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.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Low-income college students have a glimmer of hope now that Governor Bruce Rauner has included money for Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, in his budget plan. But students already in school may not enjoy the benefit.

Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner prides himself on robust funding for elementary and secondary education, and in yesterday's budget address, he promised a $213 million increase for k-12 schools. But State Sen. Andy Manar says only a fraction of that money will reach Illinois’ poorest school districts.

Illinois Student Assistance Commission

Eric Zarnikow is in charge of Illinois’ program to help low-income students pay college tuition, known as MAP grants. He cheered yesterday when Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed increasing MAP funding by 10 percent, saying it could accommodate 12,000 more students, or increase the size of the grants.

But one thing the proposal does not do is pay for MAP students in school today.

 

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to equalize school funding in Illinois have gotten a lot of publicity lately, since the bipartisan commission he established concluded by issuing a report earlier this month. But another group of lawmakers was simultaneously tackling the same issue. It was lead by State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood). What conclusion did that group come to?

State Rep. Will Davis filed a school funding reform package last week that promises to makes school funding in Illinois more equitable. How much will it cost? How much will each school district gain or lose? Is Davis even going to call the bill for a committee hearing? All good questions with no firm answers.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Last week, the School Funding Reform Commission wrapped up six months of work trying to fix the state's notoriously inequitable support structure for public schools by producing a report calling for new dollars to go first to school districts that have been historically underfunded. However, the commission stopped short of proposing its own legislation. Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill who has already proposed three school funding reform packages, is calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration to come up with a piece of legislation that would carry out the concepts endorsed in the commission's report.

Beth Purvis headshot
Courtesy of Beth Purvis

This is the second part of our conversation with Beth Purvis, Illinois Secretary of Education. She led a 25-member commission over six months of meetings, trying to cure the state’s notoriously inequitable school funding structure. The commission concluded its work last week by issuing a report, but stopped short of crafting actual legislation. Purvis rarely talks to the media, but on the day the commission adjourned, she spoke for about half an hour with NPR Illinois.

Beth Purvis made her first appearance as Secretary of Education at a School Management Alliance/Vision 2020 event.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Beth Purvis serves as Gov. Bruce Rauner's Secretary of Education, and she headed the 25-member commission he tasked with finding a way to make Illinois' school funding more equitable. After six months of meetings, the bipartisan panel adjourned yesterday releasing a report meant to guide lawmakers toward drafting a reform measure. Shortly after that final meeting, Purvis talked to me about the novel test she used with the commission, and why the panel stopped short of endorsing a specific plan.

MAP students from St. Xavier University lobbied lawmakers at the Thompson Center in Chicago last February.
St. Xavier University

The ongoing state budget impasse, now in its second year, has been particularly tough for low-income college students who rely on the state’s Monetary Award Program -- known as the MAP grant -- to help cover tuition. The state has delivered only a fraction of the money promised for those grants, and schools have had to choose between covering the grants using their own reserves or billing the students. The latter choice leaves campus financial aid officers with the task of breaking the bad news to students. We asked Sue Swisher, executive director of financial aid at St. Xavier University in Chicago, to tell us how those conversations go.

Daniel Biss speaking to group
Office of state Sen. Daniel Biss

The last time the General Assembly tried to make school funding more equitable across Illinois, the legislation got derailed largely due to a fight over teacher pensions. Now pensions have cropped up again, this time in a bipartisan commission working to overhaul the school funding formula.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

For the past 20 years, school funding in Illinois has relied heavily on property taxes, which means schools near prime commercial or residential areas thrive, while others struggle to get by. Since August, a bi-partisan, bi-cameral group of lawmakers has been meeting regularly to try to come up with a better way to fund public schools.

Last week, after four days of legislative sessions ended, most of the 20 lawmakers appointed to the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission hung around Springfield just for this meeting. It took place in a stuffy teleconference room, and lasted three solid hours, with no breaks.

But even after the meeting adjourned, Senators Karen McConnaughay and Andy Manar lingered, continuing their discussion. She’s a Republican representing several upscale suburbs of Chicago; he’s a Democrat from the tiny town of Bunker Hill. Could this be a sign that on this issue, lawmakers from different worlds are trying to pull together?

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.

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