Amended cursive writing mandate passes Illinois Senate

Amended cursive writing mandate passes Illinois Senate

A Senate amendment would require public elementary schools to teach cursive writing, while the original House bill would extend the handwriting instruction mandate to all Illinois public elementary and high schools.

Proposals to mandate cursive writing instruction at Illinois public schools have passed the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives. An amended version of House Bill 2977 passed the Senate on May 30 with bipartisan support; an earlier version of the bill passed the House on April 26.

The Senate’s amended version of HB 2977 changed the bill significantly, narrowing the cursive mandate to only elementary schools, and not high schools, unlike the earlier House version. The amended bill is now back in the House for consideration.

The Senate amendment provides: “Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, public elementary schools shall offer at least one unit of instruction in cursive writing. School districts shall … determine at what grade level or levels students are to be offered cursive writing, provided that such instruction must be offered before students complete grade 5.”

If the House adopts HB 2977’s amendment, only public elementary schools would have to teach cursive, rather than all high schools and elementary schools. School districts would also be in charge of implementing the policy and deciding at which grade level to implement the cursive curriculum, so long as it is before the completion of fifth grade.

But despite this, lawmakers still do not know how much the proposal will cost.

Though HB 2977 contains a fiscal note stating the proposal would impose no cost on the Illinois State Board of Education, the same cannot be said for other local school districts. The fiscal note acknowledges that the bill would impose costs on Illinois’ school districts in an unknown amount.

Now that the General Assembly’s spring session has ended, the proposal requires a three-fifths majority vote to pass the House, instead of the simple majority needed for legislation in session. This makes it considerably harder for the bill to proceed to the governor’s desk.

Rather than issuing new mandates with unknown costs to taxpayers, lawmakers should pursue school district consolidation. Illinois has 859 school districts, the fifth-most in the nation. Two-thirds of local property taxes go toward funding school districts, and much of this revenue covers duplicative and costly administrative expenses. This excessive administration at the district level consumes money that could be used for classrooms or for property tax relief.

What’s worse, many of these school districts are inefficient. Nearly half of Illinois school districts only serve one or two schools, and nearly a quarter of all districts serve just one school. If the number of school districts were reduced by half, taxpayers would save an estimated $130 million-$170 million in district operating expenses annually, and could save the state $3 billion-$4 billion in pension costs over the next 30 years.

Lawmakers should focus on real solutions to make education more efficient and refrain from imposing costly statewide mandates.

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