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Highlights from the Special Session: Stable Funding (For Now), OMA Certainty, and Excellent Defaults for Teachers

Board Governance Coronavirus

The Illinois General Assembly was busy during its recent special session, passing a number of bills addressing important concerns for local governments and schools during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Included were a budget that avoids major cuts in education and local government funding, codification of certain OMA changes first made through executive order, and language allowing tenured teachers who received excellent ratings in prior years to default to excellent if their evaluations could not be completed this year.

Of particular note, the General Assembly approved a FY21 budget (Senate Bill 264) that maintains funding for local governments and schools at the same level as the current budget, and even includes an increase in funds for special education reimbursements. The maintenance of funding will be supported by federal loans and avoids a 35% across-the-board cut that had been suggested by some lawmakers.

Another bill (Senate Bill 2135) amends the Open Meetings Act to codify changes Governor Pritzker put in place earlier this year under executive order. We will bring you more insights on these changes in an upcoming alert.

The special session also led to the passage of an Education Omnibus Bill (Senate Bill 1569) addressing a number of issues previously addressed only in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders. Notable among the bill’s provisions is language allowing tenured teachers who received “excellent” ratings on their most recent evaluations and whose current evaluations were not completed to default to “excellent” during any time in which the Governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency, unless the school board and union agree to a different process in writing. Like the original executive order, all other tenured teachers will default to “proficient” if their evaluations are not completed.

The omnibus bill includes a number of other changes that will apply during a disaster declared on the basis of a public health emergency, including some from earlier executive orders. For example, the bill: 

  • Authorizes use of remote and blended learning days
  • Allows schools to count up to five remote learning planning days as part of the school term
  • Suspends clock hour and attendance requirements
  • Extends the expiration of certain professional educator licenses by one year
  • Extends by one year the allowance for inter-fund transfers
  • Suspends the requirement that student teacher candidates complete classroom teaching experiences
  • Waives requirements to begin and complete remediation plans
  • Allows remote completion of the Constitution Test and eighth grade U.S. history requirement, and waives PE assessment requirements, and
  • Prohibits withholding student report cards because of a failure to submit proof of health, immunization, or dental examinations.

The bill also would codify ISBE graduation requirements guidance, allow ISBE to adopt rules to modify graduation requirements, and validate diplomas conferred under modified graduation requirements during a public health emergency. It also makes some changes to IEP plans for students with disabilities. We will provide further insight on the special education impacts soon on our Special Education Law Insights Blog.  

The bill has been sent to the Governor and awaits his signature. The Governor has 60 days in which to sign a bill. We will update you when we have more information about the status of these bills.