Legislative Update for July 16, 2015

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ESEA – Final Action
Today the U.S. Senate passed¬ S.1177, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).¬ NEA supported this bill¬†and¬†Illinois Senators Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (D) voted in favor of the measure.¬ The U.S. House previously passed¬†¬ H.R.5, its version of the reauthorization bill. While NEA supported several amendments to H.R.5, they opposed the overall bill and wanted it to go to a conference committee. With passage of a bill in both chambers,the reauthorization of ESEA is one step closer to the president’s desk.

Prior to the final vote today, there was action taken this week on several ESEA amendments to S.1177. Below is information on some of those amendments.

Opportunity Dashboard
NEA’s priority Opportunity Dashboard amendment, sponsored by Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (R) and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed (D), failed on a vote of 46-50. Both Illinois Senators supported the amendment. ¬†NEA pushed for this amendment because it provided a fairer accountability system, built around an “opportunity dashboard,” that would have included indicators of school quality and student success, such as graduation rates, as well as state-determined indicators of students’ access to resources and supports like advanced coursework, fully qualified teachers, specialized instructional personnel, libraries, modern instructional materials and facilities, health and wellness programs, high-quality early education programs, and arts and athletic programs.

Adequate Yearly Progress
The NEA was successful in defeating an amendment sponsored by Senators Murphy (D-CT) and Durbin (D-IL), that would essentially replicate the disastrous Adequate Yearly Progress model of over identifying schools needing interventions. NEA believed the amendment would have undermined the bill’s multiple indicator system and introduced new ways for schools to be deemed failing as it fundamentally changed the accountability system to focus more on goals in federally-mandated areas instead of judging schools on a range of indicators.

Other Amendments
Earlier this week the Senate voted on several other amendments to S.1177. A testing opt-out amendment passed 97-0, a voucher amendment was voted down and an amendment on limiting aggregate testing time passed. NEA supported the Student Non-Discrimination Act amendment by Senator Franken (D-MN) which received a majority of votes (52-45) but not the required 60 votes needed to pass. Illinois Senators Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) voted in favor of this amendment protecting LGBTQ youth from bullying and harassment.

Governor’s Pension Proposal Debated in House Committee
On Wednesday, IEA lobbyist Will Lovett along with other representatives of the We Are One Illinois Coalition testified before the House Personnel and Pensions Committee in opposition to the recent pension proposal put forward by the governor.¬† The committee also heard testimony from the governor’s office describing his proposal while also answering questions from members of the committee.¬† As recently as May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the clear intent of the pension protection clause contained in Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution by ruling SB 1 (the pension cutting bill) unconstitutional in its entirety.¬† The IEA firmly believes the governor’s proposal would be in violation of the Illinois Constitution and would also be ruled unconstitutional if it became law.¬ Read the recent Illinois Supreme Court decision here.

A Brief Summary of the Governor’s Proposal for Educators:

Active Tier 1 Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) and State Universities Retirement System (SURS) members would be forced into a coerced choice to diminish their constitutionally protected pension benefits.

Option 1: Choose to diminish their 3 percent compounded cost of living adjustment (COLA) in retirement for a COLA that would be the lesser of 3 percent or half of the Consumer Price Index (CPI/inflation), non-compounded. All future salary increases would be calculated into the member’s pension benefit calculation; or

Option 2: If a member chooses not to diminish their COLA the following would apply: Keep Tier 1 COLA (3 percent compounded), all future salary increases would not be included in their pension benefit calculations.

Retired members would not be impacted by his proposal.

Property Tax Freeze
A bill that would freeze property taxes for two years failed to pass the Senate. SB 316 was opposed by the IEA and other education stakeholders. The amendment attempted to address the educational interests of the Senate Democratic caucus and the property tax interests of the governor. The bill passed out of the Senate Executive Committee on a partisan vote, Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no. The roll call on final action was 32 yes votes, zero no votes and 22 members voting present. Key provisions of the amendment include:

  • Freezes property taxes for two years beginning in 2016 for all taxing districts
  • Contains a funding requirement that gives TRS legal recourse if the State attempts to shift the normal cost of pensions to local school districts
  • Establishes a sunset date on the current school funding formula by repealing the Chicago Block Grant and the General State Aid formula as of June 1, 2017
  • Establishes a General State Aid commission to propose a new education funding formula for consideration by December 31, 2016
  • Requires that no school district receive a lower percentage of its full General State Aid claim than it did in FY16
  • Adds $74 million to the revenue appropriated to the State Board of Education to provide supplemental assistance to the poorest school districts
  • Transfers the normal cost of the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund to the State, including the cost of reimbursements for retiree health care ($65 million) as a continuing appropriation
  • Changes the Chicago Public School pension payment ramp to include fixed payments of $207 million in FY16

The IEA is opposed to the amendment because there was no discussion of revenue to offset the loss to local school districts from the two-year property tax freeze. In addition, the transfer of more than $200 million dollars from General State Aid to cover the cost of Chicago teacher pensions would result in a reduction of available resources for downstate and suburban school districts.

What’s Next
The Illinois House will reconvene on Tuesday, July 21. The Illinois Senate will reconvene pending the call of the Chair.