More than a year ago, Illinois lawmakers approved a total overhaul of the way the state funds schools. That landmark legislation, known as “evidence-based funding,” got a lot of media attention. But at the same time, something else happened that went totally unreported: The state also changed the number of instructional hours required in a school day from five to zero.
Let’s be clear: The new law didn’t force any changes, so most districts carried on with their usual schedules. And as soon teachers unions noticed the five-hour requirement had been dropped, they began to lobby to reinstate it.
But by that time, a few districts had embraced the new flexibility, and didn’t want to give it up. That left the Illinois State Board of Education caught in the middle.
Amanda Elliott is director of legislative affairs for the board. She says the requirement was sunset in the evidence based funding law, and then repealed in a subsequent trailer bill.
There have been questions about how that happened — how did Illinois go from five clock hours required to zero clock hours and apparently nobody noticed?
Elliott pauses before answering.
“Evidence-based funding was a large piece of legislation negotiated over several years. And the section that authorized school funding included the five clock hours,” she says. “So when we change the formula, that requirement was removed from the school code.”
There are several iterations of the bill that were filed over several years, and one of the later versions switched from funding based on average daily attendance to funding based on enrollment, which made average daily attendance somewhat less important.
“Well, we still collect average daily attendance for some other calculations,” Elliott says, “but the clock hours specifically were included in the same section as the previous funding authorization.”
At first blush, zero clock hours could sound crazy. So what were schools doing instead?
“We found that many districts were primarily using flexibility this winter for e-learning days for students,” Elliott says. “We heard from districts that they saw this as an opportunity to allow more use of dual credit classes, internships, career based learning experiences, and so there's a lot of excitement about what this could mean for schools and students in Illinois.”
But now there's legislation that's going to restore the clock hours. It’s contained in an amendment that’s been negotiated by the state's largest teachers union and a representative from a group of the most well-financed school districts — the kind most ready to take advantage of all this flexibility.
“The amendment reinstates the five clock hour requirement and allows for exemptions from those hours and four key areas: for students who are enrolled in dual credit, those participating in career development experiences, those participating in apprenticeships, and those participating and blended learning programs,” Elliott says. It also expands the e-learning to any district, statewide.
The amendment was adopted by the Senate Education Committee. It still needs to be reviewed by the full Senate and the House before it goes on to the governor for signature.