Bill Sets Criteria For State Takeover Of Failing School Districts

Jan 13, 2015

Just before leaving office yesterday, now-former Governor Pat Quinn signed a slew of bills. One of those bills spells out when the state can take over a school district. 

Before this bill became law, the Illinois State Board of Education was theoretically required to intervene when any school district spent at least three years on the academic watch list. That’s about a hundred districts, but the board has neither the resources nor the desire to take such drastic action in so many schools.

Heather Steans
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

So the board crafted legislation to define the rules for intervention -- and how control is returned to the community.

State Senator Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored the measure.

“This bill is both narrowing the criteria and making it clear when you can actually go in, and it makes it clear what the actual criteria are and how you get back to your elected school board as quickly as possible,” Steans says. 

There’s currently only one district -- North Chicago District 187 -- under state board control.

The bill defines priority districts as those that have schools among the lowest 5 percent in the state based on a three-year average, with at least one secondary school with an average graduation rate of leess than 60 percent in the last three school years. A school receiving a federal School Improvement Grant would also be a priority.

These districts would be required to undergo a needs assessment in areas of finance, governance, student engagement, instruction practices, climate and community involvement. The board may require districts with one or more core deficiencies to undergo the accreditation process.

ISBE may remove the school board in any district that fails to meet accreditation because of governance, partly due to failure to meet School Code requirements for board members. The law outlines due process rights for these board members.

The law also provides specifics for the independent authority that would replace the board, including the requirement that a majority of the members be residents of the district. School board elections would be suspended for one election cycle, and then phased in over four years while keeping the independent authority in place, to rebuild local capacity.

Once the district meets full accreditation, the independent authority would be dissolved.

The state would be limited to establishing no more than four such independent authorities at any one time.