An education reform bill would force schools to test children even before they enter kindergarten. The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus spearheaded the measure, which passed through both houses of the General Assembly this week.
Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, is a chief sponsor of the bill. Lightford said the measure will require schools to assess and identify the needs of students starting with kindergarten. Schools would test incoming kindergarteners on literacy, language, math, and social and emotional development.
"Once this identifies what those needs are, there needs to be early intervention services that are available to those small children, so that once they arrive in kindergarten, they're assessed, and then they have the support for their families that they need," said Lightford.
Among other provisions, the bill would require the State Board of Education to create standards for teaching computer science.
Also included in the bill are grants for Freedom School programs, which would offer Black students supplemental education during the summer.
"This is something that's really important to make sure, especially given COVID and the widening of the academic achievement gap," said Lightford.
But State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Champaign, criticized the bill during floor discussion. He said the bill would lead to cuts in grants for students of public state universities.
The bill includes changes to the AIM HIGH college grant pilot program started in 2019. Under the Black Caucus proposal, schools would have to match a certain percentage of funds for the program depending on the share of students receiving federal Pell Grant financial aid. Previously, schools had to match all the funds received for AIM HIGH by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
Rose said changes to the program should be made in a bipartisan manner.
"Right now, today, the bill in front of us, as a matter of fact, will be a cut to students and their scholarships and AIM HIGH, period," said Rose, whose 51st Senate District includes parts of McLean County, including LeRoy, Downs and Heyworth.
Lightford said the changes would not result in changes to scholarships for students.
"We're trying to make sure that the university presidents are able to give as many scholarships at their university instead of sending that money back because they don't have the match," said Lightford.
The bill now goes to Governor J.B. Pritzker for his potential signature.