Dusty Rhodes

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The Illinois State Board of Education used their monthly meeting Wednesday to host a conversation on possible solutions to the state’s worsening teacher shortage. The board is looking for ways to maintain high quality standards without discouraging potential teachers from entering the profession.

 

Afterwards, the agency’s chief education officer, Ralph Grimm, said there is no single solution.

 

“Two and a half hours of testimony I think really reinforced to the board how deep and structural the teacher shortage issue really is across the state, that its effects are felt differently in different parts of the state, but all over the state,” he said.

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.

Graduate students who work as research assistants alongside university professors could win the right to go on strike. Current law excludes them from being counted as employees. But a proposal to change that (HB253​)   was approved by the Illinois House of Representatives last week.

Several Republican state representatives argued giving them that right would raise college costs. State Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) argued the measure could eventually lead to higher tuition prices for undergraduates.

 

Illinois lawmakers are considering a variety of bills that would change the requirements to earn a teaching certificate.

 

Right now, to become a licensed teacher in Illinois, you have to pass at least three tests.

Among the subjects discussed this week: medical and recreational marijuana, an anti-abortion rally at the capitol building, Illinois' teacher shortage, and legalizing sports gambling.

Copyright 2019 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

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.

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.

There's an old saying that the hardest animal to kill is a school mascot. But Illinois lawmakers are taking a look at possibly thinning the herd.

 

Illinois has some school districts operating with only elementary grades, some with only high school grades, some with fewer than a hundred children — a total of 852 school districts. That's more than any other state except California and Texas, both of which have more than twice our population.

Does it matter?

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.

Officials from each of Illinois' public universities traveled to the statehouse this week to tell lawmakers about their leaky roofs, outdated science labs and broken air conditioners, in hopes of getting funding to fix them. It’s part of a push toward a public works program, known in the legislature as a capital bill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised the state will spend billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, and public agencies are lining up to ask for a piece of that pie.

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."

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.

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?

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.

When Illinois adopted a new school funding formula in 2017, it was the culmination of a multi-years-long effort involving a handful of complicated proposals. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a few details slipped through the cracks. But one of those details was pretty big; it was the school clock.

What counts as a school day? Well, five clock hours of instructional time has been the law of the land in Illinois as long as anybody can remember. That’s enough for a half dozen classes, plus a passing period and lunch. But for reasons that no one has stated on the record, that provision disappeared when the new school funding formula took effect, leaving the minimum number of required instructional hours at zero.

College has traditionally been the place young adults get the education they need to pursue their life’s calling. At one of Chicago’s City Colleges, there’s a program for student’s whose life calling deals with death.

Alycia Adams attends Malcolm X College, which is strategically located near Chicago’s medical district, and specializes in the health sciences. But unlike most of her classmates at Malcolm X, Adams isn’t learning anything about saving lives.

“It started with a guinea pig, in third grade,” she says. “I had the responsibility of taking care of it over the summer, and they don’t live long, and so it died.”

When Illinois approved a new school funding formula in 2017, it didn't make funding equitable across all districts overnight. But it has opened the eyes of the State Board of Education.

The new formula, called "evidence based funding," is calculated by weighing each district's financial needs against the economic resources of the surrounding community. This comparison revealed that some districts have less than half the resources they need, while other districts have three times what they need.

Statistics show that only about one-third of sexual assaults get reported to authorities. But a new Illinois law removes some of the barriers that could prevent rape victims from coming forward. Dubbed "the survivors’ bill of rights," this legislation offers protections plus some small comforts for people reporting sexual assault.

No matter how good you've been this year, there's one thing we know you're not getting for Christmas: A pre-paid tuition contract from the state's College Illinois! plan.

Established in 1999, the plan was a way for parents or grandparents to pay tuition in advance through a contract. But Eric Zarnikow, director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, decided to stop selling those contracts last year.

One of the new laws that goes into effect next year will allow school districts to use third-party recruiting firms to address Illinois' severe teacher shortage. So if you live in a school district that struggles to find subs, you may find your child being taught by a Kelly Girl.

That's the company's original name. It changed to Kelly Services in the 1970s. Kelly has been helping staff schools in other states for about 20 years. Now, it's eager to add Illinois to its portfolio.

Last spring, Illinois lawmakers approved legislation that would strip a state commission of its power to overrule local school boards. But after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill, some state senators changed their positions, while others disappeared from view.

The vote came late on a Wednesday afternoon. It was below freezing in Springfield, and starting to snow in Chicago. Did that matter? Maybe.

“There were people sitting in their chairs who were ‘yeses’ last time who did not vote,” says Sean Denney, the lobbyist who has been pushing this bill for six years.

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."

When the Illinois state legislature passed its new school funding law, it changed more than just the dollar amount each school district receives. It also changed the number of hours of instruction schools have to provide.

Under the old law, schools had to provide at least five “clock hours” of instruction per school day. Now, there’s no minimum number of hours — or minutes — because that provision of the school code got wiped out by the legislature.

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.

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