JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

ISAC State Legislative Update

Katharine Gricevich
Director of Government Relations
February 3, 2021

The year 2021 is off to a busy start in the Illinois legislature. Below, you can find updates on the omnibus education measure passed in the waning days of the 101st General Assembly, personnel changes (including leadership changes) in the 102nd GA, significant revisions to the rules in both chambers, an update on Governor Pritzker’s upcoming budget address, and summaries of bills filed so far in the new General Assembly.

101st GENERAL ASSEMBLY “LAME DUCK” PERIOD CLOSES

The 2021 calendar year opened with several hectic days at the beginning of January, with legislators meeting through the night to wrap up the work of the 101st General Assembly and, in the House, to select a new Speaker to lead that chamber in the 102nd General Assembly. The “Lame Duck” period included consideration and passage of a number of consequential bills that were part of the agenda of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC) and its efforts to combat systemic racism.

The ILBC initiatives, many of which were sweeping in scope, followed a series of hearings and working group discussions convened by ILBC members and Senate committees throughout the summer, fall, and beginning of winter. The bills combine a variety of measures addressing four pillars of an agenda intended to address systemic racism and inequities: education and workforce development (House Bill (HB) 2170); criminal justice reform, violence reduction, and police accountability (HB 3653); economic access, opportunity, and equity (Senate Bill (SB) 1480, SB 1608, SB 1792, SB 1980); and healthcare and human services (HB 3840).

Education Omnibus Bill

One very large education-related measure, HB 2170 (Ammons/Lightford) is considered an “Education Omnibus” and includes provisions ranging from early childhood education to high school course offerings and graduation requirements, developmental education, and student financial aid for college. The bill has not been signed as of this writing, but it’s believed that the Governor will do so.

With respect to ISAC programs, the Education Omnibus bill will make changes to the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program (MTI) and the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program. Changes to these sections are summarized below:

Article 120 of HB 2170 makes changes to the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program (MTI).

  • The bill would increase the percentage of funds prioritized for male applicants, particularly for Black males, and incorporate consideration of financial need in awarding. If funding reaches specified thresholds, the grant size would also increase (from $5,000 to $7,500), and priority would be granted for students wanting to become bilingual teachers, as well.
  • The bill will also make students eligible for the grant even if not yet enrolled in an educator preparation program if they have received a College and Career Pathways endorsement and commit to enrolling in a course of study leading to teacher licensure.
  • Bilingual recipients would be allowed to fulfill their teaching requirements in a transitional bilingual education (TBE) program or a school with a specified number of students whose primary language is not English.
  • Finally, each college or university that receives MTI funds would be required to host an annual information session at the institution about the program for teacher candidates of color and to ensure that each scholarship recipient enrolled at the institution meets with an academic advisor at least once per academic year to facilitate on-time completion of the recipient's educator preparation program.
  • These changes would be implemented for awards beginning the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Elsewhere, the bill also encourages the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to further promote and encourage the enrollment of students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups into educator preparation programs.

Article 125 of HB 2170 makes changes to the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program.

  • To accommodate institutions with greater financial restraints and provide relief to universities experiencing financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, the bill replaces the existing dollar-for-dollar matching requirement with a tiered approach:
    • A public university where an average of at least 49% of its student body received a Pell Grant over the previous three academic years would match 20% of the amount of state funds awarded in a given academic year for financial aid for eligible students
    • A public university where, on average, less than 49% of its student body received Pell for the previous three academic years would match 60% of the amount of state funds awarded in a given academic year for financial aid for eligible students.

The bill also encourages the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), which administers the Gateways to Opportunity program for early childhood educators-in-training, to conduct outreach and provide targeted coaching and access to financial supports, including scholarships and debt relief, in a way that prioritizes increasing the diversity of the teacher pipeline, including bilingual providers and educators, regions of the State with the highest need, and children in age groups with the greatest teacher shortages. It encourages ISBE to provide additional financial support to candidates for early childhood licensure.

Other

House Resolution (HR) 696 (Ammons – Adopted by House) urges Congress to recognize outstanding student debt as a crisis endangering African-Americans and the nation at large and to ease the burden of student loan debt on current borrowers. It also urges state legislators to license and regulate servicers and affirms their right to do so; urges full funding of public higher education, especially prioritizing addressing historic inequities affecting African-Americans; and urges “the development of innovative solutions for student debt held by states, either by state agencies that serve as FFELP guarantors or student loans issued by states.” Notably, the State of Illinois does already regulate some student loan servicers under the Student Loan Servicing Rights Act (110 ILCS 922).

102ND GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS WITH PERSONNEL CHANGES, NEW RULES, & BLEAK BUDGET

The new 102nd General Assembly began in January, and it immediately made history.

After four decades, the Illinois House selected a new Speaker to lead the Democratic majority and, by extension, the chamber. Following public vows from nineteen House Democratic legislators that they would not support State Representative Michael J. Madigan for another term as their leader, several members put their names forth for consideration. Hours of private caucus meetings spread across days of session, and interest groups issued public statements announcing their preferences. Ultimately, House Democrats selected Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside as the new House Speaker. On January 13th, during the inauguration ceremony for the 102nd General Assembly, Welch was formally elected to the post and became the state’s first Black House Speaker.

Speaker Welch has previously chaired the House Higher Education Committee and House Executive Committee.

Observers have also noted that, with a change in leadership of the Senate Republican Caucus – Senator Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods will take over as the Senate Republican Leader from Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington – Speaker Welch’s election also marks a geographic power shift to the Chicago suburbs. (Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park took over last session from Chicagoan John Cullerton, as well, and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin lives in Burr Ridge.)

In terms of the numeric balance of power, the Democrats gained a seat in the State Senate in November, increasing their super-majority by one (41-18). Although House Democrats also retained a super-majority, they did lose a net one seat, putting that chamber at 73-45. Notably, the state constitution requires a super-majority (3/5) vote rather than a simple majority for a variety of measures, including borrowing, veto overrides, passing a bill with an immediate effective date, and getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

With the new General Assembly come new committee assignments, as well: Senator Scott Bennett is the new chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, and Representative Katie Stuart is the new House Higher Education Committee chair. Bennett will also chair the Higher Education Subcommittee of a restructured Senate Appropriations Committee (which will be chaired by Senator Elgie Sims), and Representative LaShawn Ford remains chair of the House Appropriations—Higher Education Committee.

Beyond the impact of these personnel changes and the retirements of several experienced legislators (among them Senators Andy Manar, Heather Steans, Dale Righter, and Pat McGuire), the chambers will even be operating with different rules for the 102nd General Assembly: The Senate has already adopted rules allowing for remote legislating, and the House is expected to do so when it convenes February 10th. House committees are expected to meet Monday through Friday rather than the traditional Tuesday through Thursday schedule, and, in a departure from past practice, the Senate has adopted rules that allow a single bill to be assigned to multiple committees before it can proceed to the full Senate.

Governor Pritzker is scheduled to deliver a combined state of the state message and budget address on February 17th, facing another significant outcome from the November election: the failure of the proposed constitutional amendment to allow graduated income tax rates.

Passage of the amendment would have triggered implementation of a Public Act that would have applied new, graduated tax rates right away. Now, there’s discussion of freezing a portion of the spending that was already enacted for the current fiscal year (FY 2021), and the state is projecting deficits of nearly $4 billion for FY 21 and more than $4 billion annually for the following few years.

INTRODUCED BILLS

Bills for the new General Assembly have begun to be filed and can be found at ilga.gov under “Bills and resolutions.” The summaries below include measures related to student financial aid, higher education access and affordability, and they are believed to be accurate at the time of writing. For the latest updates and full text of bills, please consult the General Assembly’s website at www.ilga.gov.

HB 35 (Mason) would create the Veterans Bill of Rights Act. Along with provisions regarding veterans’ access to loans, health care, suicide prevention, and housing, the bill contains provisions regarding veterans at public institutions of higher education receiving academic credit for certain military training, registering for courses, and being called to active duty. It also requires the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to annually review apprentice, training, and other vocational programs focused on providing job training and placement to returning military service members and veterans.

HB 39 (Stuart) would change the partial tuition waiver program at public universities. Under current law, an employee must have worked for one or more Illinois colleges or universities for at least 7 years for the employee’s children to be eligible for a 50% tuition waiver for undergraduate education. This bill would remove the seven-year requirement but add new requirements that the employee be working at the institution when the child enrolls, and that they remain employed by an Illinois college or university throughout the duration of the child's enrollment or until the child has expended 4 years of undergraduate partial tuition waiver benefits.

HB 49 (West) would immediately make for-profit colleges ineligible for grant programs administered by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and make their students ineligible for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants. For-profits institutions would be removed from the definition of "institution of higher learning", "qualified institution", and "institution" found in the Higher Education Student Assistance Act, the primary law that authorizes ISAC programs.

HB 83 (Flowers) would allow each dependent of an exonerated person to receive a separate set of tuition and fee benefits under the grant program for exonerated persons, beginning July 1, 2021.

HB 89 (Flowers) would create a Community Bank of Illinois operated by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), laying out its powers and duties. Among those, all state funds would be required to be deposited in the Bank, the Bank would be custodian of securities, and the Bank would administer the Illinois higher education savings plan (although the bill does not appear to make changes to Bright Start, the existing savings program administered by the Office of the Treasurer).

HB 148 (Morgan) would create the Scholars of Service Act. Under the Act, ISAC would administer a new student loan forgiveness grant program intended to support Illinoisans who were enrolled in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program but denied federal student loan forgiveness. The agency would first work with the applicant to determine eligibility for any other Illinois loan forgiveness program and, if eligible, assist the applicant in applying for that financial assistance, to be used toward his or her federal student loan debt. The new state loan forgiveness program would then be used toward any remaining federal student loan debt. If ISAC finds that the applicant’s federal PSLF application was denied due to a loan servicer’s negligence, misinformation, or misrepresentations, the Commission would be required to report this finding to the Office of the Attorney General, who may pursue legal action against the student loan servicer.

HB 184 (Flowers) would require the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice to provide educational programs and vocational training in each of their institutions and facilities.

HB 226 (Greenwood) would create the Higher Education Fair Admissions Act. As of January 1, 2022, the bill would prohibit public higher education institutions from requiring applicants who are Illinois residents to submit standardized college admissions test scores as a part of the admissions process. The applicant would instead have the option of submitting scores.

HB 332 (K. Burke) would require each public institution of higher education to study and issue a report on the cost-saving methods and practices utilized by the institution for improving students' timely access to required course materials and the affordability of required course materials. Each public institution would submit its report to the IBHE or Illinois Community College Board (ICBB) no later than August 1, 2022, and the IBHE and ICCB would be required to submit a joint report of the findings to the Governor and General Assembly no later than February 1, 2023, and post each institution's report and the joint report on their respective websites.

HB 374 (N. Smith) would permit community colleges and housing authorities to develop affordable housing for community college students. Non-exempt local governments would be permitted to develop affordable housing for community college students in coordination with nonprofit affordable housing developers and housing authorities.

HB 391 (Moylan) creates an income tax credit, the Retaining Illinois Students of Engineering (RISE) credit, for taxpayers who employ individuals working within the engineering sector who graduated from an accredited institution of higher learning with a Bachelor's degree or higher. The credit would be equal to 10% of the compensation paid for the first through fifth years of employment if the qualified employee graduated from an institution located in Illinois or 5% of the compensation if the qualified employee graduated from an institution not located in Illinois. Effective immediately.

HR 5 (West) urges the U.S. Congress to expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program so that it includes farming as an applicable career for loan forgiveness.

HR 13 (Ford) would create the Commission on the Social Status of Black Males to study the social conditions of Black males, create evidence-based and measurable policy and system changes, develop strategies to assist in remedying severe adversities, support forums to promote statewide achievements, and make sustainable recommendations to improve the life chance and quality of life of Black males in Illinois.

HR 26 (Spain) urges the Community Foundations of Illinois to enter into a joint effort with the State of Illinois to administer post-graduation scholarship programs.

SB 2 (Harmon) is currently a “shell” or “vehicle” bill, one without substance meant to be amended later. While it’s not yet known what the bill will ultimately contain, the bill’s short title is “an act concerning education affordability.”

SB 63 (Peters) would require the Department of Children and Family Services to ensure that every youth in care who is entering his or her final year of high school has completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form, if applicable, or an application for State financial aid within the month of October of the youth's final year of high school. It requires the Department to assist a youth in care in identifying and obtaining all documents necessary to complete a FAFSA form, if applicable, or an application for State financial aid.