Mask mandate ending; reforming teacher certification

Statewide mask mandate ends on Monday

The statewide mask mandate which has been in effect since last August is set to expire on Monday. The mandate was briefly lifted last summer for the first time since it was imposed in the spring of 2020. This move follows a trend of governments throughout the country and around the world lifting their mandates and restrictions. It was not an easy path to get here, however, and I remain deeply concerned about the kind of executive overreach which has characterized this entire episode. Legislators, local officials and parents should have been involved at every step of this process. It is disturbing that they were excluded.

Earlier this month a judge in Sangamon County issued a temporary restraining order against the mask mandate in schools. The Governor vowed to fight the ruling and the Attorney General quickly filed an appeal. At the same time, cities and states throughout the country announced plans to lift their mandates. Governor Pritzker soon followed suit, setting February 28 as the final day for Illinois’ indoor mask mandate.

Last week the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules refused to consent to an attempt by the Governor to extend the mandate via an emergency rule, and a couple of days later an appellate court did not grant the Attorney General’s motion to re-impose the school mask mandate. As things currently stand, there will no longer be a statewide mask mandate on Monday, though some institutions and settings (like nursing homes) are still able to require masks on their property.

Working to reform edTPA

Prospective teachers in Illinois must complete a performance assessment called edTPA to obtain an Illinois teaching license. It is one of the final steps in the process of becoming a teacher. But in recent years this program has been viewed skeptically by superintendents and principals, and many other states have moved away from similar tools as they hire new teachers. With Illinois facing a years-long teacher shortage, this is something we need to be examining to decide if it needs to be eliminated or reformed.

The Teacher Performance Assessment was phased in starting back in 2013 and included five key parts: planning, assessment, instruction, reflection and academic language. Once a prospective teacher has completed student teaching and the rest of their education, he or she is then evaluated on those points before a license is issued.

However, superintendents and principals have disputed whether edTPA really is an effective tool in determining which applicants will become good teachers. It does not take into account aspects like academic competence, evaluations of applicants by instructors personally familiar with them, or such factors as personal relationships and experiences gained through their teacher preparation programs. A survey of school administrators found serious doubts about the program. Some said that it did not accurately mirror the ability of the candidate, was an unnecessary step in the process and just added one more hoop to jump through rather than actually helping prospective teachers move into the workforce.

All five of our neighboring states use a different system, and large states like New York and Georgia recently eliminated their versions of edTPA. Legislation has been introduced in Illinois to eliminate the licensure test. We are going to continue to discuss this issue and find out the best way of getting high-quality teachers into Illinois classrooms.

Thank you to our first responders

A portion of our district made national news last week when a major accident shut down portions of Interstate 39 in Woodford County for almost 24 hours. Miraculously there were no deaths or serious injuries resulting from an accident which involved 100 vehicles in the snowstorm.

Many people were involved in the response, from emergency crews to everyday citizens. I give my sincerest thanks to the police, fire and ambulance crews who responded, as well as the workers from the state and county highway departments, the tow truck operators and all the local volunteers who helped comfort those who were stranded by the crash. Our area is a great place to live because of good people like those who rallied to help strangers on a cold and snowy night. Thank you to everyone involved.

Pancakes with the fire department

A big thank you goes out to the Saunemin firefighters for their drive-thru pancake breakfast on Sunday. It is a great cause. I was glad to recognize the fire department with a certificate from the General Assembly celebrating their 75 years of service to the community. They are a great group with years of experience and commitment. Thanks for all that you do!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $3,508,265,709 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $4.9 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 more than $141 billion.

Did You Know?

The first Rotary Club was formed in Illinois. A Vermonter named Paul Harris moved to Chicago and went to dinner with a business colleague. Walking along a street he noticed that his friend had excellent rapport with nearly all the business owners on the block. Harris thought a club for professionals from different fields could lead to business improvement and good civic works. He convened the first meeting on February 23, 1905, with four other businessmen. Because their regular meetings would rotate among their offices, the name “Rotary” was coined for the club. Today there are more than 35,000 Rotary Clubs worldwide and more than 1.2 million Rotarians. Rotary International is headquartered in Evanston.

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