Senate Republicans unveiled a new legislative package last week aiming to help Illinois parents not feel voiceless and in the dark when it comes to their children’s education.
Members of local school boards are held accountable to the families of their districts via elections. Even though the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) makes decisions on rules and guidelines that affect all public schools, the State Board is made up entirely of members who have been appointed by the Governor.
To give parents a greater voice on statewide education decisions, the Senate Republicans want to add five new elected positions to ISBE. These members, elected from each of the state’s five judicial districts, would be directly accountable to the parents and families who elect them. That legislation was filed as Senate Bill 4180.
Another component of the package, Senate Bill 4179, seeks to bring greater transparency to school curriculums. Under the legislation, schools would be required to publicly post on the district’s website, at least twice per year, all the learning materials and activities used for student instruction, as well as the policies and procedures for review and approval of the materials and activities. This would ensure that parents can find out what their children are being taught so that they can work with their school board members regarding any concerns.
The Senators are also working to strengthen and make permanent the “Invest in Kids” program, which helps disadvantaged students in struggling schools by offering them scholarships to private schools. The program is funded by private donations that qualify for state tax credits. Republicans identified two major issues with the program that create uncertainty for participating families, including a pending expiration for the entire system, along with concerns that students who receive a scholarship one year may not receive it the following year. Senate Bill 4181 eliminates the expiration date while creating an award preference for existing recipients.
The final piece of the legislative package, Senate Bill 4182, updates the Invest in Kids Program’s tax credit language to better align it with existing federal tax credits, allowing donors to maximize existing federal tax benefits while channeling more private funds into scholarships for underprivileged children.