Maureen Foertsch McKinney

News Editor

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers,  and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

COVID-19’s effects on learning for Illinois students emerged in a state Senate committee this week.

Robin Steans, president of the education advocacy nonprofit Advance Illinois, said COVID-19 has placed a reliance on remote learning that has put students at a disadvantage.

Illinois State Board of Education

The COVID-19 crisis has placed many school districts and families on the wrong side of the digital divide. State Superintendent Carmen Ayala says creativity is  helping to bridge the gap.

Ayala says the state board has allocated $80 million toward purchase of computer devices and connectivity hotspots to help with remote learning. Forty two percent of schools have both remote and in-person learning and a third are remote only.

Donnie Nunley / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A researcher at the University of Illinois recently showed how child care providers have been hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Elizabeth Powers is an economist at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. She says measures put in place to slow COVID-19 reduced revenues for childcare centers and  restricted the number of slots that were available to families.

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Illinois had about 4,000 unfilled school jobs open last fall, and that shortage is expected to be greater this year because of the pandemic. 

The information comes from a survey of school superintendents conducted in 2019. School staff in that count include teachers and paraprofessionals, such as aides,  and administrators. Data for a new survey will be collected in September said Mark Klaisner, the President of the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents.

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus

Members of the Illinois General Assembly’s Black Caucus Tuesday released a four-pronged agenda that they say will dominate this fall’s legislative session. 

The group of lawmakers wants several areas addressed: criminal justice reform, which includes violence prevention and  police accountability; education and workforce development; economic opportunity and equal access; and health care and human services.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat,  said the time to address racism at the federal level, and in Illinois, with legislation is now.

Economic Policy Institute/University of Illinois

For this week's Statewide,  we interviewed Elizabeth Powers, an economist with the Institute of Government and Public Policy at the University of Illinois and Heidi Shierholz, an economist and policy director at the Washington, D.C,-based Economic Policy Institute. Powers  was a member of former President George H.W. administration, while Shierholz served in former President Barack Obama's administration. They discussed the impact of COVID-19 on women in the workforce.

ACLU of Illinois

A group of transgender women has asked for an independent monitor of the Illinois Department of Corrections because the agency has not improved those inmates’ care as ordered by a judge last year.

Nabih Elhajj

A Springfield man is mourning after a massive explosion at a port warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon injured thousands and killed about 200 people, including his mother, Zeina. Maureen McKinney talked recently with Nabih Elhajj,  executive director of the education nonprofit, I-VenturED.  His mother  died of her injuries the day following the early August  blast. Elhajj is also an adjunct business instructor at University of Illinois Springfield and an NPR Illinois community advisory board member.

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Illinois, leading Gov.  J.B. Pritzker to say some regions of the state could be facing new restrictions on bars and restaurants.  That could mean a rolling back of the state allowing indoor dining.  

Madison Parr

Franny Cole’s now-estranged husband had been emotionally abusive and financially controlling. She thinks sometimes about what might have happened had she not gathered the strength to leave prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

This coming school year, districts will be expected to provide information on LGBTQ figures in history before students graduate eighth grade.

State representative Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat, said she believes the addition is positive for all students.

Rebecca Anzel / Capitol News Illinois

Last week, the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit that says the year-old Reproductive Health Act requires employers to pay for coverage of abortion against their will.  The suit says unless the act is declared unlawful and enforcement of it is forbidden, plaintiffs will continue to “suffer irreparable injury."

Maureen Foertsch McKinney / NPR Illinois

The conservative Thomas More Society this week filed a lawsuit that in effect charges Illinois’ Reproductive Health Act violates the right to freedom of religion by forcing employers to pay for abortions.

Office of state Sen. Kimberly Lightford

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford says she is overwhelmed with emotion these days.  

The majority leader from Maywood was inaugurated more than two decades ago as Illinois’ youngest – and only African American woman – senator. She’s struggled working toward legislation that would help her community, one that’s been hit particularly hard recently.

At least three Illinois House members say they want a special legislative session to strike on issues of law enforcement reform and accountability while police brutality has the nation’s focus.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker today (Thursday) announced new guidance for places of worship. It comes as he has faced multiple lawsuits over his ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. Pritzker now says faith leaders should try to limit attendance to a quarter of a building’s capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower, along with social distancing. 

DONNIE NUNLEY / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Child care facilities will be able to operate again once Illinois enters the third phase of its reopening plan, which is expected Friday. 

Office of Rep. Allen Skillicorn

A Republican state representative who says he has taken steps to start the recall process against J.B. Pritzker was chastised by the governor Tuesday for consistently voting against spending on vital programs.

Wheaton College

A group of Chicago-based evangelical leaders plans to seek a virtual meeting with Gov. J.B. Pritzker because of “growing angst” about the rules he has set for religious gatherings.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker says the state is expanding testing to all frontline and essential workers, including those in health care and first responders.
That will cover employees at a wide range of jobs including those at grocery stores, prison and restaurants.

Maxica Williams / Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has created a mutual aid fund that will give out grants of up to $500 for Illinoisans who are homeless, have been without a home or are at risk of being unsheltered.

CCH grassroots leaders – people who have experienced homelessness and work in partnership with CCH staff – run the fund and will decide what requests should be supported.

Bloomington Family Dental

The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Dental Society no longer recommend limiting dental procedures to emergencies.

The early May guidance is that dentists can again perform routine procedures – that is if they follow a series of checks with lawyers, insurers and occupational directives. 

Mike Miletich / Quincy Media Capitol Bureau

White supremacist organizations have infiltrated stay-at-home  protests such as  those in Springfield and Chicago last week, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. 

David Goldenberg, the Midwest regional director of the ADL, says over the last two weeks the center has tracked dozens of rallies to protest stay-at-home orders across the country, including in Illinois. “They’ve attracted a good number of members who are members of extremist organizations,’’ he said.

BLUE ROOM STREAM / BLUE ROOM STREAM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker decried as hate-filled some of the signs that demostraters in Springfield and Chicago carried Friday to protest his stay-at-home order.

He addressed the issue at his daily briefing Saturday. Of the hundreds gathered at state buildings in Chicago and Springfield, including the state Capitol. Some carried signs with swastikas that said, HEIL PRITZKER.

Rachel Muncy Bonney

The spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois says courts have ruled that laws can be set in the name of public health, which makes Gov. J.B. Pritzker s order on face coverings enforceable. 

Ed Yohnka said precedent has been set with vaccination requirements at public schools being imposed because they are considered to be for the good of public health.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker used some complicated math to come to the conclusion that Illinois is starting to see a slowing of new cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Blueroom Stream

Illinois House Republicans in a press conference Monday said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has not done enough to address the tsunami of unemployment insurance claims from recent weeks.

Ronnie Cobb

Illinoisans experiencing mental illness have had to face a new world in the pandemic.

Most -- except for those in residential or emergency situations – have had to make the choice between not having therapy or having to do it by phone or computer screen.

For this week’s Illinois Issues in-depth report, Maureen McKinney looked into how the transition is working.


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Illinois domestic violence shelters have not received as many calls in recent days perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that’s likely to change.

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By Saturday, officials expect 500 hospital beds to be in place at a converted McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago to deal with the overflow of COVID-19 patients. 

The massive facility off Lakeshore Drive is expected by mid-April to have up to 3,000 beds, including ICU units, to deal, if needed with COVID-19 cases. There are now more than 5,000 cases statewide, most in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Gov. J.B Pritzker announced the progress in his daily press briefing on Monday.

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