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An unfunded mandate we can support

Published: Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 5:30 a.m. CDT

Public school administrators and boards of education have complained bitterly about being inundated with unfunded state mandates, and rightly so.

From what we can tell, however, a new unfunded mandate to test school drinking water for the presence of lead, at $15 to $25 a test, makes sense.

The legislation comes after the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, and after dozens of schools in Chicago and the suburbs tested their water on their own and found unsafe lead levels, some at more than 200 times the federal safety threshold of 15 parts per billion in a liter.

The new testing requirement was signed into law last month by Gov. Bruce Rauner. High schools actually aren’t included in the testing requirement, only K-5 elementary schools and licensed day care centers.

The idea is to protect youngsters from lead exposure during their formative years, when it could cause them to suffer lower IQs, decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance at school.

Official rules for testing still are being worked out on the state level. Local schools expect to be apprised of them within three months, and then will proceed with testing. Pre-1987 buildings are the first ones on the agenda; they must be tested before the end of the year.

Some McHenry County school districts have been proactive on the issue and have had their water sources tested. We applaud them for that.

This is an added step on behalf of student and staff safety.

We generally oppose unfunded state mandates. But because the safety of young children is jeopardized, we support this requirement.

As schools and day cares focus on checking for water-borne lead, we’re reminded of what an old-school coach might bellow to his team: “Get the lead out!”

The command takes on a whole new meaning for 21st-century school leaders.

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