District 60, Sen. Johnson Work on Legislation

District 60, Sen. Johnson Work on Legislation
Posted on 04/23/2021
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Waukegan Community Unit School District # 60 and State Senator Adriane Johnson have teamed up on legislation that could benefit school districts across Illinois. Senate Bill 813 (SB 813) will protect public schools from harsh financial penalties associated with COVID-related enrollment issues. Yesterday (April 22, 2021), the bill sailed out of the Illinois Senate in Springfield with overwhelming bi-partisan support (49 Yes, 6 No). The bill now goes to the Illinois House of Representatives.

For purposes of State funding relative to the upcoming school year (2021-2022), SB 813 would ensure that school districts will be given credit for their actual enrollment prior to COVID, or their actual enrollment during COVID, whichever is greater. Senator Johnson worked to craft and win support for the bill with Mr. Joseph Clary, an in-house attorney with Waukegan Public Schools, who has spearheaded a number of legislative initiatives for the District.

“This legislation is an effort to ensure that all of our school districts can serve students who come knocking on schools’ doors when they fully re-open,” said Senator Johnson.  “It is an equitable solution to a structural problem that struck at the hearts of families and schools across the nation, and it deserves our wholehearted support.”

During the pandemic, students have been absent from school for a number of reasons, explained Roberto Silva, principal of Waukegan’s Carman-Buckner Elementary School.  During his legislative testimony Mr. Silva stated: “The Carman-Buckner school-based outreach staff have conducted at least 6,000 outreach intervention calls relative to daily attendance. In the process, we have learned that many of our families have encountered extremely hard times, where they have to focus on issues that are pressing and critical, such as permanent housing. For example, in early September of  this school year, while I was doing home visits, I encountered a father and three of our students living out of their vehicle, prompting us to immediately activate additional District resources to help the family find temporary housing.”

Principal Silva's experiences are common. School leaders spent considerable time attempting to re-engage their students. Principals and assistant principals, along with their support staff, sent follow-up letters, made calls to all known contacts, and went on hundreds of home visits, while districts simultaneously spent millions of dollars on technology to promote and support virtual learning. 

According to the District’s testimony, between pre-COVID and post-COVID, enrollment in Waukegan Public Schools dropped by 5.56% -- a decline of 827 students.  Other school districts across Illinois experienced similar decreases -- including those in East St. Louis, Urbana, Elgin, Aurora, Rockford, McClean County, Decatur, and Wheaton. 

“During COVID, declines in attendance don’t always mean that families have moved out of a district,” said Waukegan Public Schools Superintendent, Theresa Plascencia.  “When schools fully re-open, we may see comparable increases in enrollment. So if districts are expected to serve all students when schools fully re-open, districts should not be penalized for potentially temporary enrollment declines during COVID.”

The legislation is being supported by a number of school districts, including the Lake County Superintendents' Association, as well as ISBE, Advance Illinois, and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.  

“COVID has had an unprecedented impact on school district enrollments,” said Senator Johnson. “Many students have faced terribly difficult challenges associated with virtual or hybrid attendance, such as the need to take care of younger siblings; parents who aren’t able to work from home; or the fact that the family has to focus on pressing and gravely difficult circumstances associated with finances, health and housing.” 

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