Week in Review: Invest in Kids, Trust Act, fall back and more

Preparations for second and final week of fall 2023 veto session. The Illinois House of Representatives will reconvene on Tuesday, November 7 in Springfield. The House Rules Committee met on Wednesday, November 1, to examine bills on the House agenda for assignment to the House floor or to committees. Numerous House committees have posted hearing notices for next week.

Many House Republicans continued to fight this week to keep the popular “Invest in Kids” scholarship program alive. This program, which provides indirect State assistance to those who donate money to Illinois private-school scholarship funds, is threatened by an imminent sunset deadline: the State tax credit that helps incentivize this program will expire on December 31, 2023. Compromise language to extend the program has been introduced but the program’s future remains in doubt.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) releases annual report card on Illinois public schools. The report card, which included attendance data, student absenteeism data, and aggregated test score data for each individual Illinois school and school district, covered numbers generated through the end of the 2023 spring school term. This was the final term of the first full school year since the lifting of the substantial barriers to in-school classroom learning that had characterized the 2020-2022 COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown.

During the pandemic, Illinois school attendance and test score performances showed substantial drops. The declines were especially pronounced among students from at-risk backgrounds who attend challenged Illinois public schools. This included, but was not limited to, students classified as “English learners.” The 2023 Report Card showed partial recoveries from the troughs notched during the pandemic, but full recoveries were not posted. While the headcounts of public-school students characterized as being “proficient” in English (relative to their grade/age group) rose 16% from the prior year, and the same “proficiency” classification was given in math to 4% more students than in 2022, these numbers remained below the numbers that had been achieved by Illinois public schools and their students in 2019, prior to the start of the pandemic.

Within the universe of Illinois students enrolled in public schools, Black students did better in these data set numbers in 2023 than in 2022. However, there are now many defined, separate identity groups of students enrolled in Illinois public schools, and not all groups of students are doing well in 2023. Furthermore, overall numbers show continued high numbers of students from many identity groups who are chronically absent from classrooms. Almost one-third of all Illinois public school students, 30%, missed more than 17 days of school last year. This is especially significant because when a student who is often absent returns to class, the student’s performance and behavior may create additional challenges for the student and classmates.

The ISBE has published the data from its Illinois Report Card in a manner that enables each individual school’s data to be reviewed. The 2023 Report Card was released on Monday, October 30.

Illinois State Police trooper seriously wounded during on-duty shooting. ISP Trooper Dakotah Champman-Green performed a traffic stop on Tuesday, October 24 on a vehicle traveling in Springfield. The vehicle’s driver, Cristobal Santana, is alleged to have emerged from the vehicle and opened fire with a weapon, seriously wounding the trooper. Champman-Green suffered gunshot wounds, facial fractures, a skull fracture, and a brain bleed. Santana then fled the scene. When apprehended a few hours later, Santana was described as a suspect in the recent homicide of Adrianna Lopez of Chicago. Santana was described as an ex-boyfriend of Lopez.

The traffic stop and shooting were recorded by Trooper Champman-Green’s dashcam. Santana has been charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Other related charges have also been filed. This week, the dashcam video was released to Illinois news outlets and the public.

Illinois community college enrollment up in 2023. The key spring 2023 data point was up by 7.2% over spring 2022 enrollment, showing continued recovery after the sharp signup declines in 2020-2021 that were associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The finalized enrollment number for the Spring 2023 term was 249,836 students. This total represented the largest year-over-year enrollment gain in nearly 15 years. The numbers were published in the Spring 2023 Enrollment Report compiled by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB).

Enrollment numbers for the 2023 fall term are not yet finalized, but year-over-year enrollment growth was described as continuing upward at a comparable pace with the spring 2023 enrollment numbers. Enrollment increases were concentrated in skill-set areas classified as Career and Technical Education, up 10.4% in fall 2023 by preliminary count, and Vocational Skills Training, up 6.3% during the same period. Online enrollment declined but is still very strong in fall 2023, with almost half (42.3%) of all enrolled community college students signing up for at least one online course enjoyed through distance learning.

Southern Illinois Republican Representatives: Time to End Illinois’ Sanctuary State Status. Three House Republican lawmakers representing southern Illinois are sponsoring legislation to end Illinois’ sanctuary state status. House Republican Floor Leader State Representative Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis), State Rep. Dave Severin (R-Benton), and State Rep. Paul Jacobs (R-Pomona) issued a joint statement on Monday calling for immediate passage of HB 4187, a bill that would repeal the controversial TRUST Act that passed in 2017. The legislators say the flow of illegal migrants and drugs into the State of Illinois must be stopped.

“The TRUST Act established Illinois’ ‘sanctuary state’ status, and the results for our state and its taxpayers have been disastrous. Right now, [more than 500,000] undocumented illegal immigrants reside in Illinois, a number that is unsustainable for cities large and small,” Rep. Windhorst said. “We literally cannot afford to continue funding this crisis, with Illinois taxpayers already being on the hook for nearly $3 billion per year in costs. Healthcare for illegal immigrants is another driver of cost to taxpayers that is getting out of control. In September 2023, Illinois’ Department of Healthcare and Family Services estimated that healthcare for illegal immigrants will cost Illinois $831 million in the current fiscal year. We must take action to stem this tide. We must repeal the TRUST Act.”

State Rep. Dave Severin says the crisis at the US southern border lays at the feet of the Biden administration, and considering Illinois’ sanctuary state status, migrants know that if they come to Illinois, they will not be subject to law enforcement’s efforts to deport them.

“The TRUST Act prohibits local law enforcement officials in communities throughout the state from cooperating with the federal government’s immigration authorities,” Severin said. “The State of Illinois gives undocumented immigrants free healthcare benefits, driver’s licenses, and housing assistance, as well as other taxpayer-funded benefits. Illinois taxpayers cannot afford to pay for free healthcare benefits for undocumented immigrants, especially at a time when healthcare costs for our own citizens continue to skyrocket. The TRUST Act’s gotta go.”

State Rep. Paul Jacobs is joining with Windhorst and Severin in offering an online petition to district residents so they can have their voices heard on the illegal immigration and sanctuary state issues.

“We are up against a Democratic party that favors lax immigration laws and open borders. Our citizens do not support sanctuary city and state laws, and now they’ll have the opportunity to sign on to our petition calling for the repeal of the TRUST Act,” Jacobs said. “The costs are out of control, crime is out of control, there is no plan to take care of the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living in our state, and our citizens are rightly tired of it. I hope everyone will add their name to the petition that calls for the end of Illinois’ time as a sanctuary state while my House Republican colleagues and I continue to demand our legislation be given a fair and open hearing and an up or down vote in the House.”

Sign the online petition to end the TRUST Act here.

New UAW contract could lead to the reopening of Belvidere assembly plant. The plant adjacent to Interstate 90 in Belvidere operated for more than five decades as a hub location for the assembly of gas-powered Chrysler motor vehicles. With a peak workforce of more than 4,000 auto workers, Belvidere was a major economic engine in Northern Illinois. However, as Illinois’ status as a place to invest money and create jobs went into decline, Chrysler cut back Belvidere production through several separate economic cycles. In 2021, the parent Chrysler company merged with an international holding company, Stellantis. When the Belvidere assembly plant was completely idled in February 2023, Stellantis laid off almost all of the facility’s 1,350 remaining workers. A skeleton workforce remained to keep the buildings in secure mothball status.

As part of a new October labor contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW), Stellantis has now pledged to focus on Belvidere as a future hub assembly plant for electric-powered vehicles. The production process, which will require massive re-tooling from the assembly line processes used to create gas-powered motor vehicles, will use Illinois-made battery packs to power “Ram” midsized light trucks. Along with other Stellantis brand names, the popular Ram truck brand will shift away from motor fuel and into electricity. The Stellantis announcement was made on Saturday, October 28.

Fall back to Standard Time. Be sure to turn your clocks back one hour this weekend as Daylight Saving Time Ends!