Dusty Rhodes

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Every baby born in Illinois could get a tiny college savings account under a plan that passed the state House of Representatives Wednesday. The proposal comes from the state treasurer’s office, as a way to  encourage families to start planning for their children's college education.

Beginning in 2021, each baby born or adopted in Illinois would automatically receive a 529 college savings account with $50 deposited by the treasurer's office.

A few months ago, the Illinois State Board of Education voted to ask lawmakers for $15.6 billion to fund public schools. Now, a newly appointed board wants to change that request, to ask for just under $9 billion.

These board members were appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, so it's no surprise that the $8.9 billion request they’re proposing aligns almost perfectly with Pritzker's budget.

Illinois lawmakers have proposed a variety of plans to tackle the state's severe teacher shortage. This week, State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), bundled three popular concepts into one bill.​

"These are three things that I hear almost in complete unison from teachers across the state, in small rural districts to larger districts, that in different ways impact the profession,” he told the Senate education committee.

Those three things:

Almost two years after Illinois overhauled its school funding formula, educators are still trying to tie up a few loose ends that got overlooked in the 540-page legislation. One of those loose ends omitted funding for about 7,000 students.

Those kids are the ones who need what's called "alternative school," because they've struggled with discipline or truancy, and fallen behind. Many alternative schools are run by regional offices, rather than traditional school districts. And those regional offices weren't incorporated in the overhaul plan.

More than a year ago, Illinois lawmakers approved a total overhaul of the way the state funds schools. That landmark legislation, known as “evidence-based funding,” got a lot of media attention. But at the same time, something else happened that went totally unreported: The state also changed the number of instructional hours required in a school day from five to zero.

Let’s be clear: The new law didn’t force any changes, so most districts carried on with their usual schedules. And as soon teachers unions noticed the five-hour requirement had been dropped, they began to lobby to reinstate it.

A new father trying to provide for his family. A grandmother finishing what she started more than four decades ago. A man navigating multiple schools, hidden curriculums and financial hurdles. These are just some of the older students working toward a degree in the U.S.

Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.

That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker replaced most of the state board of education this week and appointed a new superintendent.

The board includes seven women and two men. The new superintendent, Carmen Ayala, is the first woman and the first person of color appointed to hold that position full-time.

"It's amazing. It's such an honor, I mean, it still hasn't hit me today,” she said. “Somebody texted and said, ‘You know, Carmen, today you made history in Illinois,’ and I was like wow! That's just amazing. It's an honor."

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker rolled out his budget proposal on Wednesday, he acknowledged that he needs more than $1 billion in new revenue to make it work. The question is: Where will he find all that dough?

A measure gaining support in the Illinois legislature would have schools teach students the concept of consent in sexual relationships.

 

Beyond “no-means-no,” this law would require any sex ed course offered in grades 6 through 12 to include a comprehensive definition of consent. For example: Consent to one activity doesn't constitute consent to another activity. Consent to sexual activity in the past doesn’t equate to consent in the future. A person's manner of dress or lack of active resistance don't imply consent. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered his first budget address at a time of acute fiscal distress for the state of Illinois. It also comes after Democrats have taken total control of the executive and legislative branches of state government, including supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate.

For this week's Illinois Issues report, NPR Illinois reporters analyzed the governor's speech:

In his budget address today, Gov. J.B. Pritzker listed education as one of his top three priorities, requesting increased funding for programs across the educational spectrum, from babies to grade school to colleges and universities.

Now all he has to do is persuade lawmakers to go along with his plan to pay for it.

The Illinois State Board of Education is warning schools they may not get reimbursed for free- and reduced-price lunch programs if the federal government goes into another shutdown.

Federal funds for school lunches flow through the State Board of Education, which then reimburses school districts and other programs. At the moment, ISBE has enough cash to get through April, but Jeff Aranowski, director of health and safety at the agency, says there’s no guarantee they’ll get their third quarter payment.

If that money doesn’t come through, the agency will be able to meet only about 40 percent of the need.

More than two dozen school districts learned last week that they're eligible for property tax relief grants from the Illinois State Board of Education. Most of those districts have inadequate funding. But a few already exceed what's needed to provide a good education.

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker today announced his seventh transition team. This one is charged with advising Pritzker on policies for all levels of education, and has almost three dozen members, including 10 advocacy group leaders, six lawmakers (all Democrats), four public university officials, three community college officials,  and one current principal.

Tony Sanders is the CEO of Unit 46 in Elgin — the state's second-largest school district, with almost 40,000 students. Right now, he's short at least 30 teachers. He's using retired teachers as long-term substitutes. Even though those retirees can teach only 120 days out of the 178-day school year, Sanders knows he’s got it better than superintendents in districts that don’t have a deep bench of subs.

"Yeah, if it weren't for retirees, we would really be in a jam,” Sanders says. “Luckily, a lot of retirees like to come back and still be in a classroom."

A recent study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy shows that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stands out among similar schools for its low percentage of minority students.

The Illinois State Board of Education has unveiled a new labeling system for schools, with roughly 550 Illinois schools now being tagged "under-performing," and another 200 called "lowest performing."

What test should school teachers have to pass to earn a license in Illinois? The Illinois State Board of Education takes up that question at their meeting Wednesday.

Rockford Public Schools

 

 

lllinois is in the grips of a severe teacher shortage, but late last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation to raise their wages. The bill would’ve ramped up the minimum salary to $40,000 by the year 2022. In a message explaining his veto, Rauner called that an “unfunded mandate.”

lllinois is in the grips of a severe teacher shortage, but late last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation to raise their wages. The bill would’ve ramped up the minimum salary to $40,000 by the year 2022. In a message explaining his veto, Rauner called that an “unfunded mandate.”

But State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation, says he hasn’t given up on the effort.

Illinois.edu

The University of Illinois today announced a new financial aid program designed to make enrollment at its Urbana-Champaign campus more affordable for middle-class students. They’re calling this program Illinois Commitment, and Kevin Pitts, vice-provost for undergraduate education, says the goal is to persuade families they really can afford to send their kids to the state’s flagship university.

 

The University of Illinois today announced a new financial aid program designed to make enrollment at its Urbana-Champaign campus more affordable for middle-class students. They’re calling this program Illinois Commitment, and Kevin Pitts, vice-provost for undergraduate education, says the goal is to persuade families they really can afford to send their kids to the state’s flagship university.

 

“Illinois Commitment pledges to cover tuition and mandatory fees for all students who have a family income below $61,000 per year,” Pitts says.

Credit teacherpensions.org

A national study released this week comparing general school funding dollars with the amount spent on staff benefits singled out Illinois — and not in a good way.  

 

@assassinsgame16

At Springfield High School, Ethan Doyle is an honors student, a member of the baseball team, the investment club, and an elite student group known as Superintendent’s Roundtable. But perhaps his most notable accomplishment came during the spring of his sophomore year, when he assassinated more of his classmates than anybody else.

"My mom didn’t really care but my dad, he was hyped up about it a little bit. He was excited,” Ethan says.

FLICKR USER: DCJOHN WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/DCJOHN/

A new Illinois law will give gifted children the chance to move ahead in public schools.

 

 

 

April Alonso / The Chicago Reporter

A series of state laws meant to reduce the number of kids getting kicked out of school appears to have worked. That’s the good news. But the bad news is: Those same laws also seem to have magnified racial disparities in school discipline.

Kalyn Belsha covers education for the Chicago Reporter, and she analyzed three years worth of discipline data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

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

Ten days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees who choose not to join unions no longer have to pay reduced fees to cover collective bargaining. And already, a crusade to persuade teachers to drop union membership has hit Illinois.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

When school districts outside of Chicago negotiate contracts, they do so with the assurance that the state will pick up the tab on pensions. To control growing pension costs, lawmakers capped salary bumps at 6 percent in 2005. This year, the cap tightened to 3 percent.

Illinois' teachers unions have collected more than 15,000 signatures on petitions urging state lawmakers to reverse that measure.  

State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) chairs the House K-12 appropriations committee, and was involved in budget negotiations.

NPR Illinois

Long before he ran for governor, Bruce Rauner was a champion for school choice. That’s the shorthand way of saying he used his considerable clout and cash to support charter schools, most of which don’t welcome teacher unions.

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