Cursive mandate an unfunded curse

Cursive mandate an unfunded curse

The Illinois Legislature can't help itself: It dictates to local government what it should do — without providing funding.

Illinois legislators do two things when they have more will than wallet.

They spend money the state doesn't have. And they order local units of government to carry out duties that the locals must fund on their own, a long-standing practice known as "unfunded mandates."

Legislators were at their unfunded-mandate best this week when they completed the override of Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of House Bill 2977 that, as the bill description states, "requires public elementary schools, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, to offer at least one unit of instruction in cursive writing."

The legislation "provides that school districts shall, by policy, determine at what grade level or levels students are to be offered cursive writing, provided that such instruction must be offered before students complete grade 5."

Cursive — writing in which the strokes of the letters are joined in each word — is a good thing. The three R's — reading, writing and arithmetic — are, or once were, considered the foundations of a basic skills-oriented education program.

But over the years, as computer keyboards have become more commonly used, the teaching of cursive writing is not as widespread as it once was. So, too, is the teaching of clear writing, which is fundamental to the increasingly lost art of comprehensible communications.

This mandate — like all mandates — is aimed at addressing what the Legislature considers to be a problem: students' increasing inability to do things as basic as writing, not printing, their names.

The problem is that, as unsuccessful Illinois gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan once stated, "There are a lot of good ideas. But you can't fund them all."

That was the point Gov. Rauner made in his veto message when he cited a fundamental reality of responsible policymaking and budgeting.

"If the General Assembly believes that cursive writing instruction should be required in elementary schools because it will improve student outcomes, it should be included in the Illinois State Learning Standards and funded accordingly," he said.

He could have gone on. If the Legislature believes the unfunded cursive mandate is so important, it could repeal one or two less important unfunded mandates it previously placed on the schools.

But legislators can't do that. Caught up in the sense of their own self-importance, undisciplined in identifying priorities and looking to curry favor with lobbyists pushing the issue of the day, they simply order someone else — in this case the schools — to carry out legislators' wishes on their own dime.

What's this going to cost the hundreds of state school districts? Who knows, and, from the Legislature's viewpoint, who cares?

The bills' financial note states that "HB 2977 will have a fiscal impact on school districts; however, the specific amount is not known."

There's another irony.

Financial notes are attached to legislation so that legislators will — supposedly — understand the financial ramifications of decisions they make. What's the point of a financial note that, effectively, states "Beats me"?

It's this kind of irresponsible approach to policymaking — the inability to say no — that gets states in financial trouble. After legislators have spent all that they have and more, they place burdens like this on units of local government that will, inevitably, land in the lap of taxpayers.

That's not to say, of course, that cursive writing shouldn't be taught. But that decision is better left to local school board members and educators than legislators who won't take financial responsibility for their decisions.

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scott_tapley wrote on November 10, 2017 at 9:11 am

There's a reason why more than a million American kids are now home-schooled.  The fact that a legislature is criticized for attempting to steer public schools toward teaching basic skills shows both how hapless the schools have become and how hopeless it is to expect forces for positive change.

I wonder how many specific mandates to teach the "3 R's" it would take before local school districts figured out on their own that they can meet them without any increased costs by foregoing instruction in, say, sensitivity, gender fluidity, condom installation, Christianity is taboo but other religions are OK, white is bad/non-white is good, America is not unexceptional (i.e., no better than any other country), guns are bad, communism/socialism are just as good as capitalism, or any of the other countless non-productive, non-academic pursuits on which time/money is wasted?

rsp wrote on November 10, 2017 at 10:11 am

Did you miss your morning coffee? You started off so well and just went way off the deep end there. What's this about "non-academic pursuits on which time/money is wasted"? You're against sports? Phys ed? Anti-bullying campaigns are not to teach kids "sensitivity". It's a national issue. It costs lives.

Among those at highest risk are those who are gender fluid. They are also most likely to be rejected by their parents and put on the streets. In case this isn't clear enough for you I'm referring to suicide. If adults don't bring up issues and demostrate a willingness to talk kids won't either.

When was the last time you sat in on a health class? Health involves the entire body and that includes the parts used for you know what. It includes how to take care of your body, how to protect it. Have you been tested for hepititis C? Most who have it don't know it. Big risk factor is your age. How old are you?

About this Christianity thing and the public schools. How do you not get this and you were a public official? Did you not read the Constitution you swore to uphold? Seriously? When did our public schools start endorsing your religion?

And your ideas on race? Come back to me when you can explain the experience of a black child. Let me know when you can explain how my autistic African American grandchild felt getting written up daily by his white teacher because he couldn't sit still in second grade. Daily for months.

The republican party ran a campaign on making America great again. So which is it, great when we had a Black President or now?