Illinois lawmakers focused their short lame-duck session on passing an assault weapons ban, expanding reproductive rights, and increasing their salaries. But several important education bills are also headed to the governor’s desk for approval.
Lawmakers returned to the state’s capitol last week to push through several major bills before new and returning lawmakers were inducted into office Wednesday afternoon.
Legislators passed an assault weapons ban that would immediately prevent the sale and distribution of assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and switches that convert handguns into assault weapons once signed into law; a bill expanding reproductive rights by protecting abortion providers and out-of-state visitors seeking abortion; and a bill that included a 16% salary increase for lawmakers, raising wages to $85,000.
Among the education bills passed was one that focused on the state’s bus driver shortage. When students returned to the classrooms during the 2021-22 school year, many districts struggled to hire bus drivers to transport students to and from school. In Chicago, students with disabilities were hit the hardest. Throughout Illinois, students in rural communities or areas that do not have a public transportation system struggled to get to school.
Sen. Karina Villa’s bill, D-West Chicago, HB 1688, will establish an initial training and annual refresher course for drivers providing transportation to students in vehicles that can carry 10 or fewer students. The measure calls on the Secretary of State and the Illinois State Board of Education to develop the training.
“Accessible transportation to and from school is important to provide to our students,” Villa said in a press release. “This bill will help provide transportation to our students by clarifying confusing training requirements for bus drivers of vehicles or different sizes.”
Sen. Cristina Pacione Zayas, D-Chicago, advocated for a bill passed during session that will increase transparency between Chicago Public Schools and local school councils when filling a principal vacancy at a school. Currently, local school councils are responsible for hiring and evaluating principals. Pacione Zayas’ bill will allow local school councils to have access to the district’s hiring pool, ask the district to create criteria for why a candidate is not eligible, and allow due process for principal candidates who do not advance to the next hiring stage.
A bill that will give Chicago principals and assistant principals collective bargaining rights but prohibits them from going on strike awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s approval. For years, Chicago principals could not negotiate over workplace concerns because state law considered them managerial employees. HB 5107 changes the state definition to district employees who have significant roles in bargaining union contracts or creates management policies and practices.
With new and returning lawmakers taking office and the spring legislative session starting today, there is already buzz around addressing literacy in Illinois, creating voting districts for Chicago’s elected school board, and increasing funding for early childhood and K-12 schools in the state’s budget.
Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org.