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From the Desk of Robin Steans – Prioritizing Learning Renewal

From the Desk: Prioritizing Learning Renewal

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are now at a vital turning point in our nation’s response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 28, 2021, over half of the country and 40 percent of Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated; children 12 and over are eligible for vaccines; billions in federal relief funds are flowing to Illinois business, child care programs, schools and agencies; and our state’s economy is seeing a rebound. While this is all exciting news, we must not overlook the work our schools will begin to put in toward learning renewal and addressing the social and emotional needs of our students. To say this past year has been challenging is an understatement. It will take considerable and collective effort to overcome the impact the past year has had on students, families, and educators, and it cannot be done hastily or quickly – it will take a multi-year effort to recover and come back stronger than ever. 

With Illinois’ investment of $350 million in the evidence-based funding formula (thank you, General Assembly!) together with significant federal stimulus dollars the state received this past spring, our schools and educators will have significant funds to resource renewal efforts. With these funds, our K-12 districts and schools are in a position to provide the additional instructional and planning time widely recommended to implement the evidence-based supports we know will help our students thrive. 

For the past 16 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education in every community, exacerbating systemic racial, ethnic and socio-economic inequities and creating unprecedented challenges for children and families as well as educators. Over the past year, Advance Illinois has shared researchanalysis and studies examining this impact and the potential long-term implications of months of disrupted learning environments. As more national and state data become available, we must continue to adjust our thinking and plans and take advantage of every opportunity to better understand how students are doing – academically, socially, emotionally and beyond. 

In response to this once-in-a-century crisis, we are heartened by the tremendous state and local leadership emerging and by efforts to elevate and coordinate research-based practices to inform short and long-term recovery and renewal efforts from early childhood through postsecondary. These efforts include the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development’s enrollment campaign; stabilization and restoration grants for child care providers; ISBE’s ESSER investments in the digital divide, high-impact tutoring, bridge programs, mental health professional development and supports, and interim assessments; encouraging higher education institutions to fund work-study programs in hardest hit communities; proposed investment in the educator workforce; the Illinois P20 Council Learning Renewal Resource Guide; and the recent adoption of the Extended Time Resolution (SR0232), which encourages districts statewide to add additional time to the school day and/or school year to help all students address the unprecedented need brought on by COVID-19 learning disruption. Many educators across the state have already begun to establish and adopt strong foundations for renewal, but we know that these plans are just the beginning of what is needed and there is still work to be done. 

With over $5 billion American Rescue Plan resources available to support K-12 learning renewal in Illinois (the vast majority at the district level), we must continue to ensure these dollars are invested thoughtfully and equitably in an effort to ensure our schools are meeting the full and comprehensive needs of all our students. Here, the state has the opportunity to take a leadership role in: 

  • coordinating and building local capacity to investigate, select, and implement evidence-based supports; 
  • maintaining a focus on equity in how resources are distributed and monitored;  
  • collecting and analyzing data on both the impact of COVID-19 across our education system as well as the success of the planned interventions and supports; and 
  • using its bully pulpit and state level investments to drive our ecosystem to build back better.  

Furthermore, in addition to the requirement that at least 20 percent of these resources be used to support evidence-based interventions to support “learning loss,” at a local level, leaders can: 

  • Ensure transparency in both the process and implementation of learning renewal effortsThis includes following US Department of Education requirements to meaningfully plan and consult with local stakeholders around how these funds will be used, which includes but is not limited to engaging students, families, civil rights organizations, tribes and school administrators and educators. 
  • Invest resources in a way that accounts for the historic and growing inequities exacerbated by COVID-19. 
  • Collect information and data on implementation and student progress and be willing to adapt plans as we learn more about the depth and breadth of our children’s social, emotional and academic needs. 
  • Follow the urging of national education leaders and advocates, as well as the Extended Time Resolution (SR0232) and Dr. Ayala’s guidance and leverage federal and state resources to provide students and teachers with additional in-person instructional and planning time in an equitable, meaningful and aligned manner to enable academic and non-academic recovery. 

While we look forward to “going back to normal,” it is not an option to simply revert to a status quo that was not serving all children well. Instead, we have a once-in-a-century opportunity – and need – to look ahead and redesign our system to support student recovery and renewal, and do so in a way that leads to lasting and stronger academic and social supports. The federal government and the state have responded to this crisis with the financial resources needed to begin our path toward renewal. We must now all roll up our sleeves and do the hard work to help our children and students get on a path to live out their true potential. We look forward to working with partners and leaders across the state to monitor student needs, progress and opportunities for transformative change. 

Sincerely and in partnership,

Robin Steans
President

Advance Illinois Statement on FY22 State Budget

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – In the wake of a pandemic and with many competing priorities, we applaud the appropriation of $350 million for the Evidence-Based Funding formula. This is a direct investment in the next generation and in Illinois’ own future. As importantly, it honors the state’s commitment to continue investing in our schools with a goal of getting all districts to at least 90 percent adequate funding. Never has the need been greater. Never has it been more essential for schools and leaders to have long-term funding they can rely on to meet student needs. Thank you to our elected leaders for rising to this moment.  

The appropriation of state funds for EBF allows the state to use short-term federal funds as intended: to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and support students socially, emotionally and academically as they recover from the many ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted their development and learning. 

A successful recovery from the effects of the pandemic depends heavily on critical investments across the education continuum. Accordingly, we also applaud increases to MAP funding – always important to providing equitable access to higher education, especially now. With that said, we know that children need support starting at birth, including investments in such vital programs as the Early Childhood Block Grant, Child Care Assistance Program and Early Intervention. In the teeth of greater need for support and access, we are disappointed to see cuts and flat-funding in early childhood.  

Given the ongoing need to strengthen and diversify the pipeline for teachers, social workers and other school personnel, we are heartened to see significant investments of federal funds in state-level mentoring, induction and other pipeline strategies, even as we are disappointed not to see increases to Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship. 

Budgets reflect priorities. This budget makes clear that the General Assembly prioritizes investments in Illinois students, even as it serves as a reminder that there is much work ahead to ensure the entire education continuum – from birth through college – is properly funded so all Illinois students are able to receive the quality education they deserve. 

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About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit advanceillinois.org.

From Birth to Career, Fund the Entire Education Continuum

Just three months ago, we made the case that it would take new ways of thinking and working to ensure the state’s education system emerges from the pandemic able to serve kids better and more equitably. Policymakers must see education in Illinois as a single, interconnected system from birth to career that provides equitably and adequately for our students at every stage. And to create this improved system, funding and policies must extend beyond the traditional silos of early childhood, K-12, and higher education.

We’re happy to report signs of positive progress. In March, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus package aimed to help families struggling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation includes historic one-time investments in child care, home visiting, Early Intervention, K-12 education, special education, Early Head Start, Head Start, and higher education. These federal funds represent a lifeline for the children and families of Illinois.

While the federal government has provided important short-term funding as a stopgap to help weather the current storm, the state has a critical role to play to ensure the health and sustainability of our education system.

It is why we were thrilled to see the recent announcement from Governor Pritzker indicating he supports appropriating an additional $350 million in state funds for the Evidence-Based Funding formula as part of the fiscal year 2022 (FY22) state budget. Putting $350 million of state dollars into the school formula will allow districts to make the long-term investments necessary to create strong, sustainable educational programs. An infusion of state funding will allow school leaders to use the federal relief dollars as intended: to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and support students socially, emotionally, and academically as they recover from the many ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted their development and learning.

As excited as we are to see the governor and leaders of the General Assembly back these investments publicly, the rest of our education system also needs their support. Increases in funding to schools must be paired with similar increases in funding to early childhood and post-secondary education.

We call on the General Assembly to increase appropriations for the Early Childhood Block Grant by $50 million, the Monetary Award Program by $50 million, and the Mental Health on Campus Act by $19 million.

Illinois has increased state investments in early childhood alongside those in the K-12 system, historically, because the state’s early care and education system plays such a critical role in the success of its future K-12 students. Current funding falls far short of what is needed to provide a fully-funded early learning system that supports communities, families, educators, and providers. Earlier this year, the recommendations from the Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding estimated that the current level of state and federal investment in our state’s early childhood system is only about 14% of what is needed to provide high-quality services for all families. Fully funding the state’s early childhood system is a long-term project, but an investment of $50 million in the upcoming fiscal year would act as an important down payment, particularly if that investment is focused on reducing inequities in compensation for teachers working in community-based programs or with infants and toddlers.

As for post-secondary education, we know that disinvestment over the last few decades, particularly during difficult budget years, has forced institutions to more than double tuition and fees to stay open. Students from low-income households bear the brunt of this burden. While increasing MAP will help, it is not enough – we need long-term structural change to fund higher education. There is a bill making its way through the legislative process that would establish a Commission to make recommendations on how to fund higher education more equitably and adequately. This is a conversation worth having and we urge Springfield to act now.

The practice of supporting one part of the education continuum while freezing budgets in other parts is imprudent, as students cannot develop and thrive without a strong overall system that will see them through from birth to career. We’ve seen in 2021 that a lot can happen in a few short months when we work together to reimagine a better world for children and families. We encourage the Illinois General Assembly and the Pritzker Administration to keep the momentum going. Our children deserve nothing less.

Advance Illinois 
Illinois Action for Children 
Partnership for College Completion 
Stand for Children Illinois 
Start Early 

Advance Illinois Applauds Governor Pritzker’s Support of Appropriating $350 Million for the Evidence-Based Funding Formula for FY22

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Based on improved revenue projections and state finances, Governor Pritzker today announced that he supports appropriating $350 million in general revenue funds for the Evidence-Based Funding formula for FY22. We applaud his proposal, as putting $350 million of state dollars into the school formula will allow districts to make the long-term investments necessary to create strong, sustainable educational programs. We thank the governor for his efforts to keep the state’s commitment to Illinois’ students. 

Over half of Illinois students are being educated in districts with less than 70 percent of full funding. There is a clear equity imperative to resume and continue state funding for EBF – students from low-income households and Black and Latinx students are disproportionately concentrated in districts that are the furthest from full funding. 

Unlike short-term federal funds, appropriating state dollars for EBF will support the deeper ongoing staffing and programmatic investments that are needed to drive student success into the future. Fully funding EBF allows schools to use relief dollars as intended: to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and support students socially, emotionally and academically as they recover from the many ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted their development and learning. 

We appreciate the governor’s leadership and that of legislators who have steadfastly championed the importance and urgency around funding EBF with state dollars. Our children’s futures require dependable and growing investments, and they are counting on us to keep our promises now more than ever. We applaud this support and urge the General Assembly to keep up the momentum and approve a budget that fully funds EBF. Let’s give our students the education they deserve. 

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About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit advanceillinois.org.

Acknowledging the Present, Working Toward a Just Future

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

There has been much to process over the past year: the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial reckoning that convulsed much of 2020, the uprising at our nation’s Capitol, the death of Daunte Wright, the death of Adam Toledo (aged 13), the death of Jaslyn Adams (aged 7), the death of Ma’Khia Bryant (aged 16), mass shootings in multiple cities across the country and the understanding that we have deeply-rooted issues of racial equity and violence that continue to plague our society and prevent our children from realizing their potential. Violence and racial injustice are not only taking lives – but leaving pain, trauma and other wreckage in their wake.

In the face of tragedy and wrongdoing, it has always been my impulse to work that much harder. But while all of us at Advance Illinois will continue to pursue high-quality and equitable education for Illinois students, to make sure that race, income, geography and citizenship status do not limit any child’s potential or growth, we also commit ourselves to working harder and in better partnership with civil rights, racial justice and community-based organizations to reimagine a public education system that is no longer business as usual.  

Yesterday’s guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd represents a step toward justice, but it is also a profound reminder of how far we have to go. We are committed to standing in solidarity with all communities – Black, Latinx, Asian-American, LGBTQIA and more – as we work to address, tackle and dismantle the systemic racism and prejudices that are embedded within the fabric of our country and, sadly, within our education system.

We know that when we work together, we can move mountains. We have done so before. Let us stay the course so that all children have the opportunity to be children – to pursue their dreams free from fear, discrimination, trauma and violence and surrounded by adults, schools and communities that support, challenge and nurture them.

In partnership,

Robin Steans
President

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members” – Coretta Scott King

Advance Illinois Applauds the Governor’s Early Childhood Funding Commission Report

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Today, Governor Pritzker announced important first steps towards the implementation of heavy-hitting recommendations in Ready Illinois: Simpler, Fairer, Better, a monumental report released by the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care just two weeks ago. The Commission’s report details critical funding, allocation, and governance structures needed for a strong, unified system able to ensure Illinois’ youngest children and families have equitable access to high-quality programs and services.  The report’s three primary recommendations include: 

  • A long-term funding goal for policymaking, which will serve as a NorthStar for building an equitable and adequate system of funding to increase access, quality and workforce compensation.  
  • Centralization and coordination of early childhood education and care (ECEC) funding, which will allow the state to more equitably distribute funding and create greater stability and predictability for providers (which in turn means better services for children and families).
  • Creation of a new state agency with a regional and community infrastructure, bringing together ECEC programs across state agencies to support and facilitate a more coherent, well-functioning system for providers, the workforce, children and families.

Advance Illinois applauds the creation of an “Early Childhood Transformation Team” to ensure that the Governor’s Office has the staffing needed to begin the work of moving from recommendations to on the ground implementation.

Among other things, the Transformation Team will start by setting up a regional and community infrastructure in the state, a down payment on realizing a full system of unified governance. The regional and community infrastructure will allow the state to support COVID-19 recovery efforts and future growth of the ECEC system, while ensuring the state recognizes local differences in need as it plans for a new agency.

Advance Illinois is also delighted that IDHS is elevating early childhood education and care services through the creation of an independent division within the agency. This status permits the new division to focus specifically on young children. We recognize this consolidation as another important step toward centralizing and coordinating early childhood governance and services.  

We celebrate the commitment of the Governor to make Illinois the best state in the nation to raise families with young children, and we stand ready to support the administration in these first steps toward transforming the early childhood education and care system in Illinois.

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About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit advanceillinois.org.

Closing Funding Equity Gaps in Illinois’ Education System

A new report by Advance Illinois analyzes how the Evidence-Based Funding Formula is closing glaring funding equity gaps in the state’s school districts

Contact:
Taryn Williams
José L. García
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Today, Advance Illinois released its report Investing in Illinois’ Students: An Analysis of Evidence-Based Funding and the Path to Equity, Student Success, & Long-Term COVID-19 Recovery. The report takes an in-depth look at how the Evidence-Based Funding Formula has impacted education resource equity in Illinois and reveals the remaining gaps between current funding levels and full, adequate funding. 

The report is based on school funding data from the years following the 2017 passage of theEvidence-Based Funding formula (EBF) that ensures new state dollars flow to students and school districts that need them most. As a part of the 2017 passage of EBF, Illinois pledged to invest sufficient state funds to get all districts to at least 90 percent of full funding within 10 years. Despite this commitment, EBF was flat-funded in FY21 and could be flat-funded in FY22 for a second year in a row, permitting equity gaps to widen and worsen over time and undermining this critical state pledge.  

“The findings in the report tell us that EBF is beginning to shrink equity gaps, but there is still a long way to go to fill remaining equity gaps and reach adequate funding,” said  Robin Steans, president of Advance Illinois. “The research makes clear that significant and sustained investments in education improve student outcomes, so it is crucial for the state to stay the course on its commitment.”  

Data show that EBF has already begun to close equity gaps, but progress is only possible when the state invests at least $350 million through the formula each year. 

“The data in the report clearly highlight why the state must keep its promise of investing at least $350 million in our schools through EBF each year,” said Melissa Figueira, senior policy advisor at Advance Illinois. “The state cannot depend entirely on federal pandemic relief funds for EBF as that would only momentarily fill a gap and does not permit the deeper and sustainable programmatic and staffing investments schools need for long-term improvements.” 

REPORT HIGHLIGHTS 

The report, Investing in Illinois’ Students: An Analysis of Evidence-Based Funding and the Path to Equity, Student Success, & Long-Term COVID-19 Recovery

  • Explains the significance of the EBF formula and how it equitably distributes funds to the districts that need it most; 
  • Spotlights data on why adding state funding through the EBF formula each year is the most effective way to close historic and persistent funding gaps and provide all students with a high-quality education; and 
  • Displays how COVID-19 is creating additional expenses for school districts and how federal resources are helpful for disaster recovery, but are not a substitute for state funding 

Another year of flat funding for EBF would cause ripple effects that would be felt by individual students, homeowners, communities and the state’s economy as a whole. The need is urgent, and the time is now for state leaders to step up for Illinois’ students and fund the EBF formula. 

For more details and insights, download Investing in Illinois’ Students: An Analysis of Evidence-Based Funding and the Path to Equity, Student Success, & Long-Term COVID-19 Recovery. 

Register for our webinar where we will discuss the report’s data and analyses. Follow us on Twitter

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About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit advanceillinois.org.

Advance Illinois Responds to Governor Pritzker’s Proposed FY22 Budget

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Illinois faces serious budgetary challenges, which have been exacerbated by the dramatic impact of COVID-19. It will not be easy to address the many and varied issues that pre-existed the pandemic and have been compounded by it. 

Governing is hard, and we do not envy the governor or members of the General Assembly who have difficult decisions to make. While we understand the competing pressures on the state’s limited resources and applaud additional funding for MAP grants, it is nonetheless disappointing that the proposed budget contains cuts for some early childhood programs, and, for the second year in a row, calls for mostly flat funding across the education continuum, including no new funds for the Evidence-Based Formula (EBF). 

There is nothing easy about the coming year’s budget, and we believe Governor Pritzker is committed to increasing education funding for early childhood education and care, K-12 and higher education. And this we know: education is the single most important investment we can make in our children and our future. It’s why we passed the Evidenced-Based Funding formula five years ago, and it’s why we committed as a state to put at least $350 million new dollars into that formula every year for ten years. 

No one could have foreseen COVID-19 and the growing impacts of the pandemic, and it has unquestionably made it harder to keep this commitment.  It also has made the road ahead harder for all children and deepened already unacceptable racial, economic, and regional disparities. 

Federal funds meant to facilitate school reopening and early recovery will help. But make no mistake, relief dollars are needed to address immediate and ongoing COVID-19-related issues such as health and safety measures, closing the digital divide to permit all children access to virtual learning, and short-term efforts to provide additional academic, social and emotional supports. These one-time federal funds are not meant to support the deeper ongoing staffing and programmatic investments that are needed to drive student success into the future. The same holds true for early childhood education and care, universities and community colleges. 

We are heartened to hear that legislators plan to prioritize education funding. Our children’s futures require dependable and growing investments, and they are counting on us to keep our promises now more than ever. As circumstances continue to evolve, we urge the General Assembly to exhaust every means possible to uphold the state’s commitment to not only maintain education funding, but to continue to grow it for children birth through career. 

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About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit advanceillinois.org.

From the Desk of Robin Steans – 2021: A Year of Building Back Better

From the Desk: 2021: A Year of Building Back Better

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Like many of you, I was glad to say goodbye to 2020. However, even as vaccinations are underway and we can begin to imagine returning to a new “normal” in the year ahead, it is clear 2021 will present its own challenges. COVID-19 is still surging, civil unrest continues, and data is emerging that confirms the impact this pandemic is having on students, especially our youngest learners and across lines of race/ethnicity and income. As we consider the year ahead, Advance Illinois has a number of interconnected priorities. 

We must invest in B-20 education continuum and we must do so equitably 

There is no question, 2021 will be a tough budget year for Illinois. In addition to ongoing fiscal challenges, Illinois now faces a confluence of events and issues that will place enormous stress on our finances. 

The reality is that education in Illinois is deeply underfunded, and our needs just went up. As challenging as it will be, it is time to treat our educational system – early childhood, k-12, and higher education – as one interconnected structure that will adequately and equitably serve all Illinois students. 

We have an opportunity to reimagine early childhood education and care. 

In recent years, the state has been working to address and improve access to high-quality and affordable early childhood programs. We applaud Governor Pritzker for creating the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding to take a hard look at how we fund and operate our early childhood system and to develop recommendations to make Illinois the best state in the country for raising a family. When the commission reports out in March, we expect it – for the first time in the state’s history – to calculate how much the state should be spending to ensure equitable access to quality care and programming. That’s a necessary step, and we expect the gap to be in the billions. With that information in hand, as sobering as it may be, we will have an obligation to put ourselves on a path to meet those needs and to implement other commission recommendations on how to more strategically and equitably support families and providers.   

We have an obligation to live up to our commitments to support equitable K-12 funding. 

Having taken a “pause” in growing the state’s K-12 funding last year, it is essential that the state renew its commitment to putting at least $350 million into its Evidence-Based Funding formula.  Doing so permits districts to create strong, sustainable educational programs and to use federal relief funds for their intended purpose: to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and support students socially, emotionally, and academically as they recover from the many ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted their development and learning.   

We are overdue to revamp higher education funding. 

As for higher education, not only must we reinvest, but we must do so with a commitment to equity.  Disinvestment in higher education over the last few decades, particularly during difficult budget years, has forced institutions to more than double tuition and fees in order to stay open, and students from low-income households bear the brunt of this burden. That must change. We are encouraged by the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s strategic planning process, which has spotlighted the need for funding reform, appreciate the suggestions coming from the Partnership for College Completion, and applaud the support and urging of the Illinois Black Caucus and General Assembly. We intend to work with these and other leaders to articulate a clear understanding of the cost and develop an equitable funding mechanism for higher education that not only drives resources where they are needed most, but can serve as a national model. 

After 12 months of disruption, we have a responsibility to support students and educators – socially, emotionally, and academically – and to build back better. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education in every community, exacerbating systemic racial/ethnic and socio-economic inequities and creating unprecedented challenges for children and families as well as educators. Research suggests that the disrupted schooling over the past year, if left unaddressed, will impact students’ educational outcomes and reduce their lifetime earnings. We must act boldly and collaboratively to make sure our students and educators have the supports and tools they need to recover and thrive beyond this crisis, recognizing that recovery and renewal will take years and acknowledging the equity imperative at the core of this work.   

We are heartened that the Illinois P20 Council is working with leaders, practitioners and experts from across the state to coordinate research-based practices to inform short- and long-term recovery and renewal efforts from preschool through postsecondary. Through a combination of guidance, statewide programs, and partnership on locally-driven efforts, leaders are working to craft and employ a multi-year plan to that prioritizes research-based strategies. While work is still in process, priorities include: increasing access to mental health supports, along with trauma-informed training; creating mechanisms to identify and re-engage students who have dropped out or had limited access to education throughout the pandemic; providing students and teachers with additional in-person instructional and planning time; and strengthening digital access and virtual teaching and learning. 

While we all look forward to going “back to normal,” the hard reality is that recovery and renewal will likely take years. We need to support local efforts, even as we recognize the state has a unique responsibility to ensure an equitable recovery for all. We hope the tensions that have challenged communities over the past year will not prevent us from coming together to support the next generation. 

Never have we needed data more to help understand how children and students are doing and to inform the path forward. 

As we begin the new year, we are starting with a number of unanswered questions: How are our children and students faring academically and socially during COVID-19? Who has needed supports and services? What is happening to the students that didn’t show up for school or programs? Are the impacts of COVID-19 playing out differently by geography/race/income/age? What is happening to our educators and workforce? Are teachers and leaders getting the training and supports they need to address unprecedented levels of trauma and/or the vagaries of remote instruction? While some national, state, district, and/or school data exists, it varies by locality and very little is available at the state level to answer these and other pressing questions. 

We know enrollment in PreK and kindergarten is down – but by how much and in what communities? We know we have lost postsecondary students. Is there a pattern that might shed light on how to re-engage students? And with 852 different districts measuring attendance in 852 different ways, what do we know about student engagement and learning as we work to ready ourselves for what’s ahead? This is not just an Illinois problem, but a national one, too

We must take advantage of every opportunity to better understand how students are doing – academically and beyond. We know student learning and development has been disrupted, but we cannot address serious issues without basic information about what has happened, recognizing that this pandemic has not affected all students and communities equally. As importantly, we will not know whether we are making necessary progress without critical data points along the way. While this need has become more acute with COVID-19, having quality and comprehensive data is true at all times to help inform and improve educational supports and services. 

The need to strengthen and diversify the education profession is more critical than ever. 

Teachers are the most important in-school factor impacting student learning. Every parent understands that even more keenly now! Unfortunately, Illinois is struggling to maintain a strong and diverse educator pipeline. In SY20-21, Illinois had over 1,700 unfilled teaching positions in public schools, and while 53 percent of Illinois students are non-White, just 18 percent of our teaching force is of color.  

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus made important strides for our state’s educator pipeline this January, passing HB2170, also known as the Education Omnibus bill. Among the bill’s many highlights, it updated Illinois’ Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarship to better support teacher candidates of color, removed state-mandated GPA entrance requirements that restricted alternative program participation, and laid out a path for better educator preparation course alignment and articulation. In early childhood education and care, it encouraged agencies to provide targeted scholarship funding and coaching and to address barriers to accessing higher education. These are important steps in the right direction.  

If Illinois wants all students to have educators who are prepared to support their academic, social, and emotional learning, the state needs an ambitious and coordinated pipeline strategy to recruit, prepare, retain, and continuously support highly effective and diverse educators. This includes: 

  • expanding high-quality high school pathways 
  • ensuring our educator preparation programs are affordable for candidates 
  • investing in proven program, including alternative certification programs 
  • maintaining licensure expectations that are focused on evidence-based critical skills and practices supporting mentoring and induction programs (particularly for teachers and leaders of color) 
  • combatting bias in hiring and promotion 

As we look ahead, exhausted from a long, hard year, there is more to do. COVID-19 and its aftermath have presented a once-in-a-century set of challenges, and all of us at Advance Illinois remain deeply grateful for the heroic efforts of so many across the state to tirelessly and creatively meet extraordinary needs.   

We hope you had a chance to renew at least a bit over the new year and look forward to working together to ensure this pandemic does not cast a shadow over our children’s futures and that we build back better in 2021 and beyond. 

Sincerely and in partnership,

Robin Steans
President

Advance Illinois Applauds Passage of HB2170, Education Omnibus Bill

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Advance Illinois applauds the leadership of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in passing HB2170. HB2170, also known as the Education Omnibus Bill, represents an important step in advancing racial equity in Illinois’ education system. As a whole, the bill is designed to increase educational access and opportunities for Black students, other students of color and students from low-income households throughout the state. 

As part of the Black Caucus’ ambitious agenda, which also tackles criminal justice reform, health care and human services reform and expansion of economic opportunity in Illinois, HB2170 focuses on policies that address the longstanding racial injustices in our birth to career education system. Under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford and Representative Carol Ammons, members of the Black Caucus, along with education and racial justice advocates, worked together to develop a comprehensive legislative package to advance racial equity in Illinois’ early childhood programs, schools and higher education institutions. From supporting the goals of the Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding to automatic enrollment for qualified students in advanced courses to amending the Minority Teachers of Illinois (MTI) scholarship program to prioritize Black male candidates and diversify the teacher pipeline, this legislation seeks to ensure that high-quality education is the norm and not the exception for all students, especially Black students. 

“The passage of HB2170 serves as an important step toward educational equity for Black students in Illinois,” says Robin Steans, President of Advance Illinois. “I am heartened the Illinois Senate and House passed this legislation, taking action on issues that will foster significant change and advancement for our students.”   

Steans continues, “We congratulate Sen. Lightford, Rep. Ammons and the ILBC for their leadership. Their tireless work was key in galvanizing support and input from advocates and experts and carrying the bill over the finish line. While there is still work to be done, the measures it contains are a critical step to ensuring students of color and students from low-income households will have access to the high-quality education they deserve.”

Advance Illinois prepared a summary of key articles within HB2170 and other education-related bills passed by the general assembly. 

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About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit advanceillinois.org.