Senate Bill 1947 introduces two changes to the process by which school districts seek waivers from School Code mandates. Upon initial review, the changes do not appear drastic, but they do make the waiver request process slightly less onerous. Districts that may be interested in submitting a waiver request should take note of the following.
The first change provides districts with additional reasons to cite when requesting a waiver of a School Code mandate. Previously, school districts could only request a mandate waiver if it was necessary to stimulate innovation or improve student performance. Now, after the changes in SB 1947, mandate waivers can also be requested if the applicant district demonstrates that it can address the intent of the mandate in a more effective, efficient, or economical manner.
The benefits of this change are twofold. For one, districts can point to additional reasons as a basis for seeking a mandate waiver. This additional support might create new opportunities for districts to avoid particularly burdensome requirements. The second benefit is the clarity it brings to the entire waiver and modification process. After this change to the law, waivers or modifications to ISBE rules and regulations and waivers or modifications to the School Code can now be requested for the same reasons.
The second change to the law expedites how mandate waiver requests are approved. As before, mandate waiver requests are submitted to ISBE near the beginning of each semester and reviewed for completeness. After their review, ISBE submits the requests (including the appeals filed on behalf of denied requests) in a report to the Senate and House of Representatives by March 1 and October 1.
Under SB 1947, the report is now reviewed by a panel of four legislative leaders (Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Senate President, and Senate Minority Leader) who have fourteen days to review the specific requests within the report. If less than three members of the panel believe a request needs further consideration, it is up to ISBE to approve, deny, or modify the mandate waiver request within ten days. But, if three or more members of the panel believe a request needs further consideration, the request is submitted to the General Assembly who, as before, has sixty days (after each house next convenes) to disapprove any waiver request sent to it. Requests denied by ISBE are also sent to the General Assembly to act on within sixty days.
This change to the law creates a fast track to approve waiver requests for School Code mandates. Its precise implementation remains to be seen, but it is clear that waiver requests can be approved in less than half the time it took before. This change should provide districts a quicker turnaround between requesting a mandate waiver, receiving approval, and implementing the change. As a final note, the approval process for waivers or modifications of ISBE rules and regulations or modifications to the School Code has largely remained the same.
Illinois Education – Tueth Keeney is proud to be one of the state’s largest Illinois education law practices. The firm has one of the most experienced groups of attorneys in Central and Southern Illinois dedicated to serving public schools. We regularly represent nearly 150 public school districts, including many districts in Central and Southern Illinois. Our Firm is also regularly appointed by insurers of educational institutions to represent districts in complex or difficult cases involving school or civil rights laws.
Chad Watkins practices primarily in Illinois education law. Prior to joining the firm, Chad taught high school in Washington, D.C. and received his master’s degree in special education.