95% of all students or any subgroup of students participate in the state assessment.

While ESSA still requires annual assessments, it reduces the high-stakes nature of those assessments and provides resources for states and school districts to eliminate redundant assessments. Under NCLB, student scores were the sole determination of school performance, and schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) were subject to reduced funding, school reorganization, and other penalties. Because of the punitive nature of these consequences, many school districts significantly increased the number of assessments that they did in order to identify those students who could meet or exceed state standards with a little extra support.

Because student scores on an annual assessment are only a part of a school’s performance under ESSA, these assessments do not have the high-stakes accountability that they did under NCLB. In addition, ESSA calls for states to provide additional funds and supports to help schools not meeting the state’s measure of school performance rather than reducing resources. With the reduced emphasis on a single assessment of student performance determining a school’s performance, districts can move away from heavy use of their own assessments and focus only on those that help teachers measure and improve student success.

Illinois has already begun this process by developing a Student Assessment Inventory tool for school districts to evaluate how they are using assessment, what information they are receiving from those assessments, and where redundancies can be eliminated. The pilot project of this tool in three Illinois school districts resulted in a significant reduction in local assessments, improved professional development for teachers to create their own assessments for their classroom, and improved information on student performance to help teachers support their students’ education.

Additionally, Illinois’s State Assessment Review Committee (SARC) is currently conducting a PARCC Listening Tour to collect feedback from students, families, teachers, and administrators about this past spring’s PARCC assessment in Illinois schools. You can fill out a short survey to provide your feedback to the committee.

All feedback will be included in the SARC’s final report.