Dusty Rhodes

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School funding is one of the key issues in the General Assembly’s budget debate. Everyone agrees the current funding formula needs to change, but there’s less agreement on how to fix it. A bipartisan effort is poised for a floor vote in the House, but in the Senate, compromise appears to have fallen apart.

Professors at the University of Illinois Springfield could go on strike. That’s the result of a vote this week by United Faculty, a chapter of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Kristi Barnwell, a history professor and vice-president of the faculty union, says the vote doesn’t necessarily mean they will strike.

 

“We’re still hoping that we don’t have to, and that the university’s administration will make some meaningful progress in negotiations at our next bargaining session," she says. "But we needed to let them know that the option is on the table, and our membership is ready if it comes down to that.”

 

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

With multiple legislative proposals, a task force and a lawsuit all aimed at overhauling the way Illinois funds its schools, it’s hard to predict what might happen. But in this chat that aired on Tuesday, our Capitol Bureau reporter Brian Mackey makes me try.  

Lawmakers have been trying to change the way Illinois funds schools for years now, with no luck. But a new plan called the Evidence Based Model seems to be gaining momentum.

Illinois lawmakers from both political parties seem to be gathering behind a new school funding plan called the "evidence-based model." Versions of the plan have been filed in both the House and Senate. The House iteration passed out of committee with bipartisan support.

A Chicago law firm representing a group of mostly rural school superintendents sued the state of Illinois today. They're asking Gov. 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 17 superintendents say that — between Illinois' notoriously inequitable funding formula and years of reduced state spending — this lawsuit is their last resort.

Seventeen school superintendents sued the state of Illinois today. 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.

In a way, it's just one little box on a lengthy college application form. But for many would-be students, that box is more of a stop sign if the instructions say "check here if you have a criminal record." State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Republican from Crystal Lake, wants to change that. She sat down with our Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes to explain why.

Last week, when Southern Illinois University revealed that its main campus in Carbondale needs to borrow money from its Edwardsville location, the news seemed shocking. Who knew SIU was in such dire straits? It wasn’t the kind of news any school would want to broadcast.

The effort to overhaul the way Illinois funds public schools has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and yesterday, the latest plan got the green light to be heard by the House of Representatives. Sponsored by State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), the plan cleared committee on a 15-1-0 vote, marking the first time in recent history that a school funding plan got bipartisan support.

That's despite the fact that Davis chose not to provide a spreadsheet showing how much money each district would get.

School funding has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the statehouse, but in recent days, there’s been a glimmer of hope. A Democrat filed new funding plan, and a key Republican in the Illinois Senate appeared to endorse it, issuing a statement saying that he was “cautiously optimistic.” Was this the beginning of a bipartisan solution? We decided to do a reality check.

 

Yet another plan to address the state’s lopsided school funding structure has been filed. This measure would freeze funding at current levels for all districts including Chicago Public Schools.  When new revenue becomes available, it would be handed out based on each district’s demographics and needs, giving more to districts struggling financially. 

Parents alarmed by the realization that their teenagers cannot decipher cursive handwriting have inspired one Illinois lawmaker to propose requiring schools to offer a course on the art of the flowing font.

Kids use computer keyboards for most communication these days, but what if they need to sign a legal document or read a letter from grandma? State Representative Chris Welch, a Democrat from Hillside, says they’re going to need cursive for that. He’s sponsoring a measure that would ensure students receive at least one class in old-school slanted script. 

Property taxes, PE, police, twins, tampons, Title I funds, teacher evaluations, lactating students and lottery dollars — these are a few of the legislative measures working their way through education committees in the General Assembly.

Flickr Creative Commons/Sholeh

Enrollment in Illinois’ public universities and community colleges continues to decline. That’s according to figures released  by the state Board of Higher Education.  The three University of Illinois campuses and Governors State University all experienced slight gains in undergraduate enrollment over the past year, but all other public universities reported declines. 

A.D. Carson grew up in Decatur, graduated from Millikin University, and earned a master's degree here at the University of Illinois Springfield. He’s now a Ph.D candidate at Clemson University, where today he’s defending his dissertation -- a hip-hop project that’s gone viral.

One word of warning: The music in this story contains a racial term some listeners might find offensive, but it’s part of Carson’s scholarly work.

A federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires every state to make sure kids become proficient in core subjects, and continue to learn more each year. The law further requires states to come up with a yardstick to measure that success, but allows some flexibility on how heavily test scores will count. Other numbers like graduation rates and college readiness can be factored in.

 

Eric Zarnikow is in charge of Illinois’ program to help low-income students pay college tuition, known as MAP grants. He cheered yesterday when Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed increasing MAP funding by 10 percent, saying it could accommodate 12,000 more students, or increase the size of the grants.

But one thing the proposal does not do is pay for MAP students in school today.

 

A member of Governor Bruce Rauner's school funding reform commission says he’s disappointed in the governor’s budget proposal, announced Wednesday.

  State Senator Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, says he hoped the group's recommendations would be reflected in Rauner’s plan. The governor instead suggested adding more money to the existing formula, which both Democrats and Republicans have denounced as inequitable.

Beth Purvis serves as Gov. Bruce Rauner's Secretary of Education, and she headed the 25-member commission he tasked with finding a way to make Illinois' school funding more equitable. After six months of meetings, the bipartisan panel adjourned yesterday releasing a report meant to guide lawmakers toward drafting a reform measure. Shortly after that final meeting, Purvis talked to me about the novel test she used with the commission, and why the panel stopped short of endorsing a specific plan.

Last summer, Governor Bruce Rauner tasked 20 lawmakers and a handful of educators with the job of changing the way Illinois funds public schools. That bipartisan commission produced a “framework” today, but no actual legislation.

That is despite the group’s continual focus on a plan favored by Rauner.

After six months of meetings, a panel charged with finding a more equitable way to fund Illinois public schools wrapped up its work today.

The group’s final report plants a flag on a path toward addressing this state’s notoriously inequitable school funding structure, by promising that any new allocation of dollars will go first to the poorest districts. But the bi-partisan commission stopped short of crafting actual legislation, despite having focused all along on a specific plan favored by Governor Bruce Rauner.

The ongoing state budget impasse, now in its second year, has been particularly tough for low-income college students who rely on the state’s Monetary Award Program -- known as the MAP grant -- to help cover tuition. The state has delivered only a fraction of the money promised for those grants, and schools have had to choose between covering the grants using their own reserves or billing the students. The latter choice leaves campus financial aid officers with the task of breaking the bad news to students. We asked Sue Swisher, executive director of financial aid at St. Xavier University in Chicago, to tell us how those conversations go.

On Wednesday, state senators filed a package of bills designed to break the partisan logjam that's led to the state going more than 18 months without a budget. The first of those bills deals with changing the school funding formula, and the commission charged with accomplishing that task appears headed toward a compromise.

More than any other state in the country, Illinois relies on property taxes to fund public schools. As a result, districts in prosperous areas can spend a lot more per student than districts in low-income or rural areas. A group of lawmakers charged with revamping this scheme has been meeting since summer, facing a deadline of February first. But the group isn’t moving fast enough for State Senator Andy Manar. He’s the leading Democrat on the commission. He’s also considering running for governor.

A new law designed to relieve the statewide shortage of teachers and substitute teachers was signed by Governor Bruce Rauner today.  State Senator Dave Luechtefeld, a Republican, taught  history and government at Okawville High School for more than 30 years, so it’s hard to argue with him about what it takes to be an educator. 

The state’s ongoing budget impasse has hit community colleges particularly hard, with funds to these schools and the students who attend them drastically reduced. The Illinois Community College Board is distributing $3 million in emergency aid, divided among seven campuses.

In the ongoing budget grudge match between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratically-controlled legislature, one bright spot is that public schools have been spared. Rauner, in fact, has boasted that under his administration, general state aid for schools has been fully funded for the first time in years. But there’s a caveat to that claim.

In the ongoing budget grudge match between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratically-controlled legislature, one bright spot is that public schools have been spared. Rauner, in fact, has boasted that under his administration, general state aid for schools has been fully funded for the first time in years. But there’s a caveat to that claim.

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