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How Illinois lawmakers hope to help teachers, students in session's final weeks

TAYLOR VIDMAR

Mar 21, 2022


SPRINGFIELD — With just a few weeks remaining until its planned April 8 adjournment, the Illinois General Assembly is considering a number of education bills that could be signed into law this year.


The proposed measures could bring forth a variety of changes to Illinois schools, from allowing some college students to serve as substitute teachers to diversifying literature curricula and requiring plant-based options for school lunches.

Both chambers must pass the bills — and agree to any amendments — before they would be sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his signature or veto.


With deadlines looming, action at the statehouse will speed up in the coming days. The deadline for House and Senate bills to make it out of committee is Friday, March 25, with April 1 set as the deadline for the bills to be acted on by the originating chamber.


The General Assembly typically adjourns May 31, but this year’s session was condensed to account for the June 28 primary election.


Here’s a look at some of the education bills that might make it to the Pritzker's desk later this spring.


Teacher shortage

With thousands of unfilled school positions across the state, lawmakers are primarily concerned with passing bills that aim to attract and retain educators.


Many bills passed in both chambers would broaden the pool of people who could serve as substitutes and paraprofessionals.


A bill filed by state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, would make college students eligible for a substitute teaching license if they are enrolled in an approved educator preparation program and have earned at least 90 credit hours. House Bill 4798 passed the House with no opposition and is assigned to the Senate Education Committee.


State Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, introduced Senate Bill 3907, which would increase the number of consecutive days people with short-term substitute teaching licenses can teach per licensed teacher from five to 15. The bill passed out of a House education committee on Wednesday.




Lawmakers also introduced some bills making it easier for retired teachers to get back into classrooms.


Democratic state Rep. Sue Scherer, a former teacher from Decatur, filed House Bill 4246, which passed with no opposition in the House. The bill would lower the renewal fees for retired teachers with lapsed educator licenses from $500 to $50.


Senate Bill 3201 would allow retired teachers to accept employment as teachers without affecting their retirement if that employment does not exceed 150 paid days or 750 paid hours. the measure is still pending in the Senate.


Counseling and careers


Members of the Illinois General Assembly have also identified another strategy for addressing the state’s teacher shortage: expanding counseling and career services for current students.


State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, filed a bill that would require school counseling services to include discussion of career and technical education. Senate Bill 3990 passed the Senate in February and was approved by a House education committee this week.


A similar bill, House Bill 3296, passed 72-35 in the House.


Rep. Cyril Nichols, D-Chicago, is sponsoring a bill that will give school districts the chance to allow personnel — such as coaches, school counselors, and administrative staff — to provide vocational mentoring and/or guidance services to high school students.

The bill has a bipartisan sponsor in Sen. Sally J. Turner, R-Lincoln. It passed out of the House at the beginning of March but awaits further action in the Senate Assignments Committee.


Curriculum and standardized testing

Beyond teacher vacancies, some lawmakers are seeking to diversify students' reading assignments.


The House in early March passed House Bill 3254, a controversial bill first introduced in 2021 that would require any school literature curriculum to include books written by “diverse authors.”


According to the bill text, diverse authors might include, but are not limited to, authors who are African-American, women, Native American, Latinx, and Asian. The bill also includes a provision that reading materials “may not perpetuate bias against persons” based on factors such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status.


The bill passed the House 69-35 and was sent to the Senate.


Some Democrats also hope to prevent standardized testing for young students.

House Bill 5285 would prohibit the Illinois State Board of Education from requiring school districts to administer or purchase standardized testing for students in grades pre-K through second grade.


ISBE doesn’t require standardized testing for these students but has considered it, according to bill sponsor Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago.


The bill excludes testing for diagnostic and screening purposes, and districts could still administer standardized tests if they choose. The measure passed the House 79-26 and is currently awaiting further action in the Senate Assignments Committee.


Mental health

Lawmakers are also aiming to tackle mental health concerns for students and teachers alike. Two mental health-focused education bills recently passed the Senate with no opposition.

Senate Bill 4028 would require health education programs to include instruction on finding mental health resources and treatment, and would also create a council focusing on youth mental health.


The bill was amended multiple times but passed the Senate 46-0 and was assigned to a House elementary and secondary education committee.


Senate Bill 3914 would allow full-time employees of school districts to cite mental health as a reason for claiming paid sick days. Under the measure, employees could claim two sick days as mental health days without a medical note or three or more with a note. The bill is also awaiting further action in committee.


Other bills to watch

There are numerous other education-related bills up for consideration.

House Bill 4089 would require school districts to provide plant-based school lunch options for any students who submit requests. Despite a shaky start, the bill passed the House 96-7 and was assigned to the Senate Education Committee.


Other bills could have a harder time making it through the Senate.

A bill that would require Illinois public colleges to make emergency contraception available for purchase through at least one vending machine on campus faced opposition from Republicans during floor debate at the beginning of March. House Bill 4247 passed the House 62-38 but has not yet made it out of the Senate Assignments Committee.


House Bill 5488 would allow Illinois public middle and high school students one day off school for a civic event, such as a protest.


During floor debate, the bill faced criticism from Republicans for being too broad, but its sponsor, Rep. Sonya M. Harper, D-Chicago, said it could be clarified in the Senate. It passed 62-38 in the House and awaits action in the Senate Assignments Committee.

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