Governor Pat Quinn today signed three new laws designed to make Illinois schoolchildren healthier and safer through immunizations, anti-bullying measures and alternative education programs. Today's action at Pershing West Magnet School is the latest by Governor Quinn to further strengthen education in Illinois.
"We are working every day to strengthen education in Illinois," Governor Quinn said. "As millions of students prepare to go back to school later this month, these new laws will put vital public health data in the hands of parents, protect our children from bullying and improve their health."
House Bill 5013, sponsored by Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is designed to boost vaccination rates. The new law requires public and registered nonpublic schools to make immunization and health exam statistics publicly available. While such data is now posted on the State Board of Education (ISBE) website, this reform will make it easier for parents to see just how many of their children's classmates are not vaccinated. August is National Immunization Awareness Month.
The State of Illinois requires vaccinations to protect children from a range of diseases. Failure to be properly immunized can lead to high absenteeism, heart problems or even brain damage. According to ISBE, more than 60,000 students (about three percent) were not in compliance with immunization or health exam mandates during the 2010-11 school year. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers and is supported by public health advocates, the Chicago Teachers Union and the March of Dimes. The law is effective Jan. 1.
Governor Quinn also signed House Bill 1473, sponsored by Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) and Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), which allows the Chicago Board of Education to implement a program to break down barriers between students of different backgrounds. The law is inspired by the successful "Challenge Day", which employs a carefully-designed, day-long series of trust-building exercises to foster new levels of empathy and respect. The law is effective immediately.
In addition, Governor Quinn signed Senate Bill 3259, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), which creates the Commission for High School Graduation Achievement and Success to help boost high school graduation rates. The Commission will examine alternative education programs in Illinois and other states, as well as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Learning Exchanges, the Illinois Pathways Initiative and other tools for keeping at-risk teens in school. The Commission's report is due to the governor and General Assembly by November 1, 2012 in advance of veto session. The law is effective immediately.
Governor Quinn continued to emphasize the need for public pension reform to ensure adequate resources for education in Illinois. Unless comprehensive pension reform is enacted, a new analysis prepared by the Governor's Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) shows that Illinois is on track to spend more on pensions than education by Fiscal Year 2016. Governor Quinn has proposed a comprehensive plan that will eliminate the unfunded liability over 30 years. The governor recently called a special session dedicated to pension reform on August 17.