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Bill Passed Out of General Assembly Lets Special Ed Students Who Turn 22 Finish Their School Year

Capitol in Springfield
Meagan Davis
Legislation on its way to Governor JB Pritzker allows special ed students to maintain their eligibility for services through the end of the school year in which they turn 22.

A bill to allow special education students who turn 22 to continue with their classwork until the end of the school year has passed unanimously through the State Senate.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the bill, said students and their families face problems when they're forced to change their routine after losing school support.

"We don't really have a good system right now in our state for taking care of these young individuals when these school programs end," said Cunningham.

Currently, special ed students lose their eligibility for services upon their 22nd birthday. Cunningham said the bill could cost as much as $20 million a year. But he said that's just a small fraction of the state's overall education spending.

"I think it's money well spent," said Cunningham.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the bill was "the least we can do to support" special ed students.

"Any society has an ethical and moral obligation to truly help those who cannot help themselves," said Rose. "This is the right moral, ethical thing to do."

Rose noted how Illinois has ranked near last in rankings of how states treat developmentally disabled people.

"It is an abject travesty, bordering on disgusting, how we care for our developmentally disabled in this state," said Rose.

All Peoria-area senators voted in favor of the bill. Most of the area's representatives also supported the bill in an April vote, but Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, did not vote on the measure, and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, was excused that day.

Most Bloomington-Normal representatives and senators voted in favor of the bill, minus Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, who did not vote on it.

The legislation is not the first this session to bring down age barriers for special ed students. A bill earlier in the session, sponsored by Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, allows students who turned 22 during the COVID-19 pandemic and faced at least three months of interruptions resulting from the pandemic to complete their school year.

The bill now goes to Gov. Pritzker for his potential signature.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.