Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law a new bill that proponents say will “change the face of education” in Illinois by improving access and equity across the state’s education system through an expanded early intervention program, annual readiness assessments and more.
The governor joined other elected officials at Proviso East High School in suburban Maywood to sign the Education and Workforce Equity Act, which he said will help eliminate “racial inequities and structural barriers that hold our learners back.”
“As I see it, our work isn’t done until equity and fairness is a guiding principle at all of our schools,” Pritzker said, “until every child has the educational tools available to them that will allow them to attain the future that they dream of.”
Advocates of this legislation say it will support public schools and make a college education more affordable, while it also helps invest in vocational training and expand the teacher workforce across the state.
Today, @GovPritzker signs the Educational Workforce and Equity Act. "Our work isn't done until equity and fairness is a guiding principle at all of our schools."@IllinoisLBC #Illinois #Chicago #education #highschool #elementaryschools @ChiPubSchools pic.twitter.com/rlNe4ZFWyT
— BlueRoomStream (@BlueRoomStream) March 8, 2021
The bill expands access to Illinois’ Early Intervention program by letting children who turn 3 years old between May and August continue receiving services until the beginning of the next school year. It also requires the Illinois State Board of Education to assess all public school children entering kindergarten each year in order to measure their readiness.
Under the legislation, new graduation requirements will be added to better prepare students in computer literacy, laboratory science and foreign languages, and a required Black history coursework will be expanded to include pre-enslavement of Black people, why Black people came to be enslaved and the American civil rights movement.
“This is my moment of peace,” said state Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood). “My anger is gone … because I know that this legislation is transformative and filled with hope for our children.”
Other changes included in the bill:
— A 22-person Inclusive American History Commission.
— A Whole Child Task Force that will focus on expanding trauma-responsive school services.
— An increase to the percentage of grant funds prioritized for Black men.
— New priority in grant funding for students who want to become bilingual teachers.
— Expansion of the Illinois Teaching Excellence Program to cover programs working with diverse candidates.
Lightford, who chairs the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which backed the legislation, said the bill is “just as important” as the sweeping criminal justice reforms Pritzker signed into law last month.
“Without it, we lack the foundation on which all other pillars will be built up to succeed,” she said. “You want safer neighborhoods? Education. You want better paying jobs? Education. You want less government reliance? Education.”