Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law House Bill 2170, a measure championed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that's aimed at improving access and racial equity in the state's education system.
What's included in the new law? Here's a breakdown:
Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, the measure requires the Illinois State Board of Education to assess all public school students entering kindergarten each year with a common assessment of literacy, language and math as well as social and emotional development to determine a child's readiness for kindergarten and measure progress over time.
Starting in 2022, children who receive early intervention services - support available to young children with developmental delays and disabilities - can continue to receive those services after the previous cutoff age of three, up until the beginning of the next school year, if their birthday falls between May 1 and Aug. 31, to help minimize gaps in care.
HB 2170 also requires, starting next July, that behavioral health providers use a "developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate diagnostic assessment system" for children under the age of 5.
The new law also creates a 30-member Whole Child Task Force to move towards more trauma-responsive support and resources in schools, particularly in light of what the measure identifies as "amplified" trauma, as well as systemic inequities "exposed" and "exacerbated" by the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force will be required to submit a full report of findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by February 2022.
The measure also requires ISBE to compile and make publicly available a review identifying courses that public universities in Illinois require or recommend for high school students to take in order to be admitted as an undergraduate.
And starting in the 2024-2025 school year, the new law requires every high school student complete two years of laboratory science specifically (rather than just unspecified science) in order to graduate. Then beginning in 2028-2029, high school students will have to take at least two years of a foreign language to earn a diploma. It also requires ISBE to develop learning standards for computer science and requires all school districts to ensure students receive opportunities to gain computer literacy skills starting in elementary school. Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, high school students will also be required to take one year of a course that "includes intensive instruction in computer literacy," which could be English, social studies or other subject matter, in order to graduate.
The measure also says that beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, districts' accelerated placement policy can allow for students to automatically enroll into AP or honors classes and more if they meet or exceed state standards in English, math or science in an effort to expand access to those programs.
HB 2170 also requires the Illinois P-20 Council - an existing committee focused on improving academics from pre-kindergarten through grade 20 - to submit a report with recommendations to help learning recovery for public school students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That report will consider in particular the "digital divide" in access to internet and devices, student evaluations to understand the impact of school closures and remote learning, resources for social and emotional learning as well as potential strategies like extending the school day or school year, among others.
The new law also establishes a "Freedom School" network, named for the schools of the 1960s civil rights movement that provided an alternative education for Black students with an emphasis on civic engagement, organizing and activism. The new state network will create a six-week summer program to supplement learning in public schools with a focus on racial justice and equity, leadership skills and more.
The measure also requires the state's Professional Review Panel to study various issues related to racial equity in Illinois' evidence-based school funding formula, the system implemented in 2017 that takes into account each district's needs and local revenue sources when appropriating state funding, prioritizing districts that are the furthest from being fully funded.
HB 2170 also establishes priority in funding for the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program for students who want to become bilingual teachers and increases the percentage of funding set aside for qualified Black male applicants from 30% to 35%. It also reduces the amount of funding that a university participating in the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program - which gives funding to Illinois students at one of the state's 12 public four-year universities - must match if more than 49% of its students received a Pell Grant based on financial need.
The new law also creates a 22-person Inclusive American History Commission to help ISBE revise its social science learning standards to ensure instruction is not "biased to value specific cultures, time periods and experiences" over others and to examine ways to find and use resources in teaching of "non-dominant cultural narratives and sources of historical information." The commission must submit its report by the end of this year.
Black history, already required to be taught in Illinois schools, now under the new law must include study of "the pre-enslavement of Black people from 3,000 BCE to AD 1619," as well as an examination of why Black people were enslaved and the American civil rights renaissance.
HB 2170 also requires the Illinois Workforce Investment Board to conduct a study on the feasibility of consolidating into one agency all of the workforce development programs funded through the 2014 federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, in an effort to possibly maximize funding and give greater access to job training for underserved populations.
It also expands the Illinois Teaching Excellence Program, which gives funding to qualified teachers in the form of financial assistance for certification or licensing fees or as incentives for mentoring, to include programs working with diverse candidates.
Finally, the new law establishes the Developmental Education Reform Act, which requires community colleges to use certain measures - like high school grade point average, completion of various courses or standardized test scores - to determine a student's placement in introductory college-level courses. The measure says community colleges currently place nearly 71% of Black students in such courses, compared to 42% of white students, noting that those courses can be a barrier to enrollment or degree completing because they cost time and money but the student does not receive college credit for them, which can "exacerbate inequities in higher education."