Education Desk

Weekly coverage of Education in Illinois.

The NPR Illinois Education Desk is a community funded initiative to report on stories that impact you.  Stories on the state of education from K-12 to higher education written by Illinois and national journalists.

classroom
VictorBjorkund / Flickr

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

classroom
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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.

seated students in graduation gowns and caps
Rauner College Prep

Schools across Illinois are still waiting for state money while legislative leaders try to agree on a new funding formula. Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed large portions of a Democrat-sponsored plan, saying it was too generous to Chicago Public Schools. The list of educators lobbying for lawmakers to override that veto includes some surprising names.

State of Illinois drawn on chalkboard
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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.

Illinois House floor
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School funding stalled a while longer yesterday as Illinois lawmakers instead cast symbolic votes. Democrats took the changes Gov. Bruce Rauner made to their evidence-based model, turned it into a replica bill, then ran it for a vote. It was an exercise designed to prove that Rauner couldn't get enough support to uphold his plan.

Tony Sanders with U-46 students
courtesy of U-46

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been drumming up opposition to the Democrats' new 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 U-46, the state’s second largest school district, as the biggest winner: That northwest suburban district 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.

Swings in school playground
Hal Frain / Flickr (CC X 2.0)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed legislation that makes it illegal to expel toddlers from preschools.

Backers of the new law point to a study that says toddlers and other Illinois preschoolers are expelled at a rate three times greater than their older, school-age counterparts.

“I just want you to let that sink in.”

State Rep. Juliana Stratton is a Democrat from Chicago.

“When you see expulsion in early years, it leads to higher suspension and expulsion rates in later grades."

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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.

lockers with books inside
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Between a new state pension plan and Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of the Democrats' school funding plan, some school districts would be in for a big hit in July 2020. The two changes would have a particularly significant impact on districts with high rates of teacher turnover and declining enrollment.

row of lockers
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School districts are due to receive state funds Aug. 10th, but that can't happen until lawmakers either override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of Senate Bill 1 or come up with some other plan he will sign.

ov. Bruce Rauner held a press conference to demand Democrats send him SB1. He was flanked by Republican lawmakers.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Schools are set to receive payment from the state in just three days, but that can’t happen until the Illinois legislature approves a new “evidence-based” funding model.

Ten minutes before Gov. Bruce Rauner's scheduled press conference announcing his amendatory veto of SB1, Sen. Andy Manar and Rep. Will Davis — Democrats who sponsor the school funding legislation — reiterate their desire to negotiate.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

With schools set to open in just a few weeks, Illinois still doesn't have any way to send money to schools. K-12 funding has become the latest partisan battleground at the statehouse, and yesterday, one procedural misstep may have inadvertently made the gridlock even worse.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Bruce Rauner
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

"Chicago bailout" is the tag Gov. Bruce Rauner and other Republicans pinned on Senate Bill 1, the new school funding plan approved by the General Assembly. So when Democrats finally sent him the bill, Rauner wasted no time cutting portions that help Chicago Public Schools.

State Sen. Andy Manar at podium
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The future of state funding for Illinois schools is still up in the air Monday afternoon. The fight over Senate Bill 1 — legislation that would overhaul the way Illinois supports k-12 schools — has such high stakes and such slim vote margins that it has turned into a parliamentary chess game. Now, the next move belongs to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)

Gov. Bruce Rauner has launched a website to show that most school districts stand to gain more state funding under his plan than under the Democrats' plan. How he calculated those numbers is a question reporters have asked repeatedly. We turned to the state board of education for answers.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

After the first day of a special session on education, Democratic lawmakers and the Republican Governor Bruce Rauner appear no closer to resolving the dispute that could hold up money for school districts. Rauner continues to demand Democrats send him the funding plan so he can change it and remove additional money for Chicago teacher pensions.

Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling lawmakers back from their summer vacation to deal with a new school funding plan in special session starting Wednesday. The issue has turned into a showdown between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature, with the fate of k-12 school children in the balance.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, flanked by Auburn superintendent Darren Root, State Representatives Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) and Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Leland Grove), demands SB1 by Monday at noon.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Monday at high noon — That's the deadline Gov. Bruce Rauner has given Democrats to send the school funding bill to his desk. The new state budget requires this revamped funding formula, but Rauner plans to veto certain parts of the plan.

He promises every school district -- except Chicago -- lots more money once he gets to veto portions of the Democrats' bill.

graduation ceremony
WOSU Public Media / flickr

Adults in Illinois who failed to graduate from high school still can earn a General Educational Development certificate, also known as a G-E-D.  But legislation approved by the General Assembly would provide what some consider to be a better alternative. 

Mason jar with coins in bottom.
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The new state budget will fund Illinois colleges and universities at the level of funding they received in 2015 — minus 10 percent. But there’s one area of higher education that got a boost.  

Rauner at podium
@GovRauner / Facebook

Lawmakers approved a state budget more than a week ago. But the education portion remains uncertain. For the money to flow, Democrats added a provision that requires enactment of a new school funding plan. Democrats have passed such a plan through both chambers, but Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, says he’ll veto parts of it.

Student carrying school flag in gym
Seaton Township High School District 40

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.

In a maneuver some state lawmakers call a "booby trap," the spending plan approved last week says Illinois can't appropriate money for schools unless a new funding formula also wins approval. It ties K-12 dollars to something known as the "evidence-based model."

Both political parties endorse this model, which is based on each district's demographics. The Democrats' version has passed the House and the Senate; they haven't sent it to Gov. Bruce Rauner, however, because he has promised to veto it.

Press conference at capitol
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than a dozen school leaders from across Illinois gathered at the state capitol today to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools. They held signs and banners saying “thank you,” but gratitude wasn’t their only motive.

classroom desks
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

On Sunday, House Speaker Michael Madigan issued three demands for budget negotiations, and one of them was for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1 — a massive overhaul to the state’s school funding structure. But he also said he was open to changes in that bill. Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes gives us a refresher course on what those changes might be.

 

"Upstate/Downstate"

If you had to place a bet on where student test scores have plummeted over the past decade and a half, where would you put your money? Chicago Public Schools? Galesburg? Urbana? A new study on student achievement in Illinois shows some surprising results.

The school funding debate continues to revolve around the issue of Chicago Public Schools.
Wikipedia Commons

Earlier this week, a group of Illinois Republicans announced a series of compromise measures they said could lead to a state budget. It includes a revised school funding plan, sponsored by State Senator Jason Barickman, of Bloomington.

Barickman calls his latest plan quote a huge step forward.

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.

Kankakee Community College

The ongoing budget impasse has been particularly difficult for Illinois' institutions of higher education, which have received a mere fraction of their usual state funds. Community colleges depend on the state to supply 30 percent of their overall budget, but that formula has evaporated over the past two years.

 

John Avendano is the president of Kankakee Community College, but he's also president of the Presidents Council — the group made up of all Illinois community college presidents. He spoke with our Education Desk reporter about the special challenges these schools face.

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