Education: Impending Budget & How Cyberbullying Impacts Our Schools

FY16 Budget
· Illinois State Board of Education requests budget hike of almost 11 percent. The Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois’ chief agency that oversees elementary and secondary education, has the right to submit a public budget request to Governor Bruce Rauner. On Wednesday, January 21, ISBE’s governing board recommended that the State increase funding for elementary and secondary education by 10.7 percent in fiscal year 2016 (FY16). Monies designated in this budget area will cover the State’s general state aid (GSA) grants to local school districts, as well as many targeted programs that are partially or mostly funded by the State. Additional State aid includes general funds intended to partly cover the cost to local school districts of “mandated categoricals,” programs mandated by State or federal law. There have been sharp increases in the costs of many programs intended to help students with special needs and enable local school districts to meet their responsibilities to students with individualized education plans (IEPs). Federal and local tax funds are also used to cover these mandated costs, as well as the general cost of teaching students and maintaining each school district.

Gov. Rauner has designated the Rev. James Meeks as chairman of the ISBE. A former member of the State Senate, Rev. Meeks is expected to be confirmed in office by his former colleagues. However, the request by Rev. Meeks and the ISBE board for additional monies will have to be weighed against the overall budget crisis facing the State of Illinois and its general funds. The Chicago Tribune describes the Meeks-ISBE request.

Social Media Passwords
· Cyberbullying law gives new rights to school officials. In continued efforts to combat cyberbullying, the Illinois General Assembly has enacted a new law to require the sharing of social media passwords. The new law, which became effective on January 1, 2015, allows school and university officials to demand that a student turn over his or her social media password to authorities. The new law is intended to unmask persons who attack their peers while sheltering under a pseudonym. Fox/Channel 11 has the story.

Widely-disseminated news stories have mourned students who have harmed themselves in other states after being bullied by electronic messages posted in a public forum. Illinois law, one of the toughest anti-cyberbullying legal packages in the U.S., gives authorities the power to reduce the possibility of events like this happening in this state. School officials are empowered to take pre-emptive action against veiled, cloaked electronic bullying and posting of materials intended to hurt a student. The authorities are required to possess reasonable cause to believe that a student has violated a school’s disciplinary rule or policy.

Even with pre-emptive powers like these, it is not possible to reduce the rate of cyberbullying to zero. Many Illinois school districts have taken the lead, however, in fighting back against bullying. School districts routinely adopt written disciplinary rules and policies, which are distributed to students and their parents. When written and distributed, these rules govern the conduct of all students on a 24/7 basis, including conduct carried out by a student when not physically located on school property.

Some persons have expressed concern about the new law, believing that it may go too far to one side in the ongoing battle over privacy and autonomy when one is not on government property. The new law (HB 4207 - 98th General Assembly) was signed into law in August 2014 as Public Act 98-801.