Evidence of fraud and abuse revealed in a recent Inspector General Report on Chicago Public Schools, coupled with the inherent unfairness of the current system of state education funding, has prompted a renewed push to prioritize reforms that would treat students fairly across Illinois.
Lawmakers said the report from the Chicago Board of Education’s Office of the Inspector General raises concerns that downstate and suburban school districts are being penalized. That is because scarce education dollars are wasted, while the current allocation system allows Chicago schools to make an end-run around the formulas that all other school districts fall under.
Some of the problems uncovered in the report included cases where “ghost students” were added to inflate a high school’s enrollment numbers and gain funding for added positions, travel expenses were falsified, fraudulent free-lunch and reduced-lunch program applications were submitted, and residency rules were violated.
Fraud within the free-lunch program is especially offensive because at the same time that was happening, other schools across Illinois are owed more than $500 million in backlogged bills, including bills for free-lunch and reduced-lunch programs.
Bipartisan committee said to end special Chicago grant
For many lawmakers, the report simply underscored the need to adopt a bipartisan recommendation to end the special grant allocations for Chicago schools and bring all schools under a single formula.
The Chicago Public Schools block grant awarded Chicago schools $477 million for the 2012-2013 academic year—nearly double what they would have received if they were reimbursed the same way as other schools across the state. If the same funding formula was used, Chicago schools would have only received $252 million.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan Education Funding Advisory Committee recommended eliminating the Chicago Public Schools block grant and requiring city schools to qualify for funding like all other districts.
Concealed-carry permits in the mail
As nearly 3,000 sports and gun enthusiasts converged on the Capitol March 5 for their annual lobby day, it was with the knowledge that Illinois had finally joined 49 other states in authorizing its citizens to carry concealed handguns in public.
Indeed, more than 5,000 concealed-carry permits had been mailed out by the end of February.
The Illinois State Rifle Association sponsors the Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day (IGOLD) each year, encouraging gun owners to lobby their representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives for pro-Second Amendment legislation.
Future Farmers Visit
On March 6, the state Capitol hosted hundreds of Future Farmers of America (FFA) members from across Illinois who were in Springfield for the annual Illinois Ag/FFA Legislative Day.
The Senate paused briefly to welcome State FFA president Sam Detwiler of rural Flanagan, along with other members of the FFA who were visiting.
Bills approved, sent to House
The Senate approved and sent to the House several dozen measures during the week ending March 7. A full list can be found on the Senate Action Page of the Senate Republican Web site. Listed below are some of the more notable measures.
Proof of License Plate Renewal (SB 2802): Allows a printed receipt of an online license plate renewal to be used as proof of renewal until the physical sticker is received in the mail.
Prevailing wage (SB 2648): Requires the Department of Labor to go through Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and publish rules when it interprets the Prevailing Wage Act. The Quinn Administration has been circumventing the regular rulemaking process that allows for public notice and review before implementing new rules.
GED Cost Savings (SB 2729): Changes references in state statutes from “General Educational Development” (GED) test to “high school equivalency.” The GED test owner has contracted with a private company to administer GED tests, with a significant increase in the cost. This legislation changes state references to GED to a generic reference of high school equivalency, so that as competing tests are developed, it will be easier for Illinois to use a less costly test.
EIU Tuition Discount Program (SB 2765): Creates the “Panther Promise” pilot tuition discount program at Eastern Illinois University. The program would be geared to students who have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and who are from households with a median annual family income of $35,000 to $70,000.
Railroad Police (SB 2791): Clarifies that railroad police have the authority to issue citations. This is being sought to clarify the authority of railroad officials to eject passengers on METRA trains.
Drones (SB 2937): Prohibits a law enforcement agency from using a drone owned by a private third party to acquire information (with certain exceptions). An amendment allows the use of a drone without a search warrant, if law enforcement is using a drone during a disaster or public health emergency (flood, tornado, earthquake, etc.). It does not require an official declaration of a disaster or public health emergency prior to use.
Off Highway Vehicle Stamp (SB 2633): Sets a new price of $10 for ATV Usage Stamps for vehicles with engine capacities of 75 cubic centimeters and below. Current law is $15 for all Usage Stamps, and this price would be kept in place for vehicles with an engine capacity exceeding 75ccs. Exemptions for the stamp includes vehicles for business use, golf carts, vehicles used by people with disabilities, vehicles used only at commercial riding parks, and vehicles used at sanctioned competitions.
Extending Probation (SB 3074): Allows a court to extend a defendant’s term of probation or conditional discharge that was concurrent to, consecutive to, or otherwise interrupted by a prison term, if needed to provide additional time to complete an order of restitution.