Illinois Lawmakers Boost School Spending, Guarantee Recess And Limit Student Restraints

WBEZ brings you a rundown of how Illinois schools will be affected by bills passed by state lawmakers as the legislative session ends.

WBEZ
Spending on schools will increase by $350 million this year under the budget passed by state lawmakers. Pictured here is Lake View High School in Chicago. Marc Monaghan / WBEZ
WBEZ
Spending on schools will increase by $350 million this year under the budget passed by state lawmakers. Pictured here is Lake View High School in Chicago. Marc Monaghan / WBEZ

Illinois Lawmakers Boost School Spending, Guarantee Recess And Limit Student Restraints

WBEZ brings you a rundown of how Illinois schools will be affected by bills passed by state lawmakers as the legislative session ends.

More money, new topics to teach, updated policies. The Illinois General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session with a number of education bills headed to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk.

Topping the list: Public schools in Illinois were spared a second year of flat funding. The state is supposed to increase school spending by $350 million each year over several years to adequately fund public schools, according to the state’s education funding formula. Last year’s spending was flat because of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But the governor in May reversed plans for level funding again, saying he supported a $350 million increase to K-12 education, and that plan is headed to his desk.

Advance Illinois, an education advocacy group, said appropriating these state dollars allows schools to properly leverage federal relief dollars coming to Illinois to safely open schools for in-person learning and support social, emotional and academic recovery.

“[This] puts our state back on track toward educational equity by driving dollars to our neediest K-12 schools,” Illinois Federal of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said in a statement.

Here’s a rundown of some key education bills that passed in the waning days of the legislative session. (Details on bill to create an elected school board for Chicago can be found here.)

Phasing out student restraint and seclusion

Illinois lawmakers passed a bill that limits the use of seclusion and restraints at school. The issue came to light following an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica that revealed some school staff regularly misused the practice. The bill that lawmakers approved in May limits isolation and restraints to imminent risk of physical harm. Schools are required to phase out the practice over the next three years.

Sex ed

If the governor signs off on the Keeping Youth Safe and Health Act, schools will be required to follow age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education if they choose to offer the curriculum. Starting in July 2023, schools will have standards for teaching medically accurate personal health and safety education for grades K-5, and comprehensive sexual health education for grades 6-12. The curriculum also includes information about gender identity and sexual orientation. Some opponents of the bill worried kids could learn about inappropriate things like abortion. The bill allows for guardians to opt children out of the lessons.

Family leave

A bill approved by the legislature allows both male and female educators to use their sick leave non-consecutively within 12 months of their child’s birth. The measure stems from a suburban teacher who was denied use of birth leave when her child was born. The school district based its decision on the timing of the birth, which was just before summer break. The Illinois Education Association, one of the largest teachers unions in the state, supported the bill. They say it allows for educators to bond with their children.

“This means that if an educator has a child over the summer or shortly before a school break, he or she could take their earned sick days when school resumes,” IEA President Kathi Griffin, said in a statement.

Guaranteed recess

Schools will be required to allow for at least 30 minutes of playtime for students in grades K-5. Groups such as the Illinois Families for Public Schools pushed for the bill, pointing to research that shows the unstructured playtime helps students regroup and reengage in learning. Under the law, children cannot be excluded from recess as punishment, and physical education class cannot be a substitute for play time.

Hairstyles

Illinois schools will be prohibited from enforcing restrictions on hairstyles that are “historically associated with race, ethnicity or hair textures,” including braids, locks and twists. Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Simmons, a Chicago Democrat, pointed out examples of students of color who were punished for their hairstyle. The bill is known as the Jett Hawkins Act after a young boy who was sent home from school because his braided hair was considered a dress code violation. Sen. Simmons said he experienced hair discrimination growing up and it was time to update school policies.

Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @soosieon.

This story was updated to make clear that sex ed isn’t mandated. Instead, if schools choose to offer it, they will be required to follow age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education.