Dusty Rhodes

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Jessica Handy works as a lobbyist for an education advocacy organization called Stand for Children. I’ve aired interviews with her in the past because she’s got a knack for explaining complex numbers. So to her, the most critical part of this story is the numbers. Specifically, some very long odds.

The Illinois General Assembly has enacted a new set of protections for people with student loan debt.

Gov. Bruce Rauner had vetoed the bill because, he said, it would encroach on the federal government’s responsibilities. But 32 Republicans in the House joined Democrats in voting Tuesday to override the governor's veto.

Bill sponsor Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, says the bill deserved bipartisan support.

Al Bowman, a former president of Illinois State University, has been tapped to lead the Illinois Board of Higher Education. His appointment comes as higher education institutions have seen their budgets slashed and enrollment decline, so it’s hard to know whether to congratulate him.

“You know, I’ve been getting that from people,” Bowman laughs.

He is going into his new job eyes wide open. Illinois ranked number two in the nation for net loss of college students.

Want to know how your kid's school is performing compared to others? The Illinois State Board of Education today released graduation rates, test scores, and other metrics through its online school report cards. Results show that standardized test scores, graduation rates and participation in advanced placement courses are all inching upwards.

The federal government moved up the date that students can submit the Free Application For Federal Student Aid. 

The old FAFSA application period opened on January 1, and you couldn't complete the form until you filed your taxes. But as of last year, the federal government decided to accept "prior prior" tax returns, which meant families could file as early as Oct. 1. Carolyn Schloemann, financial aid director at the University of Illinois Springfield, said some people take that start date very seriously.

Carter Staley/NPR Illinois

Illinois’s new school funding plan — approved in August and hailed as a historic change — relies on the legislature to give every school the same state aid it got last year, plus push another $350 million through a new formula. That $350 million is crucial because it’s the part designed to address the inequity that has plagued Illinois schools for decades.

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, wants to make sure lawmakers don't skip that step. She filed a measure Monday tying it to a tax break for those who provide private school scholarships.

Rockford Public Schools

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he's filing a measure designed to launch major changes in higher education.

Citing the high out-migration of students to other states, Rose wants to make it easier for Illinois students to enter state universities.

He aims to create a common application form for all 12 public university campuses and guarantee acceptance for any student who finished high school with a B average.

Shortly after Illinois lawmakers approved a new school funding plan, the state's top education official announced she was leaving to work for a national non-profit. Today is her first day on her new job.

 

Beth Purvis has joined the Kern Family Foundation, a Wisconsin-based philanthropy group that has given at least half a million dollars to Gov. Scott Walker and legislative candidates who support school vouchers.

One promise heard repeatedly during debate over the state's new school funding plan was that no schools would get less funding than before. But lawmakers siphoned $300 million from a fund that schools and local governments rely upon.

It was part of a separate action implementing the state budget. Vic Zimmerman is superintendent of Monticello schools. He says that fund represents 40% of his budget. 

"We certainly now have huge red numbers because of the divergence to CPPRT and the estimate for this year compared to last year," Zimmerman said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner took sort of a victory lap visiting a Catholic school, a traditional public school and a charter school to celebrate the Illinois General Assembly's approval of a historic school funding overhaul.

"Groceries" by Flickr User eddie welker / (CC X 2.0)

Some 40,000 low-income students at community colleges around the state could have become eligible for federal food assistance, or SNAP benefits, from a measure approved by members of both parties in the Illinois legislature.

But late Friday, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a portion of the bill, saying that identifying and notifying those students wasn’t the "best use" of limited time and money. Rauner said he supports the underlying effort to help students. 

Courtesy of Elgin School District U-46

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been drumming up opposition to the Democrats' school-funding plan, known as Senate Bill 1, by touting how much more money each district would receive under his plan.

He points to Elgin School District U-46, the state’s second-largest school district, as the biggest winner: That Kane County city would gain about $15 million if lawmakers approve Rauner’s amendatory veto

So that district's CEO, Tony Sanders, must be rooting for Rauner's plan, right?

Wrong.

Daisy Contreras/NPR Illinois

The Illinois State Senate spent Sunday in session, where Senators voted 38 to 19 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of the new school funding bill.

The override wasn't a surprise, because this new evidence-based funding plan originally had cleared the Senate with a veto-proof majority. The House, however, represents a higher hurdle, where Democrats will need Republicans to vote with them. That vote is scheduled Wednesday.

Sen. Andy Manar, the Bunker Hill Democrat who sponsored the measure, says he'd rather negotiate a compromise.

"Cap and Diploma" by Flickr User bluefieldphotos bp / (CC X 2.0)

Adults in Illinois who failed to graduate from high school still can earn a General Educational Development certificate, also known as a GED.

But legislation approved by the General Assembly would provide what some consider to be a better alternative.

Students leave high school for a variety of reasons. Some drop out because of family obligations, financial pressures, or lack of motivation. Some are pushed out due to disciplinary problems. Once they reach age 21, their only option is to get a GED.

Carter Staley/NPR Illinois

The new state budget will fund Illinois colleges and universities at the level they received in 2015 — minus 10 percent. But there’s one area of higher education that got a boost.  

The Monetary Award Program, known as MAP, provides grants of up to $4,700 to low-income college students.

The two-year budget impasse caused a break in MAP funding, and affected students spoke out about how this interruption threw their lives into chaos. Lawmakers responded by increasing the amount going to MAP scholarships by 10 percent in the new state budget.

"Teachers Pet" by Flickr User Matthew / (CC X 2.0)

The shakeup in Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office could signal a tougher stance on school funding.

The state spending plan requires adoption of a new funding formula, but Rauner has promised to veto the plan that got legislative approval; that’s because it includes money for Chicago teacher pensions.

This standoff might make the lawsuit filed by 20 school superintendents more relevant.  

Flickr user / alamosbasement "old school" (CC BY 2.0)

In a maneuver some state lawmakers call a "booby trap," the spending plan approved last week says Illinois can't appropriate money for schools unless a new funding formula also wins approval. It ties K-12 dollars to something known as the "evidence-based model."

Both political parties endorse this model, which is based on each district's demographics. The Democrats' version has passed the House and the Senate; they haven't sent it to Gov. Bruce Rauner, however, because he has promised to veto it.

Wikipedia

The controversial override vote Thursday was delayed by about two hours when the capitol was put on lockdown, due to reports of a woman throwing or spilling an unknown substance near the governor’s office and other locations.

The woman’s name has not been released, but she is well-known to several people in the statehouse, and is an education advocate.

That’s according to Letitia Dewith-Anderson, a lobbyist who says she has known the woman for a couple of years; she bumped into her being escorted by police out of an elevator.

Dusty Rhodes/NPR Illinois

More than a dozen school leaders from across Illinois gathered at the state capitol Wednesday to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools. They held signs and banners saying “thank you.” However, gratitude wasn’t their only motive.

If you deal with children, you're probably familiar with the concept of positive reinforcement. You reward children for good behavior as a way to encourage them to continue doing it.

Flickr user Brent Hoard "ECU School of Education Class Room" (CC BY 2.0)

More than a dozen school superintendents gathered in the statehouse today to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools.

That gratitude was also their way of nudging lawmakers not to change their votes Thursday, when the House of Representatives will try to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget veto.

Jeff Craig, superintendent of Aurora West schools, admonished lawmakers with something a teacher might tell students about their classroom or playground.

Flickr User Brent Hoard/ "ECU School of Education Class Room" (cc by 2.0)

The Illinois General Assembly has approved a measure that would overhaul the state’s inequitable school funding formula.

It passed with Democratic support along with State Rep. Michael McAuliffe, R-Chicago. He's the only statehouse Republican who represents a part of Chicago (the city's northwest side).

 

The GOP has labeled every proposed change to the funding formula as a bailout for Chicago Public Schools. But in the end, McAuliffe bucked his own party and gave the bill the bare minimum number of votes needed to pass the House.

Flickr user Eric E Castro / "The Tampon Fairy" (CC V 2.0)

The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation requiring public schools to provide free feminine hygiene products in girls' bathrooms.

It would apply for schools with grades six through 12.

State Rep. Litesa Wallace, a Democrat from Rockford, sponsored the legislation.

"This is another way to make sure that we not only are keeping the young lady discreet and with dignity; it's a public health issue,” she said.

Wallace said it's no different from supplying hand soap and paper towels.

Flickr user Brent Hoard "ECU School of Education Class Room" (CC BY 2.0)

Lawmakers of both parties -- and even Gov. Bruce Rauner -- agree that Illinois doesn't fund schools in an equitable manner.

 

But a bill that would overhaul the way Illinois funds public schools passed a procedural hurdle Wednesday with bipartisan support.

 

Flickr user / alamosbasement "old school" (CC BY 2.0)

Democratic State Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill is accusing Gov. Bruce Rauner of trying to kill his school-funding legislation.

  

He says the administration fed erroneous information to a Republican operative's website.

 

The story appears in the Kankakee Times, one of a dozen community news organs created by Dan Proft, who runs a political action committee supported by Rauner.

Dusty Rhodes/NPR Illinois

Commencement ceremonies took place on many college campuses this past weekend, including the University of Illinois, where a popular TV star spoke to graduates.

But the Black Congratulatory ceremony at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana was particularly unique. 

Rachel Otwell/NPR Illinois

Tenured and tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois Springfield went on strike Tuesday, saying 20 months of negotiations with the administration have resulted in little progress.

More than 160 tenured and tenure-track professors represented by University Professionals of Illinois have been negotiating almost two years in an effort to get personnel policies included in a contract. 

Union President Lynn Fisher, a professor of sociology and anthropology, says the University of Illinois has a history of resisting such demands.

No school would lose money under a new school funding plan filed in the Illinois Senate, but additional payments would range from a few cents to more than a thousand dollars per pupil.

Republican State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, released details of his new school funding plan Wednesday.

The spreadsheet posted on his website shows, for example, that suburban Hinsdale would gain $1.50  per child while East St. Louis (where 99 percent of students are low-income) would gain about $260 per pupil.

uis.edu

Back when it was called Sangamon State University, the Springfield campus had a faculty union.

But since joining the University of Illinois system, professors have been without a bargaining unit. For more than a year, they’ve been trying to get an agreement that would retain the rights they had before.

Now, frustrated by the slow pace of talks, they’ve voted to authorize a strike.

Kristi Barnwell, a history professor, says negotiations have thus far been more about grievance procedures and tenure, than dollars and cents.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers from both political parties seem to be gathering behind a new school funding plan called the "evidence-based model." Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington, announced he plans to file his own version in the Senate.

Flickr user / alamosbasement "old school" (CC BY 2.0)

Seventeen school superintendents sued the state of Illinois Wednesday. They're asking Governor Bruce Rauner and the state board of education to come up with a funding formula that would help schools meet the state's learning standards.  

The superintendents say the lawsuit is their last resort given Illinois' notoriously inequitable funding formula and years of reduced state spending,

 

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