School construction task force meets; stopping abuse of “seclusion rooms”

School construction task force to meet again

Earlier this year I was appointed to the School Construction Task Force, which has been meeting to examine the status of state funding for construction of school buildings – some of which is long overdue. The task force held an organizational meeting in November, and we will be meeting again next week.

Some school districts have been waiting for construction funds for as long as 16 years. Some of these requests go as far back as Fiscal Year 2004, and more than 200 districts have submitted applications since then, but are still waiting. The capital improvements bill we passed this spring included $215 million for School Maintenance Grants: emergency projects and others such as health, life and safety improvements.

Changes to the state’s School Construction Law have been proposed, and this issue is one which the task force will be examining closely. We have to find a way to help school districts make the improvements their facilities need without having to wait for more than a decade for funding. We will also be looking at the state’s grant programs for schools to provide funds for maintenance and energy efficiency. I am looking forward to next week’s meeting as we dive deeper into this important topic.

State acts to stop abuse of “seclusion rooms” in schools

A recent investigation by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune uncovered stories of abuse and misuse of so-called “seclusion rooms” in schools throughout the state. Students were locked into these small rooms, sometimes for hours at a time, for purposes that seem counter to state law. The details unearthed by the investigation and articles are both shocking and disturbing. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) reacted immediately, issuing emergency rules to “end the use of isolated seclusion in Illinois schools,” and to better collect data from schools which have used these rooms in the past.

We need to respect our teachers and help them to keep order in the classroom, but we also need to ensure that children are not abused or mistreated while doing so. I was glad to see the action which ISBE took, and I expect this will be a major issue which the General Assembly will review and investigate when we return in January.

This week, Representative Avery Bourne and I wrote to the chairperson of the Elementary and Secondary Education-School Curriculum and Policies Committee to urge her to convene a hearing as soon as possible to investigate these disturbing reports. Legislation has already been introduced to ban the use of these rooms, and more proposals are likely to follow.

Applications extended for State Police cadet class

The Illinois State Police Merit Board has announced that the deadline for applications to become a State Police cadet has been extended to January 31. Candidates who submit applications which are approved will be invited to take a recruitment test and a physical fitness test in advance of the start of the Cadet Class on August 1. More information, including a study guide and the ISP recruitment video, is available at www.illinoistrooper.com.

Hometown in the Heartland photo contest winners

Congratulations to all the winners of our districtwide 2019 Hometown in the Heartland photo contest. The winners include Grace Mund of Odell, Jennie Kearney and Anniah Barker from El Paso, Karen Gilmoure of Pontiac, Wayne Brown of Watseka and Dena Tjarks from Sibley. Winners unable to attend our awards reception were Diane Perkins, Audrey Kaeb, Bridgette Beltran, Allison Wessels and Sarah Hardinson.

Special thanks also go to our judges and those who helped with picture frame setup: Roger Bard and Dan Worthey, both of Watseka. I appreciate Cissna Park Mayor Chad Verkler and Odell Mayor Brian Mills for their attendance and support.

Congratulations to all our contest winners and their families. The winning photos will be displayed in my offices here in the district and the Capitol complex for the next year. Thanks to all who entered and who helped showcase the many beautiful scenes here in our area.

Honoring a local food pantry

I recently had the honor of presenting an Illinois House Resolution to Rick Ertel of the Gibson Area Food Pantry. HR 571 recognizes and thanks the Gibson Area Food Pantry that helps meet the needs of over 350 families in nine counties. The staff at the pantry have helped make Gibson City a better place with their vision, kindness and thoughtfulness in getting the entire community involved. As we celebrate the holiday season, we are reminded of the especially important role which our local food pantries play in the well-being of our community. The Gibson Area Food Pantry is a shining example. Congratulations to Rick, the staff and the entire community!

Busy week around the district

This week I had several good discussions while traveling in and around the 106th district. I was glad to meet with the new Regional Superintendent of Schools for Woodford and neighboring counties Jeff Ekena, along with Representative Norine Hammond of Macomb, other legislators and about 30 K-12 school superintendents from our area to discuss education issues.

I stopped for pie and coffee with Russ Geisler in Gilman where we talked about the importance of protecting our Second Amendment rights. It was also nice to visit with Marty Fannin in Pontiac and retired Mayor Bob Russell and his family prior to their lunch. It is always helpful to hear from the people who have given me the honor of representing them in Springfield, and I consider any time I spend hearing the concerns of the people of our area to be time well spent.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,291,848,378 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.85 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $133 billion.

Did You Know?

On December 6, 1847, Abraham Lincoln took his seat in Congress for the first and only term he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite the contentious issues of the day, Lincoln’s service in Congress was not especially noteworthy. He tried unsuccessfully to get an infrastructure bill passed and he spoke out against President James K. Polk over the war with Mexico. He was not re-nominated by his Whig Party, and returned to Illinois to practice law the next year.