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Legislative update: U.S. Senate unveils rewrite of No Child Left Behind, Illinois talks gambling

October 18, 2011
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Washington, D.C. …

Last week, the Senate rejected, by a vote of 50-49, President Obama’s jobs bill and the Senate Democrats are now working with the president to disassemble the $447 billion package into smaller bills that will deal with specific elements contained in the jobs bill.

The Democrats will try to force the Republicans to make politically difficult votes on issues such as rebuilding schools and granting payroll tax cuts to both workers and small companies. This same approach is expected to be used in the House as well.

With the nation’s unemployment rate remaining around 9 percent, and with mounting fears that the nation is slipping back in to another recession, Congress is under great pressure to jump start the economy. Unfortunately, the parties are sharply divided – both ideologically and politically – and it is unlikely that there will be any bipartisan compromise before the 2012 elections.

The Deficit Reduction Super Committee continues to meet, with the Nov. 23 deadline for identifying $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions rapidly approaching. The full committee has met more than six times in private and several times in public, including two public hearings.

Recommendations to the Super Committee were due last Friday.

It remains to be seen whether the committee will be able to accomplish its task by the Nov. 23 deadline. The two parties have continued to disagree on revenue issues, with the Democrats insisting on increasing revenue as a condition to agreeing to further spending cuts, and Republicans strongly opposed to anything that might be considered a tax increase.

The Senate has introduced a draft bipartisan rewrite of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

Senate Education Chairman Tom Harkin is hoping that the bill will be on the Senate floor before the Thanksgiving break. However, with the partisan divisions in the House and the tight Congressional schedule for the remainder of the calendar year, it is hard to see how this bill will make it through by the end of the year.

Highlights of the Senate’s plan contained in CQ Today include:

Standards and Accountability

  • Require states to adopt academic standards aligned with “college and career readiness” – the ability of a student to take coursework at a public college or university without needing remedial classes.
  • Require states to design new assessments that measure critical thinking skills in reading, math and science.
  • Replace federal accountability measures with state-designed systems, which must identify chronically struggling schools and continue to focus on closing achievement gaps.
  • Require states and districts to implement a set of turnaround interventions for schools with the lowest performance, highest achievement gaps and highest dropout rates.

Teachers and Principals

  • Implement new teacher and principal evaluation systems designed by states and districts.
  • Recruit teachers in high-need subjects, like math and science, for high-need schools.
  • Provide competitive grants to states and districts that use performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals.


  • Create a new Race to the Top competitive grant program for states and high-need districts.
  • Expand the charter school grant program.


  • Give states 100 percent flexibility in how they use federal funds, as long as they do not funnel dollars out of programs for disadvantaged students.

In Springfield …

Fall Veto Session begins Tuesday, Oct. 25, and we are seeing a lot of attention in the press about topics that might be considered.

Photo of a casino table with dice and chipsOn Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn finally spelled out the details of a gambling package that would be more acceptable to him.

The General Assembly approved a gambling expansion bill in the spring session, however, because of a procedural move by the Senate president, the bill (SB744) has not yet been sent to the governor.

The governor has indicated that he will veto this bill if it is sent to him.

Quinn did say that he would support putting five new casinos: in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, a Lake County site (although not the Park City site approved by the General Assembly) and a southern Cook County site. The Lake County and suburban Cook County sites would be selected by the Illinois Gaming Board.

He would not allow gambling at racetracks, the Illinois State Fairgrounds or at Midway or O’Hare airports. Further, he would require communities in Illinois to “opt in” to allow video gambling – currently, they must “opt out.” Senate President John Cullerton is said to be developing a “trailer bill” to the gambling expansion.


  • It is very likely that some type of pension reform will be debated. Please keep checking the NIU State Pension & Budget Update website for updates.
  • HB1353, as introduced, would prohibit legislators from nominating family members for General Assembly scholarships. The governor used an amendatory veto to eliminate the scholarship program completely. House Speaker Mike Madigan feels that the governor exceeded his Constitutional authority, so it is likely that the House will vote to override the veto to express its disapproval of the governor’s actions. The General Assembly scholarship program remains a very controversial program, and additional reform efforts will likely be introduced – if not in veto session, then certainly in the spring session.
  • The General Assembly also is likely to revisit the FY2012 appropriations. As reported here, Quinn has begun the process of closing down some state facilities and laying off state employees because of his contention that insufficient operational funding was provided, especially to correctional and mental health facilities. The issue of a MAP shortfall will likely be a part of these discussions. We will keep you updated on legislative developments as veto session begins.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.