Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' law broadens school programs for diverse rolls

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus celebrated another victory Monday in its multi-pronged approach to equity and fairness when its proposal to bolster public education became law.

The plan expands early childhood learning, invests in vocational training, aims to expand the teacher workforce and is intended to make college more affordable.

It’s another part of the so-called four-pillar approach the Black Caucus developed last summer to achieve equity after the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and other people of color. Other legislation addresses criminal justice, economic opportunity and health care.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature made it law.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, said the measure takes "a step toward ridding Illinois of the damaging policies and procedures built into our state’s systems of law and government that have created deep inequities and opportunity gaps in education for Black students."

She said it would help children "accelerate their education" throughout their school years to qualify them for successful careers.

The law addresses all levels of public schooling. It expands early intervention for 3-year-olds and requires the Illinois State Board of Education to assess all children entering kindergarten for school readiness.

At the grade school and high school levels, it adds graduation requirements to bolster students’ backgrounds in computer literacy, laboratory science and foreign languages. Black history is expanded and it establishes a commission to generate and promote inclusive American history. And a review panel will be convened to review school-funding equity.

Community colleges will assess students to place them in appropriate courses. Grant money reserved for Black males will be increased, teachers programs will be expanded in certain fields of study and to improve work done with diverse candidates.

The law also calls on the Illinois Workforce Investment Board to study all programs funded by federal workforce programs.