The Morrison Memo: December 22, 2015

Objective and Fair Standard Needed for School Bathroom and Locker Room Use
Palatine-based Township High School District 211 became the center of a national civil rights debate recently when a student with male anatomy who identifies as female demanded full, unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room at school. The school’s response was troublesome and shined a light on what appears to be a patchwork and non-transparent approach to Illinois schools responding to transgender issues.

Illinois needs to have a clear standard in place so that our schools can set policy that aligns with existing federal laws. Through Title IX at the federal level, we already have existing case law that allows the separation of bathrooms and locker rooms based on sex. In the case of District 211, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) attempted to reinterpret Title IX when representatives sent a threatening letter to District 211 officials claiming their federal funding could be in jeopardy if they did not address what they called a violation of the student’s civil rights. A letter penned by the Department of Education’s OCR does not change the rule of law and does not in any way supersede the provision that already allows separate bathrooms based on an individual’s anatomy.

Over the last few weeks I have met with hundreds of people who are concerned about privacy issues for all public school students. I am in the process of finalizing legislation that creates a statewide standard that is both objective and fair so that every school district in Illinois can be confident in setting policy that respects the privacy of all students.

Morrison Presents Pension Information at IASB Conference
In late November it was my honor to host a session at the Illinois Association of School Boards conference in Chicago. Titled “Pensions: New Day, New Solutions,” I helped lead a discussion about Illinois’ pension crisis and what possible solutions exist. I was joined on the panel by Illinois Senator Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), teachers, TRS Director of Outreach Rich Frankenfeld and COGFA Director Dan Long. About 250 school board members and school administrators from across the state attended the session.

Morrison: “Pension Reform Should Begin with Legislators and Judges”
In case you missed it, I recently submitted an editorial to the Daily Herald where I suggest that pension reform in Illinois needs to start at the top, with lawmakers and judges. Here is the text of that editorial:

Jake Griffin’s column again highlights serious flaws in Illinois’ notoriously broken pension system. While the judicial and legislative pension funds represent less than 2% of the state’s overall pension obligations, reform should begin there.

It’s legislators and governors who ultimately approved pension benefit promises along with annual expenditures that included increases in education, transportation, social programs, and other budgetary needs and wants. Lawmakers’ past short-sightedness and/or self-interest created a system that kept most public employees happy in the short-term but accumulated a mountain of promises to be paid later by taxpayers. We all face major challenges as a result.

This is why pension reform must begin at the top if there’s any hope of fixing our problems long-term. I have spoken with many public employees, and they are much more open to objectively discussing fair solutions to the pension dilemma once they discover there are dozens of reform-minded General Assembly members who voluntarily opted-out of the pension plan in the past 5 years. Once that dialogue opens, it’s much easier to discuss the numerous harmful consequences of the staggeringly deep pension debt. Current education expenditures, transportation, public safety needs, the social safety net, as well as other budgetary priorities, are being continually squeezed out. Municipal governments are under similar pressures to maintain staffing levels of police, fire, and other staff with increasing annual pension payments.

Current local and state elected officials must lead by example and disallow the accumulation of any more pension credits for themselves or for future office holders.

There is understandably great public distrust for elected officials, but sacrificial and visionary action will open the door to the bold pension reforms so desperately needed to rescue our current pension systems from collapse and enable us to pay for government services we need today and in the future.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As we end 2015 and prepare to usher in 2016, I hope you are all able to spend quality time these next few weeks with family, friends and other loved ones. While this has indeed been a difficult year for the State of Illinois, we all have a lot for which we can be truly grateful. From my family to yours, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a bright and prosperous new year!