Throughout the busy spring session in Springfield, much of State Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel’s focus was on the many education bills which made their way through the General Assembly.
The freshman legislator’s history as a special education teacher and her service on the Joliet Township High School District 86 board gave her valuable insight when it came to the, at times, heated debates over education reforms. Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood, serves as the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee.
This past session saw legislation aimed at including the history of marginalized groups in school curricula and updating sex education material.
Just the number of new mandates coming from the state related to education caused Loughran Cappel some concern, because she knows what it’s like having to incorporate new measures into an already difficult job.
“It is a little overwhelming,” she said.
Still, she said many of the new laws, especially those focused on addressing inequities, were needed. Plus, she said the COVID-19 pandemic forced abbreviated sessions last year, so this spring, legislators essentially had to accomplish two year’s worth of work.
One of the bills which attracted much debate was one to require school districts to teach comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education. The measure drew strong criticism from some parents and conservative groups.
Loughran Cappel said her office received a roughly equal mix of calls from constituents who were both for and against the bill.
“For me, that’s when I had to take my professional judgement as an educator and say this is what’s best,” she said.
She asked the sponsor of the bill if it would allow for parents to opt out their children from having to receive that instruction. She also advocated for local control so districts across the state could have more flexibility on how to administer the material.
The final version included both provisions, so Loughran Cappel said she ultimately supported the bill.
“There’s a lot of things that you agree with,” Loughran Cappel said of the legislative process. “But sometimes the implementation and how that’s going to look and how that’s going to affect your district is another thing.”
The senator also had a hand in pushing for other bills, like one aiming to enhance financial literacy among high school graduates. Another bill she supported aimed to increase the ranks of teachers of color in the state by expanding access to scholarships.
Through her first session in office, Loughran Cappel said the learning experience of how to get things done has been challenging. But despite the rancor and divisions playing out on social media about a myriad of controversial issues, she said she’s learned members of the Illinois Senate generally try to cooperate on legislating when they can work together.
Moving forward, Loughran Cappel said she wants to focus on helping schools and teachers in her district try to accommodate all the new changes. For significant or even divisive issues, she said she’s tried to focus on bringing different factions together to tackle big problems.
“For me, I’ve tried to be a good listener and the voice of moderation and rational thinking and a lot of that,” she said.