Senate lawmakers joined their House counterparts in Chicago during the week for an emotional hearing in response to a recent media investigation revealing systemic sexual abuse and assaults have taken place within the Chicago Public School system over the last decade.
Also during the week, state officials applauded progress on the Illinois Innovation Network and the highly anticipated Discovery Partnership Institute, a cutting-edge, innovative research and development initiative that is expected to act as an economic engine in Illinois and the Midwest.
In other action, officials highlighted the benefits of the state’s new adoption tax credit, which was part of the negotiations that led to the passage of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.
Lawmakers hold hearing on CPS sex abuse investigation
A joint Senate and House hearing was held June 20 in Chicago in response to a recently released Chicago Tribune investigation that revealed sexual abuse and assaults had been frequently mishandled over a 10-year period in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). According to the Chicago Tribune, police investigated 523 reports of sexual abuse and rape at CPS over a 10-year period; however, the exact number of cases is unknown because CPS does not consistently or formally track child abuse by its employees. In fact, it is highly likely that much of this material would have remained hidden because it was not until the Tribune threatened to file a lawsuit that CPS decided to divulge the information.
Legislators heard testimony from survivors, as well as CPS and Illinois State Board of Education officials, child welfare advocates and union representatives. Lawmakers praised the bravery of two former CPS students for coming forward to testify about their experiences, but took CPS officials to task for what is now known to be a widespread, systemic failure by Chicago Public Schools administrators and teachers to adhere to current laws mandating background checks, and a failure to follow required investigatory and reporting procedures.
Members of the legislative panel expressed outrage over the way school officials handled abuse allegations, after witnesses described an intimidating, humiliating and traumatizing investigatory process. Confirmation that the survivors received no follow-up counseling or support from the school district was also strongly criticized by legislators.
Witnesses offered suggestions on where legislative response is warranted, underscoring the necessity of following through on the required background checks and re-checking employees. The Chicago Tribune found that “At least nine of the 72 Chicago school workers identified by the Tribune as being accused of abusing students since 2008 had prior arrests related to alleged sexual offenses involving children, or drug, weapons, assault or theft allegations that signaled they could be a threat to children.”
Also recommended were policy changes to increase the frequency and ease of information sharing between Illinois school districts, as well as more frequent training for school employees on their state-mandated requirement to report abuse or assault. Advocates also stressed the need for any child abuse allegation to be investigated by those trained and experienced in handling these types of serious, sensitive matters, to ensure no student is further humiliated, intimidated or traumatized during the course of an investigation.
Lawmakers stated during the June 20 hearing that the dialogue on how school districts and the General Assembly can help better protect students from abuse and assault will continue and likely expand into other regions in Illinois.
State leaders applaud progress to support Discovery Partners Institute
On June 19, legislators joined Governor Bruce Rauner and representatives from the University of Illinois system to highlight significant momentum in the ongoing effort to make Illinois a hub of technological research, development and innovation.
The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) represents the core of what is known as the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a system of research centers across Illinois tailored to provide regional support and boost local economies. The DPI innovation center will be led by the U of I System and is intended to be located within The 78, a 62-acre planned development in downtown Chicago.
The cutting edge innovative research and development anticipated to be spurred by the DPI/INN project will benefit from a network of collaborative partnerships, involving corporate and academic leaders from across the globe. As a result, the initiative is expected to become an economic engine for not only Illinois but also for the Midwest as it attracts researchers, students and businesses seeking to be on the cutting edge of discovery and innovation.
The initiatives were announced last fall, and since that time the U of I System has been working on implementation plans, such as a construction timeline and other specifics, which will be revealed in late 2018.
New adoption credit is an important victory for children
Illinois’s new adoption credit program will make it easier for families to adopt, connecting children with loving families
The adoption process can be extremely costly and difficult. The state’s new adoption tax credit, which is based on the existing federal tax credit, seeks to mitigate those costs by offering a tax credit of up to $5,000 for a couple who is adopting a child at least one-year-old who resides in Illinois. Other adoption situations will qualify for up to a $2,000 credit.
Proponents hope that lowering the cost of adoption will help families interested in adoption move more easily through the process, placing children into an environment where they can grow, thrive, and be loved and nurtured. Additionally, advocates say the adoption process makes good fiscal sense as compared to costly foster care and institutional programs.