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Education Reporter
Further Reading: School-to-Work
Illinois Legislators Gain
Stake in School-to-Work

SPRINGFIELD, IL-Members of the Illinois General Assembly have just received a 31-page report from the Illinois Human Resource Investment Council (HRIC). Called "Investing in Illinoisians," this document sets forth the "goals and strategies" for coordinating "a unified workforce development system," and reports on the HRIC's cooperation with the Illinois State Board of Education in developing and implementing "learning standards for the K-12 system." (Human resource is the new jargon term for student.)

If it had not been for the passage of SB 561, the State Legislature would have been completely in the dark about HRIC's plans and activities.

The Illinois General Assembly gained oversight authority of HRIC when it overrode Governor Jim Edgar's veto of SB 561. Sponsored by Illinois State Senator Patrick O'Malley (R), SB 561 added language to the HRIC Act to prohibit the Council's goals and strategies from being adopted until ratified by the General Assembly. The HRIC was created in 1996 to coordinate Illinois' "Education to Careers" program, also known as School-to-Work.

"Despite our desire for total repeal of School-to-Work in Illinois, the override was a crucial victory for genuine accountability," said Karen Hayes, Illinois representative of Concerned Women for America (CWA). "Without SB 561, HRIC would have answered only to Governor Edgar, and all recommendations and documents would have gone only to him."

SB 561 enjoyed unanimous support from both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Mrs. Hayes views the override as a small step toward the restoration of the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government. "The beauty of it was that not one legislator opposed SB 561," she noted. "It was definitely an executive versus legislative branch issue rather than a partisan issue. When the vote to override was taken, no one voted against it. This victory gives our elected officials at least a chance to ask what HRIC is doing."

HRIC's members come from business, labor, education, job training, and community organizations. They were appointed by the Governor "in consultation with the State Senate." The council's mandate is broad; members are charged with building a new "workforce development system" that will manage Illinois' workforce and economy. Mrs.Hayes calls it "the Illinois School-to-Work state central planning committee," which will "determine the future needs of our workforce and establish the link to education." Illinois students will be funneled into careers determined by the state or, as Hayes observes, "by the HRIC, which has its hands on the spigot of career pathways." Every Illinois student will be affected.

Funding for this giant undertaking will come from "a combined effort of federal, state, local, and private resources." HRIC's 1997 Annual Report lists only federal funding sources, among which are the Job Training Partnership Act, Title IV of the Social Security Act (JOBS), the National Community Service Act, the Welfare-to-Work Block Grant program, and the Carl D. Perkins Applied Technology and Vocational Education Act.

HRIC's recommendation that a portion of these federal funds be earmarked for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturing Association, and the Illinois AFL-CIO, a factor that undoubtedly persuaded these organizations to participate in "Education to Careers," is very troubling to Mrs. Hayes and parents'groups.

"We're also concerned about the longterm financial commitment this program will entail, and we question what the price tag will be and where the additional funds will come from."

Another concern is the specter of noncooperation. Hayes wonders how the HRIC will define "a reasonable and responsible manner" when addressing noncooperation with a business or school.

Until now, as in many other states, Illinois legislators and the citizens they represent have been largely excluded from the School-to-Work debate. Governors and their appointees have worked quietly under the umbrella of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 in order to facilitate government control over education and the workforce. The public schools are used as a conduit to direct students into the labor force.

In Illinois, the passage of SB 561 moves the implementation of "Education to Careers" out of the shadow of the executive bureaucracy. "Getting our elected officials involved at least opens debate," Karen Hayes said. "It's our job now to talk with our elected officials and others about HRIC's recommendations and what they really mean for our state, including the financial implications."

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