A bipartisan commission created by Governor Bruce Rauner to find a comprehensive solution to reform Illinois’ school funding formula met this week for the first time.
Also during the week, a number of new laws are now on the books, after being signed by the Governor late last week.
One new law reduces penalties for individuals caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana; now those violators will be ticketed, as opposed to being arrested.
Governor Rauner also signed a package of new laws aimed at curbing waste, fraud, and abuse in higher education.
Bipartisan committee meets to find solution to reforming school funding formula
The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission met for the first time in Chicago August 3.
During the meeting, the Commission looked at how other states fund education, reviewed Illinois’ current funding formula, and discussed what should be improved.
Chaired by Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, the Commission is composed of 25 members, which includes five designees from the Rauner Administration and five designees from each of the four legislative caucuses. The Senate Republican caucus appointees are Senators Jason Barickman of Bloomington, Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville, Dan McConchie of Lake Zurich, Karen McConnaughay of West Dundee, and Sue Rezin of Peru.
On August 3, the Commission received information about national “best practices” regarding school funding, discussed the current system in Illinois and stressed defining “adequacy,” “equity” and “wealth” will be a critical as lawmakers seek to increase parity in education funding.
The Commission’s report is to be presented to the Governor and General Assembly by February 1, 2017. Lawmakers say the goal is to have the General Assembly take action on a proposal in 2017.
In June, lawmakers and the Governor approved a full-year budget for K-12 education that fully funds the foundation formula for schools for the first time in seven years. It also includes a “hold-harmless” provision that guarantees no school district will receive less money than it did in the previous year.
New law decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana
People caught in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana will now face a fine of up to $200, as opposed to being arrested and possibly facing jail time, under a new law (Senate Bill 2228) signed by Governor Rauner July 29. The new law makes Illinois the 17th state in the country to adopt a measure that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana.
Opponents argue the new law sets a bad example, noting marijuana use and possession is still an offense under federal law. They also expressed concerns with provisions in the law that would automatically expunge citations twice a year. Additionally, critics said they would have liked to see a mechanism included in the law to provide for court supervision, treatment, and intervention, for both adults and minors.
Proponents of the law argue it creates a uniform penalty on cannabis possession throughout the state, and will help reduce Illinois’ overcrowded jails and court systems, which are often inundated with minor drug cases. Removing these low-level offenders from the system would free up public resources for law enforcement, state’s attorneys’ offices and county jails. In addition, the reduction in penalties and expungement of the civil offense means low-level violators won’t have to live with harsh lifelong consequences, such as lost employment, education, or housing options, due to a small possession arrest.
Though the legislation was worked out with input from prosecutors and law enforcements, a number of law enforcement organizations said they are concerned about the impact of a provision in the law that establishes THC levels, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects that are allowable while driving.
Under the new law, only drivers with a THC level of five nanograms or higher in their blood will face DIU charges, as opposed to a zero-tolerance DUI law Illinois had on the books regarding marijuana. However, proponents stressed that this provision addressed situations where an individual may have had only a trace amount of marijuana in their system from using it weeks ago, and while they were no longer under the influence of the drug, they would have been charged with a DUI under the state’s former zero-tolerance policy.
Senate Bill 2228 took effect upon being signed into law.
Package of new laws targets corruption
In response to the College of DuPage administrative scandal that resulted in the firing of school President Robert Breuder in 2015, a package of legislation addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in higher education was signed into law July 29 by Governor Rauner.
Senate Bill 2155 requires that as part of a community college’s recognition process by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), a review of compliance with state and federal laws regarding employment contracts and compensation must be conducted. An advisory committee, formed by the ICCB, will then review the findings and make recommendations for changes or additions to the laws or review procedures.
Senate Bill 2157 requires that all trustees elected or appointed to a community college board must complete training that covers ethics, financial oversight, audits, contract law, community college law, labor law, open meetings law, and freedom of information law.
Senate Bill 2158 establishes a blackout period where community college districts and boards cannot enter into employment contracts beginning 45 days before local elections and lasting until the first meeting of the new community college board of trustees.
Senate Bill 2159 requires contracts with community colleges and universities to be agreed to in open meetings.
In 2015, an investigation found former President Breuder spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer and donor dollars on lavish perks, participated in prohibited political activity, mismanaged college and foundation funds, and noncompetitive contracts were handed out based on clout, among other abuses.
These new laws will take effect January 1.