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.

An education advocacy group says Illinois schools should plan to make up time lost to the Coronavirus pandemic, perhaps by extending the school day or year.

That’s one recommendation in a recent report from Advance Illinois. Another way to help fill in the gaps could be offering extensive tutoring, according to the report.

The organization in the fall conducted focus groups with 120 students, parents and caregivers to learn about their experiences during the pandemic.

Office of state Rep. Sonya Harper

State Rep. Sonya Harper was among the most vocal critics of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s attempt to distribute cannabis dispensary licenses through a lottery.

The scoring put minority applicants at a disadvantage, said Harper, a Chicago Democrat who is the new chairwoman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. 

Now, Harper says she likes efforts by the administration to slow down and rethink the process. The caucus wants to see changes in the cannabis tax act that would include the creation of a social equity commission.

Measures of child well-being have declined during the last 10 months as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged. But those economic, health and educational effects have taken the greatest toll on children from Black and Brown families.

A new 50-state report published this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count program quantified the damage. Kids Count analyzes surveys of families compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

A group of Illinois Republican lawmakers is demanding Gov. J.B. Pritzker call a special session of the General Assembly to deal with persistent state unemployment system issues.

Nearly 300,000 fraudulent unemployment claims have been made in Illinois this year.

Ending cash bail doesn't lead to an increase in crime, according to a new report from researchers at Loyola University Chicago. 

Illinois Pro-Family Alliance

The Illinois State Board of Education next month is set to adopt culturally responsive teaching standards to promote diversity and inclusion.

That plan comes despite concerns raised by a conservative group that defends biblical principles. 

Ilinois Senate Democrats

Cash bond could be eliminated in Illinois if a push by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is successful.

State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago) said his measure would benefit lower-income people who are sometimes detained as long as years waiting for their case to be brought to trial or dismissed because they can't make bail.

“It's a system where you have to pay to pass go. Iit doesn't mean someone is safe or unsafe, it means that someone is poor or rich,” he said,

A judge could order pretrial detention if a potential detainee is deemed dangerous.

The Legacy Ptoject

The kids called Grayson Alexander "dyke" and "faggot." The bullying got worse when he came out  as transgender the summer between eighth grade and high school. 

Now a senior at Loyola University in Chicago, the Springfield native says attending school was “not fun.”

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford says she plans to reintroduce legislation that would lower the Illinois' compulsory kindergarten starting age from 6 years old to 5. 

Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, successfully pushed to lower the start for kindergarten from the age of 7 years old to 6, which took effect in the 2014-15 school year. Last year, the state Senate passed legislation to drop the compulsory age further, but the measure failed to get out of the House.

Flickr (CC by 2.0)

State Sen. Ram Villivalam says he plans to offer a proposal to create paid family leave in Illinois.

Villivalam, a Chicago Democrat, says the idea would be to allow workers to take leave with pay for themselves or to care for a new baby or other family member.

“There are people that are working, living paycheck to paycheck, without access to pay leave, and they're faced with the impossible choice: Do I care for my child or loved one in need? Or do I try to put food on the table?" he said. "Paid family leave eliminates this dilemma."

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.

West Cook 40

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.

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