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.

borken piggy bank on classroom desk
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The state’s ongoing budget impasse has hit community colleges particularly hard, with funds to these schools and the students who attend them drastically reduced. The Illinois Community College Board is distributing $3 million in emergency aid, divided among seven campuses.

Video monitors of commission meeting
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than any other state in the country, Illinois relies on property taxes to fund public schools. As a result, districts in prosperous areas can spend a lot more per student than districts in low-income or rural areas. A group of lawmakers charged with revamping this scheme has been meeting since summer, facing a deadline of February first. But the group isn’t moving fast enough for State Senator Andy Manar. He’s the leading Democrat on the commission. He’s also considering running for governor.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

In the ongoing budget grudge match between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratically-controlled legislature, one bright spot is that public schools have been spared. Rauner, in fact, has boasted that under his administration, general state aid for schools has been fully funded for the first time in years. But there’s a caveat to that claim.

Courtesy of Julie Posth

The ongoing budget impasse means that state funding for colleges and universities will run out Dec. 31. While some schools are fronting the money for students who get state assistance, a recent survey found that others are scooping up students' federal financial aid to fill in the gap. It's a little bit like opening your child's birthday card from grandma, and pocketing the cash.

The first year of teaching is a little bit like jumping into the ocean. You can practice in a swimming pool and pretend you’re in the ocean. You can sit on a boat and watch other people dive in. But until you do it yourself, there’s no way to know how the waves are going to feel or how you’ll fend off the jellyfish and sharks. Jeniece Baines is one of those brand new teachers.

She teaches reading and writing to 7th graders at Franklin Middle School in Champaign.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

For college students, December means cramming for final exams. Some schools try to help students keep studying by serving midnight breakfast in the dining halls. But at the University of Illinois, one student group puts their own twist on that tradition.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Students struggling to learn English have traditionally been regarded as a bit of a challenge in your standard public school. But in Urbana, these kids are valued for their ability to help their English-speaking peers learn a second language.

It’s done using mixed classrooms where the teachers speak only Spanish for as much as 90 percent of the day. That percentage ramps down as the kids get older. In the earliest grades, the English-speaking students may not even realize that they’re soaking up a new language.

Dave Heninzel

Patrick Dolan played a major role in shaping the relationship between public school teachers unions and administrators in school districts across the nation, and especially in Illinois. But if you’ve never heard of Patrick Dolan, don’t feel bad. Dolan did his work mainly behind the scenes, in meetings with teachers unions and school administrators. What made him remarkable was that he created peace between these often adversarial parties.

Autumn trees on the University of Maine campus
Courtesy of the University of Maine

Illinois has long been number two in the nation for a rather dubious distinction -- the net out-migration of college students. Now there’s a new program targeting Illinois high school students who want to attend a state flagship university, even if it’s not in Illinois. The catch? You’re going to need to love flannel shirts, lobster, and maybe not come home for Thanksgiving.

group of undocumented students in Capitol
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

College students who don’t have a Social Security number can’t receive financial aid from public universities in Illinois. But a measure that would give schools the option to provide scholarships or waivers is getting a big push at the statehouse, thanks to the election of Donald Trump.

classroom desks
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

 

The stop-gap funding measure approved by lawmakers last spring left community colleges with just 27 percent of their usual state aid. That amount is almost gone. Community colleges in Illinois say they've cut frills, suspended travel, and even laid off teachers. Now they need state lawmakers to come through with funding.

That was the gist of a letter sent last week from the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents​ to the governor and legislative leaders.

 

If there's one thing that most educators agree on, it's that a school full of low-income students requires teachers to bring their A game if they want to close the achievement gap. But after years of studying high-poverty schools that succeed, Lynne Haeffele has come up with a short list of traits those successful schools share. Haefele directs the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, and she will be speaking tonight at a townhall-style event in Decatur. Haeffele has been studying “break the mold” schools -- high poverty, high performing schools -- to discover their magic formula.

 

 

Courtesy of AFSCME Local 31

If you were a soldier in World War II, a furlough was something to look forward to. It was a sanctioned leave of absence from your normal duties, a chance to relax and go have some fun. In today's economy, the word furlough has lost some of its luster. It still connotes time off, but without pay.

Tomorrow, Jeff Brownfield, who represents university civil service employees, will appear before the General Assembly's rules committee to ask lawmakers to approve a measure allowing state schools to require employees to take as many as 15 days off without pay.

Karen Walrond

Kelly Wickham Hurst spent about 20 years with Springfield School District 186. As guidance dean, she frequently took to social media to share stories of black students being treated unfairly, and her efforts to advocate on their behalf. Sprinkled in among those stories were hints that some colleagues resented her, like the time a teacher inadvertently flashed a text message over the classroom projector and students saw Hurst referenced by a derogatory term. So it was no surprise when she parted ways with the school district and started an initiative called Being Black At School.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform recently compared enrollment data of Illinois public colleges and universities against similar schools in six neighboring states. 

BlueRoomStream.com

When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, it represented something rare these days -- a new law with bipartisan support. That’s largely because it replaced No Child Left Behind, which was almost universally unpopular.

But writing regulations for the new law fell to the federal Department of Education -- the same agency that enforced No Child Left Behind. In a recent column for US News and World Report, Illinois superintendent Tony Smith complained the DOE was perpetuating the same practices in the new regulations.

Brent Clark, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Courtesy of IASA

When it comes to equity in school funding, Illinois ranks last among all 50 states. So over the summer, various groups of lawmakers have been meeting with stakeholders, trying to come up with a plan that will send state dollars to the school districts that genuinely need help. Brent Clark has been attending all those meetings.

Courtesy of Jim Melvin

Jim Melvin is finally fulfilling a lifelong dream. He's a rookie in the classroom, but a seasoned veteran at real life. At age 59, he's in his first full year of teaching social studies at V.I.T. High School -- a small school near Macomb, Illinois.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Kimberly Thomas is the reigning Illinois Teacher of the Year. The title doesn’t come with a satin sash and a tiara, but you might think it does once you get a taste of Thomas’s extreme effervescence. This Peoria math teacher has a lot more going for her than just bubbles and fizz, but you have to get you a sip of that first.

Courtesy of Anderson, Hampton

A new school discipline law goes into effect this week, setting strict limits on the reasons principals can use to suspend or expel students. The measure was the culmination of a years-long effort by young adults in Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, or VOYCE. They called it the “Campaign for Common Sense Discipline,” and the goal was to put an end to punitive policies that made kids miss class due to infractions like chewing gum or violating dress code.

 

Quentin Anderson, just 28 years old himself, directed the lobbying effort. And every time I heard him speak to lawmakers, he told the same personal story.

When it comes to school funding, Illinois has been ranked as the worst in the country because our system is so inequitable. Basically that means some schools offer a lot of advanced placement courses and have fancy science labs and swimming pools, while other schools can’t afford new math books and have to cut their band programs. The fight over how to fix this has gone on for years.

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that he was creating a bipartisan commission to change the way Illinois funds public schools. That commission held its third meeting yesterday. But there’s another commission tackling the same topic, and its founder claims her group is getting more work done.