NPR Illinois Education Desk

Carmen is learning to walk at Children's Habilitation Center.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

With most lawsuits, you can read the pleadings and decide who’s the bad guy. But in this case filed by the Children's Habilitation Center, I can’t find a bad guy. The plaintiff represents 10 children with disabilities, seeking almost $1 million from one of the very poorest school districts in the state — West Harvey-Dixmoor District 147.

Cornell Tech
Lindsay France / Cornell University

Most press conferences don’t provide breakfast pastries. But in mid-May, when the University of Illinois announced that every public four-year college in the state had signed on to its Innovation Network, the event was staged with some extra sizzle. Along with muffins, coffee and juice, there was a line-up of college presidents and chancellors, plus Springfield mayor Jim Langfelder, flanked by a big banner showing 15 stars strewn across the state of Illinois.

Midstate College President Meredith Bunch says low and declining enrollment has forced the sudden closure of the 131-year-old private institution in Peoria. 

Student athletes in gym
Mark Ambrose

Illinois has 852 school districts — the third highest number of any state in the nation. Some are just single schools, with fewer than a hundred students. But getting districts to merge, or consolidate, has proven difficult.

Wall of framed board member head shots
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

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.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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.

 

students at school
West 40 Regional Safe Schools

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.

Students, teachers, staff and volunteers pose for photo in prison
Karl Soderstrom

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.

Eric Lichtenberger in office
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

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.

Go Ahead Of The Class

Jul 30, 2018
School desks
Flickr user: dcJohn www.flickr.com/photos/dcjohn/

A new Illinois law will give gifted children the chance to move ahead in public schools.

Panelists at the Peoria forum discussed Education issues in Illinois. 

Panelists: 

  • Pastor Marvin Hightower
  • Beth Crider
  • Professor Dean Cantu
  • Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat

This forum series is sponsored by AARP. 

Rachael McRae, a fifth-grade teacher in central Illinois, was sitting on the couch the other day with her 4-month-old when she saw the email.

"He was having a fussy day," she says, "so I was bouncing him in one arm, and started going through my emails on my phone, just to feel like I was getting something done." In her spam folder, she found an email from an organization called My Pay, My Say, urging her to drop her union membership.

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

siu.edu

Documents published today by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper have sparked calls for the immediate resignation of Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University. For weeks, lawmakers have been mulling a package of bills — one of which would boost funding to the Edwardsville campus, another would split the two campuses entirely, and the third would reconstitute SIU's Board of Trustees. The documents published today suggest that Dunn may have withheld information from the Carbondale campus chancellor in an effort to funnel more than $5 million in state funds to the Edwardsville campus and split SIU into two separate schools.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner has a track record of handing the toughest topics to small bipartisan panels of legislators. These “working groups” have been tasked with solving budget and pension problems, plus criminal justice reform. And weeks after the Florida mass shooting, Rauner formed a working group on public safety. Like the others, that group meets in private.

 

Speaking after today's meeting, State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) said it's probably meant to prevent politicians from grandstanding.

Courtesy of John Connor

As he got ready to pitch his legislation to the House education committee, State Rep. John Connor held up a snapshot.

 

"This is a picture of myself and my younger brother, Matt Connor, at his graduation from the University of Notre Dame in 1994,” the lawmaker said. “What you can't see in this picture is the mole that's on his back. It was a very unusual mole. He was dating a girl who was in the nursing program. She told him to get it looked at. And he waited.”

Coins cutout and posted on bulletin board
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

The state Illinois will finally begin sending local school districts more than $350 million dollars to equalize school funding. The funds, set to go out next week, come as the result of the reform battle waged in the General Assembly over the past several years.

Tim Killeen and Barbara Wilson
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The University of Illinois president told a panel of lawmakers Thursday that he'd like to maintain a freeze on tuition rates.

Courtesy of Ann Baltzer

The trend toward school choice has educators across the country looking at Chicago’s Noble Charter Schools — an award-winning network of mostly high schools that specializes in helping inner-city kids achieve the kind of SAT scores that propel them into four-year universities. But despite its prestigious reputation, Noble has a peculiarly high teacher turnover rate.

Courtesy of Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

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.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

An obscure, technical bit of legislation could make a big difference for some of the state’s youngest students. It’s meant to tie up all the loose ends on the massive school funding reform lawmakers approved last August. This cleanup bill contains more than a dozen changes, plus language that would fund bilingual education for students in pre-kindergarten classes. All it needs is the signature of Governor Bruce Rauner.

 

Without that?

Sue Scherer/Facebook

A recent report has shown Illinois is in the midst of a severe teacher shortage, particularly in the central part of the state. A panel of lawmakers took testimony on that topic today.

In the first of a series of such hearings, a committee heard from the agency responsible for licensing teachers, and from various teacher unions. But several lawmakers on the panel are former school teachers, and Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) wasn't shy about sharing her personal opinion on why the ranks of teachers is dwindling.

Archbishop Blaise Cupich at Inauguration 2015
Brian Mackey/WUIS/NPR Illinois

Chicago Cardinal Blaise Cupich traveled to Springfield today to voice his support of stricter gun laws. But he also addressed Illinois' new school funding reform, and its tax credit program for private school scholarship donors.  

Dusty Rhodes

The Illinois State Board of Education is supposed to spend more government dollars on the neediest schools, according to a new funding plan. Today, lawmakers pushed back against the agency’s proposed price tag.

 

The new plan is called "evidence-based funding," because it measures what each district needs against local resources. Using that math, state superintendent Tony Smith presented a budget request for $15 billion — about double what schools got last year.

McConchie in office
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

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.

An advocacy group says Illinois schools are in need of more diverse history lessons. Equality Illinois is behind a new statehouse proposal that would require the curriculum to include lessons on people who made history and were LGBTQ+.

screenshot of students in classroom from TV ad
Citizens For Rauner, Inc.

One of the biggest changes Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed in today's budget address is making local school districts bear the costs of teacher pensions.

Smith talking with young student
Illinois State Board of Education / Facebook

Last August, when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the historic school funding reform plan, the celebration was like the political version of a wedding. Lawmakers from both parties got dressed up, made lovely speeches, and posed for pictures next to that one cousin they never really liked.

animation of clock ticking quickly with student at laptop
Milo Skalicky / for NPR Illinois

The controversial standardized tests known as PARCC could be on their way out after this spring. The Illinois State Board of Education plans to request sealed proposals for a new statewide exam next week. That’s in response to concerns from teachers and parents about the hours-long reading and math assessment that most third- and eighth-graders failed.

Al Bowman midshot in tree-lined area
Illinois State University

After years of cuts and chronic underfunding, state higher education officials voted yesterday to make a modest request for next year’s budget.

Meeting in Springfield, the Illinois Board of Higher Education had a lengthy debate: Do we ask for what we really need? Or do we ask for what we think we can get?

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