Concerning state report card; Energy prices on the rise

Illinois state report card shows poor results from lockdowns

Every year the Illinois State Board of Education releases the state’s report card, an annual report on how well our schools are doing. The report includes information on several topics from graduation rates and class sizes to the results of standardized tests taken by students. This year’s report card revealed some disturbing results about the learning loss that occurred while schools were shut down by COVID lockdowns.

There were some bright spots in the report. Illinois’ four-year graduation rate is 87.3%, the highest it has been in more than a decade, and nearly two-thirds of Illinois graduates continued their education within a year of graduation. The number of teachers in the state also increased by 2500 and the teacher retention rate was the highest it has been since 2014.

Our local teachers, staff and administrators moved heaven and earth to meet the needs of their students during the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and the lockdowns which were imposed upon them. Now that the lockdowns are over, I see their dedication every time I visit a local school or meet with a group of teachers or administrators (more on this below). Every time I walk into a school, I am excited about what I see; the interaction between students and teachers, positive attitudes students have about learning and being with friends, and seeing the many good things that happen in our classrooms. I may be partial but we have many good schools, faculty, administrators and hardworking students in our district.

At the same time, this report shows too much bad news, that our educational system is failing far too many students across Illinois, with severe implications for the future of our state. We have to do better, and this has to be a top priority for policymakers going forward.

Only 27.4% of Illinois third graders met or exceeded state reading standards. Before the pandemic lockdowns that number was 36.4%. Students who are not proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

The report card found that the problem was not limited to third grade reading. The percentage of students who met state standards in math and English also steeply declined. Among eighth graders, 23.1% were rated proficient in math, declining from 32.6% before COVID. Performance among eighth graders in algebra improved somewhat from last year, though it was still slightly behind its pre-COVID standing. Three out of ten students were found to have been “chronically absent” meaning they missed more than 10% of the school year.

This report should concern every parent in Illinois and everyone concerned about the future of our state. As a Wall Street Journal editorial about Illinois’ poor results pointed out, “a child who can’t read in third grade can’t do word problems in fourth or science experiments in fifth.” Students who fall behind early will have a much harder time catching up as the curriculum gets harder and as they are expected to build upon the skills they should have obtained early in their education.

Energy prices continue to rise, legislation filed to help Illinois ratepayers

All year long we have seen rising energy prices in Illinois and across the nation. Most of this rise has been due to bad federal policy coming from Washington which has made our country less energy independent. Some of the rise has been attributable to other outside factors like the invasion of Ukraine.

In Illinois we passed important energy legislation last year which will be a long-term gain for the state, but which is causing some problems in the short term. I am co-sponsoring legislation to ease those short term effects and give some relief to Illinoisans.

Part of the problem with the Illinois energy legislation centers on the forced closure of many of our existing power plants. House Bill 5781 repeals the forced 2045 closure date that was part of last year’s energy bill. By removing this deadline we can make sure that the power grid is able to keep meeting demand without interruptions from an artificial date. House Bill 5782 goes along the same lines by cutting through some of the bureaucratic red tape at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and expediting the process for new power plants to get the state permits they need.

This legislation will fix some of the flaws in the new energy bill while keeping us on track for a cleaner and more reliable energy grid in the future.

Illinoisans in need of assistance with energy bills this fall and winter might wish to check out the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program which can be reached toll-free at 1-877-411-9276. You can also find energy bill assistance information from the various Illinois energy companies like Ameren, ComEd and Nicor at the bottom of this link.

Facebook Live event on Sunday night

Sunday night at 6 p.m. I will be joined by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin for a Facebook live discussion about the SAFE-T Act and its implications for public safety. With the fall veto session coming up in a couple of weeks there has been some talk about changes being made to the new criminal justice law which was passed in January 2021 over the objections of most law enforcement groups in Illinois. I hope you will be able to join in the discussion!

Visiting Iroquois West

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to visit with Principal Duncan and 4th and 5th grade students at Iroquois West Upper Elementary School in Thawville.

We talked about state government, our district, my role, and being engaged in the process. I loved hearing class discussions about the Louisiana Purchase, math and division problems, increased water demands and more. The learning process never stops. A big thank you to Superintendent Lekkas, principals, faculty and staff for all you do to help our children learn about the ever changing and fast paced world we live in!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $1,797,310,670 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $3.9 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 $137 billion.

Did You Know?

There are plenty of ways to get exercise around the state Capitol building. One way is just to walk from the bottom to the top: there are 110 steps to climb between the main floor and the gallery overlooking the House chamber.

More news from around the state

SAFE-T Act lawsuits consolidated to Kankakee County

Carle, Aetna reach tentative deal to keep state retirees in network

RSV cases among kids, infants up in Illinois. What parents need to know about the virus

Illinois’ lingering unemployment debt could hurt employers, workers

Illinois Department of Agriculture announces new agritourism tax credit