Dusty Rhodes

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A group of school superintendents is suing Gov. Bruce Rauner and the State of Illinois seeking more than $7 billion for schools.

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Legislation that could have split the Southern Illinois University board of trustees into two separate organizations may be put on ice to allow time for an independent study.

Think of it like a couple considering divorce, and the judge sends them to mediation instead.

siu.edu

Documents published by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper have sparked calls for the immediate resignation of Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University.

The documents suggest that Dunn may have withheld information from the Carbondale campus chancellor in an effort to funnel more than $5 million in state funds to the Edwardsville campus and split SIU into two separate schools.

Earlier this month, we posted a story about discipline practices inside Noble Network of Charter Schools, which educates approximately one out of 10 high school students in Chicago. One former teacher quoted in the piece described some of the schools’ policies as “dehumanizing.”

The story was shared widely on social media, and drew responses from Noble employees — both current and former — and other education advocates.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner has a track record of handing the toughest topics to small bipartisan panels of legislators. These “working groups” have been tasked with solving budget and pension problems, plus criminal justice reform. And weeks after the Florida mass shooting, Rauner formed a working group on public safety. Like the others, that group meets in private.

Speaking after today's meeting, State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) said it's probably meant to prevent politicians from grandstanding.

Courtesy of John Connor

As he got ready to pitch his legislation to the House education committee, State Rep. John Connor held up a snapshot.

"This is a picture of myself and my younger brother, Matt Connor, at his graduation from the University of Notre Dame in 1994,” the lawmaker said. “What you can't see in this picture is the mole that's on his back. It was a very unusual mole. He was dating a girl who was in the nursing program. She told him to get it looked at. And he waited.”

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

The Illinois State Board of Education filed the paperwork Thursday requesting extra money for all 852 public school districts in the state. It’s the first dose of cash appropriated above last year’s funding level, and is calculated to channel money to the neediest schools.

Sue Scherer / Facebook

recent report shows Illinois is in the midst of a severe teacher shortage, particularly in the central part of the state. 

In the first of a series of hearings, a committee took testimony from the agency responsible for licensing teachers, and from various teacher unions. 

The Illinois State Board of Education is supposed to spend more government dollars on the neediest schools, according to a new funding plan. Today, lawmakers pushed back against the agency’s proposed price tag.

 

The new plan is called "evidence-based funding," because it measures what each district needs against local resources. Using that math, state superintendent Tony Smith presented a budget request for $15 billion — about double what schools got last year.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A panel of state senators heard budget requests from agencies representing colleges and universities, and lawmakers took the opportunity to ask why neighboring states are able to lure so many Illinois students away.

The answer is pretty simple: Other Big 10 schools offer financial considerations that the Illinois flagship campus can't match.

MILO SKALICKY / FOR NPR ILLINOIS

The controversial standardized tests known as PARCC could be on their way out after this spring. The Illinois State Board of Education plans to request sealed proposals for a new statewide exam next week. That’s in response to concerns from teachers and parents about the hours-long reading and math assessment that most third- and eighth-graders failed.

Jennifer Bertino-Tarrany

Gov. Bruce Rauner has claimed his top accomplishment of last year was transforming the way Illinois funds public schools. But the dollars pledged by that new law haven’t been distributed. Instead, Rauner and state agencies have been focused on implementing and expanding a tax credit program for private schools, added to the bill at the last minute to get the governor signature.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner has boasted that fixing the woefully inequitable Illinois school-funding formula was his top accomplishment of the past year.

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

For the past several years, Illinois has been losing more college students than any state except New Jersey. Last year, as higher education was starved by the state budget impasse, that trend continued.

Overall, undergraduate enrollment decreased by 2 percent, with even steeper drops at public universities and community colleges. 

Schools defying this trend include those focused on medical professions, such as City Colleges of Chicago's Malcolm X campus. Mark Potter, the provost, said its home in the medical district makes it more attractive.

Beginning this week, people and corporations donating up to $1.3 million for private school scholarships can get a 75 percent credit toward their state income tax. This was a controversial but bipartisan concept, adopted last summer to help forge a compromise in a big overhaul of Illinois' school funding plan.

Such programs have taken off in other states, but it’s off to a slower start here.

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

A new report from Advance Illinois shows the statewide teacher shortage is felt most acutely in districts with many low-income students. But it's also hitting rural and wealthier districts.
 

Williamsfield is a village halfway between Peoria and Galesburg, with fewer than 300 students. Superintendent Tim Farquer said he can't find teachers who meet state licensing requirements for every subject. Instead, he's filing paperwork seeking waivers.

 

School districts had a year to implement a state law that banned zero-tolerance policies and emphasized restorative justice practices. We check back in with five districts we visited  in the summer of 2016 to see how school discipline has changed.

When it comes to funding public schools, Gov. Bruce Rauner has wavered a bit.

A few months ago, he vetoed a major funding reform bill, saying it sent too much money to Chicago Public Schools. Later, he signed a compromise measure that gave the Chicago schools even more.

Now he has another bill on his desk.

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.

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