September 3, 2014

'Ridiculous': 24 new school mandates have districts looking for cash

Schools in Illinois have begun their academic years with two dozen new requirements from lawmakers that do not come with any corresponding state funding.

Data collected by the Illinois State Board of Education show the 24 additional requirements this year are down slightly from the average 27 new rules imposed each year since 2007, according to a report from the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers.

This year's new rules include training students how to use automatic external defibrillators and practicing how to evacuate schools in emergencies.

Belleville school officials said unfunded mandates handed down from the state legislature have caused them concern.

"Any additional mandate without resources to support us to get the mandate done is a concern from us in the public school system," said Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville School District 118. "When they can't fund education at the level they are supposed to be and continue to add mandates onto us, it's ridiculous."

Belleville School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said any time there is an unfunded mandate it causes the district "some concern."

Often times, he said the district must research the laws to determine exactly how they will impact students and the district's budget.

Some laws are a "good idea," Dosier said

"It's going to be good for our community to have 1,200 new students every year who are trained in CPR and how to use an AED."

School funding has been severely cut in recent years due to Illinois' rising unfunded pension liability.

So with less money to work with, district officials have voiced complaints that the cost of complying with new requirements often comes at the expense of other programs or even local property tax increases.

State officials say at least 64 of the estimated 224 new requirements handed down in the past seven years would cost school districts money.

"Obviously, there are some things that are worthwhile," said Mike Williams, superintendent of the Maroa-Forsyth school district in central Illinois. "We'd just appreciate the ability to review some of them and decide whether they fit with our mission."

Mandates put on the books in recent years that some decry as unnecessary include requiring school districts to accept miniature horses as service animals for certain disabled children. Others require schools to teach about Internet safety and to have all flags flown at public school buildings manufactured in the United States.

Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar, of Bunker Hill, last spring introduced a proposal that would allow school districts to opt out of complying with some mandates-- a way of appeasing some districts that questioned his plan to overhaul the state's school funding formula.

But the idea later was dropped after opponents suggested it would be difficult for lawmakers to remove requirements that could be viewed as important to crucial voting blocs -- among them requiring the teaching of women's rights and African-American history each year.

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