Dusty Rhodes

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As districts around the state begin reaping the benefits of Illinois' new school funding formula, Democratic lawmakers who just happen to be up for re-election gathered today to remind voters that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner initially vetoed that funding, and likewise vetoed legislation that would raise minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 over the next five years.

 

State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation and is seeking re-election, says it's possible to get enough votes to override the veto when the General Assembly convenes shortly after midterm elections in November.

lllinois has historically ranked second in the nation when it comes to high school graduates leaving the state to go to college. But there's good news for a certain set of students who opt to stay.

 

New data released by the state Board of Higher Education shows Illinois is tops in the nation for getting students who start out at community college through to a bachelor's degree.

Illinois’ new school funding formula — approved last year — could already be facing revisions. That's because lawmakers had such a tough time agreeing on this new formula, they tried to ensure they'd never have to fight so hard again. So they built in a Professional Review Panel, and empowered the group to recommend recalibrations as needed.


​One idea under consideration: Adding a racial equity component, to address the historic underfunding of predominantly black districts.

  

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service released a guide for preventing school violence. Issued in response to recent massacres in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, it’s subtitled “An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence.”

But closer to home, a group from the Illinois Terrorism Task Force had already presented a very similar set of recommendations back in April.

State Senator Chapin Rose had what he thought was a no-brainer bill. All he wanted to do was help public universities connect with promising high school juniors by sharing basic data like standardized test scores. But just hours before presenting his bill in committee, he ran into FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

It’s a federal law; there’s no easy way around it.

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

For more than 30 years, kids with a certain streak of genius have found a home at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in suburban Chicago. It’s the rarest of gems in the educational landscape: a public, affordable, boarding school. One of just a handful of such schools nationwide, Wired magazine dubbed it “Hogwarts for Hackers.” But now, after the state’s two-year budget impasse, lawmakers are pondering a proposal that would welcome wizards from outside of Illinois — for a price.

A panel of state senators today 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 Illinois' flagship campus can't match.

Pres. Donald Trump’s administration has been in power for a year now. “State of Trump” is our series discussing what’s changed in the state ... and what might be ahead.

 

Today we hear from high school government teacher Neil Calderon about how the Trump presidency has affected the way he teaches:

 

Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner used his veto authority to make big changes to a small clean-up bill that’s necessary to enact school funding reform. Democrats who pushed the reform warned that Rauner’s action could derail the bipartisan effort to make school funding more equitable. As it turns out, they’re not the only ones upset about it.

Just when you thought the state’s controversial battle over school funding was over, it turns out there’s a few technicalities that need to be addressed.

Let's say you've got a student loan and you get laid off your job. Your loan servicer suggests something called "forebearance" — the chance to delay payments for a year or two. Sounds tempting, but it ends up costing you more money.

That's one of the many tricky facts loan servicers will have to disclose in Illinois, where lawmakers yesterday approved stringent regulations on student loan service companies.

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.

Illinois’ 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, a Democrat from Shorewood, wants to make sure lawmakers don't skip that step.

It took three different votes, but Illinois may finally be getting the new school funding formula lawmakers have been working on for the past few years. The state House of Representatives yesterday approved a new evidence-based school funding plan. It's a compromise, containing most of the plan Democrats proposed months ago, plus a new $75 million program that would provide tax credits to organizations offering private school scholarships.

Teachers unions criticized that provision.

But Representative Bob Pritchard, a Republican from Hinckley, says this school funding reform measure is one of the best things the Illinois House has done.

Illinois' legislative leaders met at the statehouse Sunday to draft what they hope will be the final touches on a school funding compromise. 

Senate Bill 1 was supposed to help Illinois cure its chronic case of inequitable school funding. The Democrat-sponsored measure has become a partisan controversy that's now preventing state money from being sent to schools.

Legislative leaders yesterday announced they'd achieved compromise, but reports that the deal includes a $75 million tax-credit program for private school tuition scholarships is drawing criticism.

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a dozen bills late Friday. Among them: House Bill 3211, a measure that would help low-income students qualify for federal SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Statewide, that amounts to about 40,000 low-income students, says State Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), who sponsored the measure.

The Illinois State Senate spent Sunday in session, where Senators voted 38 to 19 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the new school funding bill. The override wasn't a surprise, because this new evidence-based funding plan had originally 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 for Wednesday.

 

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

The shakeup in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office seems to signal a tougher stance on school funding. The state spending plan passed by the General Assembly requires adoption of a new funding formula, but Rauner has promised to veto the only school formula plan that got legislative approval. This standoff might make the lawsuit filed by 21 school superintendents more relevant.

 

The lawsuit, filed in April, demands that Illinois honor its constitutional obligation to provide a high quality education for all students.

The fate of school funding reform in Illinois hinges on downstate sentiment about Chicago Public Schools, and legislators' grasp of a complex, new formula. The governor has already pledged to veto the legislation. And now, the battle has State Sen. Andy Manar accusing Education Secretary Beth Purvis of lying.

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

It's hard to find an issue that unites Illinois lawmakers, yet members of both political parties and Governor Bruce Rauner have consistently agreed the state needs to change the way it funds schools. Now, with the filing of two separate legislative plans, that once-unison chorus sounds out of tune. State Senator Jason Barickman is the author of one of those plans. Our education desk reporter Dusty Rhodes quizzed him on how he intends to fix the flaws in the state's current funding formula.

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.

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.

 

The Grand Bargain is a package of interlocking legislation designed to break the budget impasse. How important is school funding to that deal? Important enough that leaders titled it Senate Bill One. Under the plan filed by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the state would freeze funding at current levels. Any additional dollars would be distributed based on each district’s demographics and unique needs, channeling the bulk of the money toward low-income districts.

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.

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.

If you were a soldier in World War II, a furlough was something to look forward to. It was a sanctioned leave of absence from your normal duties, a chance to relax and go have some fun. In today's economy, the word furlough has lost some of its luster. It still connotes time off, but without pay.

Tomorrow, Jeff Brownfield, who represents university civil service employees, will appear before the General Assembly's rules committee to ask lawmakers to approve a measure allowing state schools to require employees to take as many as 15 days off without pay.

Illinois has applied to the federal government for a waiver that could bring Illinois not only a significant increase in Medicaid dollars, but also more flexibility for how those dollars are spent. We talked to two members of Gov. Bruce Rauner's cabinet -- Human Services Secretary James Dimas and George Sheldon, acting secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services -- about what this waiver would mean for the state.

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