The Wheeler 64 Report: July 18, 2016

High School Students to Stop Taking PARCC Tests
The State Board of Education announced on Monday, July 11 that beginning in the spring of 2017, high school students would no longer have to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. Instead, the State will subsidize and supervise the administration of a statewide SAT college entrance exam in spring 2017. Students in 11th grade will take the SAT. The SAT is administered according to an established nationwide protocol and its results are published in numbers that are relatively accessible and familiar to students and educators. SAT tests will be administered in compliance with the State law evaluating high school student body performance and progress. Students in grades 3 through 8 will continue to take separate PARCC tests geared to their age groups. 

Wheeler Co-Sponsors Resolution to Remove Auditor General for Cause
Questions have multiplied concerning the campaign fund of former State Representative Frank Mautino. After his appointment to the post of Illinois Auditor General in late 2015, the former lawmaker and his campaign fund were placed under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury. Charges against Mautino include misappropriation of campaign funds, ethical concerns and potential conflicts of interest. Citing the activities of himself and his counsel before the grand jury, Mautino has refused to respond to questions from the General Assembly relating to the investigation and his fitness to remain in office.

The Auditor General is an office created by Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution to audit the spending and operations of State agencies, including compliance with the laws that authorize their operations. In addition, past Auditor Generals have been asked to undertake additional investigations and submit additional reports to the General Assembly on questions involving public policy, including the operations of units of local government that represent parts of the State. Mautino is serving a ten-year term that is not set to expire until December 31, 2025, but he can be removed by a vote of three-fifths of the members of both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly for cause. HJR 158, filed on Wednesday, July 13 by Representative Dwight Kay has more than a dozen House Republican co-sponsors.

Gov. Bruce Rauner Establishes School Funding Commission
A new 25-member bipartisan commission established by Gov. Rauner will study Illinois’ school funding formula, the law used to divide and distribute Illinois school aid money into payments made to Illinois school districts. Illinois’ 863 school districts, the local units of governance that operate public elementary and secondary schools, depend on biweekly school aid payments to keep their doors open. Increasing concerns about the school aid formula contained in the current School Code spurred the creation of this commission. The five House Republican members appointed to the bipartisan commission are Representatives Avery Bourne, Sheri Jesiel, Dwight Kay, Bob Pritchard, and Christine Winger. The school funding formula last saw major structural changes in 1997, although the overall distribution of money to Illinois schools has been repeatedly ‘tweaked’ and modified since. The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission has been asked to report its findings to the Illinois General Assembly by February 1, 2017. 

State of Illinois Completes Rollout of New Job Opportunity for Unemployed Illinoisans
Illinois JobLink is a resume-posting platform operated by the Department of Employment Security (IDES) that is open to persons seeking employment in Illinois. Under a new policy going into effect on Sunday, July 17, persons filing for Illinois unemployment benefits after being laid off are going to be asked to fill out and post their resumes on Illinois JobLink as a condition of completing their application for benefits.

The Department is aware that people who need to file for benefits may have questions about how to complete the JobLink process and resume. The JobLink home page can be found here. In past years, nearly 60% of Illinois unemployment benefit filings did not include a work history or resume, despite the importance of these documents to potential employers. IDES believes that linking JobLink resume filing with unemployment benefits will speed up the hiring of unemployed persons.

New I-Refi Program from IHDA Will Help Some Under-Water Homeowners
The program, from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), is aimed at homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than the home is worth. Eligible homeowners, starting August 1, will be invited to apply for admission to the “Hardest Hit” program. Residents and families helped by the program could see a reduction in the amount owed on their mortgages. A mortgage financing data tracker, CoreLogic, reports that approximately 14% of all Illinois home mortgages are currently underwater.

The Illinois program is being backed by $45.7 million in U.S. Treasury funding. It is projected that 1,800 homeowner applicants will successfully apply for admission to the program and will get debt-reduction assistance of approximately $25,000 per home. Applicants to the program, which is targeted towards modest and middle-class home in challenged geographic areas, will be granted a maximum of $50,000 in debt-reduction assistance. The assistance will be credited towards the debt owed on a new, private-sector 30-year mortgage. Twenty-five participating mortgage-finance lenders have been mobilized by IHDA. These firms will refinance the homes of participating homeowners at market rates.

To qualify, applicants must owe at least 10% more than the value of their home, up to $50,000. Despite being under water, they must be current on mortgage payments for at least the past 12 months and must live in the home. Household income eligibility is determined by a sliding scale keyed towards the number of persons in the household and the geographic location of the household. The maximum purchase price of the home is also one of the variables used to gauge overall potential eligibility for admission to the program.

Representative David Welter Appointed to Serve Northern Illinois Legislative House District
Republican leaders in the 75th District have appointed David Welter to represent the district in the Illinois House of Representatives. The district centers along communities close to Interstate 80, including Morris and Seneca, comprising portions of Kendall, Grundy, LaSalle and Will Counties. Welter’s appointment came after former 75th District Rep. John Anthony resigned in June to accept a new job as executive assistant to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Under State law, the appointment was made by the four GOP chairpersons from the counties located within the 75th District. The chairpersons cast a weighted vote by population of their counties within the vacant district. The selection of Welter, the current Grundy County Board Chairman, was unanimous. Welter will maintain a district office in Morris to serve his constituents. Committee assignments are pending. Welter, who had served on the Grundy County Board since 2010, will also run for a full term as state representative on the November 2016 ballot. Welter was appointed State Representative on Saturday, July 9.

State’s Affirmative Markets Initiative Strengthened through Executive Order
The Executive Order, signed on Wednesday, July 13, affects small businesses owned and controlled by minorities, women, and persons with disabilities. EO 16-08 directs the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) to reform and reorganize its existing Business Enterprise Program. This reorganization is meant to streamline Illinois affirmative markets policies. Among many other changes, EO 16-08 asks CMS to create a standardized procedure to potentially set aside certain procurement contracts for solicitation to firms with enumerated standing. The “Sheltered Markets” set-aside program is supported by a wide variety of business groups. CMS has been asked to monitor its compliance with the Sheltered Markets Initiative and other changes implemented by this Executive Order, and to report annually to the Governor’s office on July 1 of each year, starting on July 1, 2017.