By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) riled local education activists last week for opposing a bill that would let students opt out of taking state administered tests.
HB 306 – introduced by state Rep. Will Guzzardi in January – is currently under consideration in the Illinois House. Last Monday, Currie cast one of three votes recommending against an amended version of the bill in the five-member House Elementary and Secondary Education: Licensing Oversight Committee.
More than 15 local activists led by Hyde Parker Joy Clendenning staged a protest last Tuesday in front of Currie’s Hyde Park office, 1303 E. 53rd St., after the bill lost the committee’s support.
“We feel that with 24 co-sponsors in the House – and we know a good number of legislators are ready to vote for this bill – that she is absolutely thwarting the democratic process here,” Clendenning said.
“Her vote could’ve put it over the edge to pass out of committee,” said Wendy Katten, director of the opt out advocacy group Raise Your Hand, who made a visit.
Protesters chanted in a circle holding signs with such messages as “Who’s afraid of democracy? BFC” and “Whose children? Our children.” The protest also caught the attention of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who was passing by.
The group later made its way into Currie’s office, where Chief of Staff Ryan O’Leary took questions from Clendenning, among them how many constituent calls have been in support of the bill versus against it.
“Probably about – I’d say 50, have been in support of HB 306,” Ryan said, adding that no calls were made in opposition to the bill.
Although Currie said she shared parents concerns about excessive testing, she defended her Monday opposition to the bill.
She cited the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam as the only test required by the state, and one that takes up a tiny percentage of school time.
“But the central issue is, first of all, if we do not have 95 percent participation, there is a real possibility that the Feds will withhold $1.3 billion from schools in Illinois,” Currie said.
Currie added that Illinois risks losing data specific to groups including minority and special education students.
“And many civil rights groups are concerned that opting out means that we’re going to get inadequate information about these sub-groups,” Currie said.
Currie added that some tests could be nixed by the Chicago Public Schools, but she declined to discuss her opposition to an elected school board at the time.
A second amended version of the bill was recommended by the House Elementary and Secondary Education: Licensing Oversight Committee last Tuesday. But Currie wasn’t present at the vote, according to O’Leary.
The bill remains under consideration in the Illinois House.