SPRINGFIELD — Gov. JB Pritzker joined members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus on Monday to sign a measure aimed at advancing equity in education in the state.
House Bill 2170, known as the Education and Workforce Equity Act, contains over 20 provisions aimed at decreasing racial gaps in opportunity and attainment that currently persist in the state’s education system. The legislation is the second major omnibus bill backed by the Black Caucus that Pritzker has signed this year.
“The entire Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and the many advocates engaged in shaping a better world for our youngest residents… our work isn’t done until equity and fairness is a guiding principle at all of our schools,” Pritzker said during Monday’s signing. “The Education and Workforce Equity Act amplifies our common priorities in delivering high quality learning from cradle to career.”
The bill was signed at Proviso East High School in Maywood, the alma mater of former Black Caucus Chair and Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood.
Lightford, who sponsored the legislation, led the Black Caucus through the development of their four-pillar legislative agenda and their successful passage of multiple omnibus bills during the January lame duck session.
During her speech, she cried while reflecting on her tenure.
“Almost a year ago, I stood at a microphone at an event very much like this one. I talked about my own trauma, as a Black single mother, because I wanted people to know that the desperation with raising a Black child in our society is common,” she said. “We have 23 provisions in this act, 23, that will change the way a child goes from preschool all the way through higher education.”
For early education, HB 2170 will require the Illinois State Board of Education to conduct an annual assessment of all public school students entering kindergarten and expands the Early Intervention Program for 3-year-olds who were previously cut out of the program if they had a birthday between May and August.
Most of the bill’s provisions are targeted at K-12 education. HB 2170 adds new graduation requirements for schools in line with what’s necessary for entry at state universities.
Students entering 9th grade in the 2022-23 academic school year will need to take one computer literacy course. For those entering high school in 2024-25, two years of laboratory science will be an additional requirement, and for those entering in the 2028-29 school year, two years of foreign language courses will be necessary.
The bill also expands social studies to include more mandatory coursework on Black people and Black Americans, from the pre-enslavement of Africans, to the American slave trade, to the American Civil Rights renaissance.
In line with other recent legislation pushed by the Black Caucus to make the state more responsive to the mental health needs of residents in crisis, HB 2170 establishes the unpaid Whole Child Task Force to expand school services for students suffering from trauma.
On higher education, the bill reduces the contribution schools must make to a grant program aimed at keeping high-performing students in the state in an effort to target income-based opportunity gaps.
The AIM HIGH grant program will now operates on a sliding scale for the school’s commitment based on the percentage of low-income students enrolled. Public Illinois universities with 49 percent or more undergraduate students eligible for federal Pell grants only need to match 20 percent of the state’s AIM HIGH contribution. Universities with under 49 percent Pell-eligible population still only need to match 60 percent of the state’s contribution. Previously, public universities were required to match 100 percent of the state’s contribution.
“Much has been accomplished here but there is still a great deal of work to do,” Pritzker said. “There is no investment more important to the future of our state than in our students.”