Cursive mandate greets Illinois elementary school students this fall

Cursive mandate greets Illinois elementary school students this fall

Lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto of a 2017 bill mandating cursive instruction in all public elementary schools in Illinois. That measure becomes law this year.

Illinois elementary school students entering the 2018-2019 school year can expect to see cursive handwriting in their curricula.

A new law mandating that Illinois public schools teach “at least one unit on cursive writing in their curriculum” takes effect this year. House Bill 2977 became law November 2017 after lawmakers in the Illinois House and Senate overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto.

The original version of the bill, filed February 2017 by state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, included cursive requirements for both public elementary and high schools. Senate lawmakers amended HB 2977 to exclude the high school mandate before passing the measure.

What state lawmakers in both chambers failed to include, however, was a cost estimate for implementing the mandate. Instead, lawmakers introduced the bill accompanied by a fiscal note explaining that while the cursive requirement will “have a fiscal impact on” local school districts, “the specific amount is not known.”

While costs associated with a cursive mandate might seem insignificant, consider that school districts across Illinois are already burdened by more than 100 unfunded mandates imposed by the state, according to the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, or ISFRC, a task force established by Rauner in 2016 to revise the school funding formula. That cluster of mandates places a serious strain on local school district budgets. ISFRC concluded in a 2017 report, “These mandates have varying costs but overall reduce available dollars, increase bureaucracy, and decrease flexibility for teachers and administrators.”

When school districts are forced to allocate more resources toward compliance with state mandates, fewer dollars are left for the classroom. Illinois spends among the most per-student in the region on education, while producing lackluster outcomes. Employee pension benefits consume a growing share of state funding for school districts. Lawmakers would be wise to recognize that any education measures introduced at the state level should be aimed at relieving, rather than burdening, local school districts.

“Reading and writing cursive helps students in many ways, from choosing their words more carefully to improving their writing quality and understanding of their topics,” Welch said in a statement issued Aug. 3. “I hope by requiring cursive writing in schools, students will be empowered to improve how they communicate and embrace new creativity in their writing and their learning.”

By reducing the mass of costly unfunded mandates, state lawmakers would free local school districts to explore methods of enhancing students’ written proficiency and creativity in ways that best serve their communities. At the local level, many school districts could increase savings and efficiency through sensible consolidation efforts.

The governor and state lawmakers have made some small but welcome steps toward controlling education spending. One of the few bright spots of the fiscal year 2019 state budget were new restrictions on “pension spiking.” And on Aug. 10, Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 3236, which sheds light on school district administrative spending.

However, there is still plenty more to be done to bring Illinois on par with most of its neighbors. When lawmakers reconvene in spring, they must address the major policy failures that funnel too many dollars to administrators at the expense of students.

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