A couple weeks ago, I met with a concerned group of parents about the new standardized tests being administered in Illinois schools. These “PARRC” tests are based on the federal Common Core standards, which Illinois adopted several years ago. The tests are given mostly on computers instead of paper, and they involve roughly twice the amount of testing time as the Iowa Basics or the ISAT tests, which the PARRC tests replaced. The PARRC tests are intended to be more challenging than the ISAT tests.
The Chicago Public Schools were so against the PARRC tests that they attempted to refuse to administer them, backing down only when faced with the loss of $1.4 billion in state and federal funding. In New Jersey, teacher’s unions even ran TV ads attacking the PARRC tests and the Common Core.
In our area, the moms and dads were worried about a host of issues with the test. Some parents had concerns about the wisdom of the federal Common Core standards, an issue of great debate in the country today. Some were worried that kids who are not proficient in the use of a computer would be frustrated or get a lower score than they should, since the rules apparently prevent a teacher from helping a child who has a question about the test. Some had special needs children and were worried about how they would react to the test, particularly due to its extra length and more difficult questions.
Kids today can refuse to take a particular test, but in some school districts, they must do so verbally, by themselves, each time the test is given. A parent note won’t work. Short of taking your kids out of school that day, there’s no way for parents to speak for their children against the test in many parts of Illinois. The way this opt out process was described to me, it sounded a lot like the process of invoking your “right to remain silent,” not what should be expected when a parent wants to opt their third-grader out of a test.
Because of these parental concerns, there is now a bill pending in the General Assembly that would allow parents to opt their kids out of the test, for any reason. I absolutely support fixing our opt-out practice in Illinois.
However, this new proposal runs squarely against current federal and state law requiring schools to test all their students. There are some good reasons for such a law: first, to ensure that each school is meeting the expectations of parents of the schoolchildren and, second, to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth as they pay for the increasingly expensive education of our children. Some advocacy groups are concerned that an opt-out privilege may be abused, possibly skewing test results if those kids expected not to perform as well on the test are urged to opt out.
As well, there are some in the federal government who say that a state that falls below 95% testing could lose all federal funding—this would be a massive financial hit for a state’s school districts. The proposed measure also requires that a school provide alternative instruction for any kids opted out, not just a study hall or the like, potentially forcing schools to call in substitute teachers to teach class to the opted-out kids.
All this said, the testing is going on this month, so parents can and should talk with their kids right now, to see what the kids think about the test and the way it is administered. No matter where you live, your representative and senator should hear about the practical experiences of your kids and grandkids in taking the test. I’d invite you to call my office at 630-403-8135 or contact me through my website, reppeterbreen.org, to let me know your story. I’m focused on providing a world-class, individually-tailored education for every child in Illinois. Because any opt-out bill will likely be effective only for the next school year, your feedback will help me and your other elected officials craft a bill that will best serve all our children.
Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has been assigned to the House Education Task Force, which had its first meeting last week, to analyze the proposed Illinois School Funding Reform Act of 2015, SB 1. SB 1 would completely overhaul the formula for how much money the state provides K-12 school districts.
“While some reform of the school funding formula is necessary, many of the proposed ‘fixes’ will raise property taxes for suburban homeowners,” said Breen. “That’s not right. Illinois taxpayers spend large amounts of money to educate kids, with very mixed results for their investment. We should not penalize successful districts using proven effective educational methods only to prop up districts that won’t embrace reform.”
SB 1 is based on last year’s controversial Senate Bill 16, and has been expanded with the input of local superintendents, educators, and parents statewide. This new legislation would replace Illinois’ General State Aid formula, with the stated intent of providing Illinois school districts with significant low-income populations more combined funding from state, local, and federal sources. Moving forward, the House Education Task Force will oversee this legislation.
Representative Breen is honored that Leader Jim Durkin has assigned him to this task force. Breen is committed to fiscally responsible educational reform, to ensure that the state’s funding formula meets the needs of every Illinois child.
The bi-partisan task force is chaired by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), and consists of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans from across the state.
Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) participated in the Potawatomi Trails’ 18th annual Boy Scouts Merit Badge University that was held at both Elmhurst College and York High School on March 7. His dynamic presentation to the young men focused on government, the work Breen does for the 48th District as State Representative and how much of what they learn as Boy Scouts can be used to influence public policy as a citizen.
Rep. Breen said, “the door-to-door fundraising that they do as scouts is good training for a future in politics. My experiences as a Boy Scout were fundamental to my entrance into politics and public service. I was impressed by the character and knowledge of these young men.”
The two classes of Scouts that Rep. Breen addressed are currently working to earn their “Citizenship in the Community” merit badge, and were eager to meet Representative Breen: a local leader who could give them insight into what it takes to be a good citizen in the community. Earning this badge is an integral part in the Boy Scouts’ education; and with the help of Rep. Breen, they learned how important it is for them to be involved in their communities.
Governor Bruce Rauner kicked off the day with some brief remarks. This local scouting event has grown from about 100 scouts to over 2000 attendees at one of the largest gatherings of scouts in the country, with young men coming as far as California.
The Boy Scouts are important to Rep. Breen, and being able to speak to these young men was an honor for Breen, who is an Eagle Scout himself.
Click here to read My Suburban Life's Q&A with Rep. Breen.
President Reagan once joked that, “government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
Government injecting itself into every crevice of our lives goes against the idea of freedom and the very ideals of the American experiment. However, for over a decade in Illinois, our elected leaders have sold increased government involvement as a remedy for the state’s economic woes.
The results speak for themselves. We’re at the bottom of nearly every ranking of economic health.
When you talk to these politicians, it’s not that they have malice in their hearts. In fact, most of them mean well. But the problem is not in their hearts: it’s in their heads. They lost the view of the rules that govern economics. Certain policies generally grow an economy; others generally shrink an economy.
We know there’s no time to waste in turning the state around. Serious substantive actions need to be taken immediately. Governor Bruce Rauner has laid a solid list of specifics. Others have set forth alternate views.
As public officials debate whether a certain policy will fix or ruin our economy, the real test is whether the policy is in tune with sound principles. As you’re evaluating the various fixes proposed for the economy, I’d urge you to view them all in light of four key tests:
1. Does it Limit or Expand the Size and Scope of Government? President Reagan said “man is not free unless government is limited.” One of the key problems with big government is that it tends to be wasteful. When a business wastes money or makes bad decisions, it gets punished in the marketplace. When government programs fail, the typical response is to spend more money. Not every expansion is bad, of course, but every expansion has a cost.
2. Does it Keep the Tax Burden on Individuals and Businesses Low? Keeping tax rates on individuals low encourages people to work hard and strive for success, since they know they’ll keep the extra money earned. Lower tax rates put more money in the hands of consumers to spend, which also creates more jobs. As well, the more people spend, the more money that is collected in sales taxes. It’s a win/win situation. For businesses, a corporate tax rate that is higher than neighboring states can drive those businesses and their jobs to neighboring states. As well, when one business gets a break from generally applicable taxes, that drives up the tax burden on other businesses. In particular, we’ve seen instances where large businesses get breaks because of the skill of their lobbyists, not because of demonstrated economic need. This puts an extra squeeze on small businesses trying to compete with those large businesses – and most of our new jobs come from these small businesses. We have to have taxes, but again, there’s always a cost to consider.
3. Does it Reduce a Regulatory Burden? Making it difficult for an entrepreneur to start up a business in Illinois is one of the main reasons our state is perceived to be “bad for business.” And, each regulation means more cost to individuals, small businesses, and big businesses, in order to comply. Like before, some level of regulation is absolutely necessary, but reducing regulatory burdens generally improves economic activity.
4. Does it Promote Competition? The government should promote businesses to compete with one another, without picking winners and losers. This is another one where big or established businesses can use onerous laws and regulations to freeze out small or new businesses, which isn’t good for the economy or consumers. As well, the government can open up some areas for economic activity that were previously closed. For instance, when I was on the Lombard Village Board, I led the efforts to rewrite the taxi ordinance to allow more companies to provide service to residents. That meant more choices for consumers and additional opportunities for individual livery drivers to make a living. Allowing outdoor dining where it was forbidden before also gave customers more options and improved business for our small eateries and pubs.
Over the past decade and more, we’ve had many politicians hawking their “economic recovery” plans – all have failed. While there’s no single magic bullet to create jobs and turn Illinois around, these four tests are a good way to quickly separate the proposals that can work from the proposals that can’t work.
I support many of Gov. Rauner’s economic proposals, because they meet these four tests. But no matter the specific proposal, if we stick to sound principles, we can make “Illinois Turnaround” more than just a slogan and return our state to its rightful place as the best in the country.
This week, Representative Peter Breen filed six bills on a variety of subjects, his first bills filed as a state legislator. Breen's initial bills focus on protecting individual rights, promoting small business, limiting abusive lawsuit threats, promoting open government, and removing state mandates from non-home rule communities. The bills are as follows:
Eavesdropping Act: HB 2688 amends the controversial Eavesdropping Act amendment adopted during the lame duck legislative session last year. Breen's amendment would protect the right of undercover journalists, government watchdogs, and others to audio tape a conversation that they are a part of, occurring in a place open to the public. Breen would also greatly reduce the penalty for taping improperly, from a felony to a misdemeanor. Breen stated, "citizens and journalists should not be turned into criminals for recording conversations in public places. Whether it's a journalist documenting illegal or unethical behavior or a worker documenting sexual harassment by her boss, folks should not be turned into felons for recording conversations that they're a part of, in places open to the public."
Grade A Pasteurized Milk and Milk Products Act: HB 2690 allows for the sale and distribution of raw milk, without fear of legal liability, as long as rules set forth by the Department of Public Health are followed. According to Breen, “this legislation will benefit both consumers and small family farmers. Many of my neighbors enjoy drinking raw milk, but they must go to great lengths to purchase it, even sometimes going directly to the farmer. There's no reason to forbid people from purchasing raw milk at their neighborhood market, as long as proper public health regulations are followed. Our ancestors drank raw milk for thousands of years, and modern technology has greatly improved farmers' ability to safely produce this product."
Internet Screening in Public Libraries Act: HB 2689 requires internet filters on public library computers to prevent the viewing of hard-core pornography on those computers. Breen emphatically stated that, “I’ve heard from many moms over the years that adult men are regularly viewing hard-core pornography on public library computers, in full view of children and others. This is an abuse of taxpayer resources and creates a hostile environment for public library employees and patrons. No child should have to walk past obscene and abusive material in order to take advantage of the educational opportunities available at their public library.”
Open Meetings Act: HB 2687 expands the current power of members of the public to record a government meeting to also allow taping before and after the meeting. Breen noted that, “there should be no protection for public officials who behave unethically or illegally ‘out in the hallway’ and ‘off-camera’ before or after a public meeting. The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to allow the public to see and understand the workings of their government, and this bill will bring greater transparency to the legislative process.”
Consumer Fraud & Deceptive Business Practices Act: HB 2691 prohibits the practice of “copyright trolling.” Out-of-state corporations claiming to have copyrights to widely available images on the internet are regularly threatening Illinois individuals and small nonprofits with lawsuits, merely for posting these images on their websites. These large out-of-state interests demand thousand-dollar “settlements” to avoid legal action, but without providing any proof that they hold copyrights in the images – or that the images are worth more than a few dollars, much less thousands of dollars. Breen noted, “individuals and small nonprofits are being shaken down for thousands of dollars by foreign interests for alleged copyright infringement, but these interests refuse to even prove that they own the images involved. Folks shouldn’t have to fear financial ruin just for posting on their websites pictures that they believe in the public domain.”
Equal Powers for Non-Home Rule Communities Act: HB 2686 allows non-home rule communities, like Lombard and Lisle, the same powers as home rule communities, except for the powers to tax, impose fees, or to incur debt. Breen stated, “the General Assembly places restrictions on non-home rule communities, like the villages of Lombard and Lisle, that do not bind home-rule communities. Residents of my district in Lombard and Lisle have the same right to safe housing regulations and public safety regulations as state law allows folks in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton to have. This bill is a common-sense way to give our municipal governments maximum flexibility to set the right policies for their local residents.”
These legislative initiatives will work to better the state, starting with the individual and positively affecting communities as a whole. Rep. Breen is eager to move forward with these bills and is looking ahead to making an impact in the 99th General Assembly.
Click here to read My Suburban Life's article on Gov. Rauner's visit to Lombard.
Click here to read the Chicago Tribune's article on the press conference where Rep. Breen and several suburban legislators proposed reforms to College of DuPage and community colleges in general.
Click here to read My Suburban Life's story on Rep. Breen's proposed legislation that would ban severance agreements larger than one year's salary and benefits. This legislation is in response to the COD "Golden Parachute" scandal.