NPR Illinois Education Desk

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?

General Assembly electronic vote tally board
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

Less than an hour before Gov. Bruce Rauner was scheduled to deliver his State of the State address, lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to override his veto of a small, technical school funding bill necessary to implement the massive school funding reform that Rauner has listed as his main accomplishment.

Courtesy of Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant

Gov. Bruce Rauner has claimed his top accomplishment of last year was transforming the way Illinois funds public schools. But the dollars pledged by that new law haven’t been distributed. Instead, Rauner and state agencies have been focused on implementing and expanding a tax credit program for private schools, added to the bill at the last minute to get the governor signature.

More than 900 students in Washington D.C.'s public high schools graduated last year against district policy. That's according to a new report Monday from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent.

Families who send their children to private schools probably thought they received a break under the new federal tax law. But Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs warns that's not necessarily so.  

Bright Start and Bright Directions are savings plans designed to let Illinois parents accrue tax-free interest while stashing money to pay their kids’ college tuition. The new tax law says these plans, known as 529 accounts, can now be used to pay for up to $10,000 per year in private school tuition for younger kids, too.

White board with, "School Funding" written on it
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois State Board of Education today voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly to practically double state funding for public schools.

Last summer, the legislature voted to change the way Illinois funds schools by adopting what's called an “evidence-based model.” That model weighs what each district needs against its local resources. As it turns out, some districts can't achieve even 50 percent of adequate funding, while others have almost three times what they need.

Rep. La Shawn K. Ford headshot

Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner used his veto authority to make big changes to a small clean-up bill that’s necessary to enact school funding reform. Democrats who pushed the reform warned that Rauner’s action could derail the bipartisan effort to make school funding more equitable. As it turns out, they’re not the only ones upset about it.

Rauner at gym with students
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

If you’ve seen Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign commercials, you might think the school funding issue was settled last summer. But as often happens with complex legislation, it was followed by a “trailer” bill cleaning up some technical language. Rauner decided to use his veto pen on that bill to lower the bar for private schools to qualify for a controversial tax credit program. Now, the Illinois State Board of Education is warning that “time is of the essence” for the General Assembly to uphold the trailer bill (Senate Bill 444). Without it, nearly 200 Illinois school districts will lose out on equitable funding.

Rauner announced his amendatory veto of SB1 standing alone.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner has boasted that fixing Illinois’ woefully inequitable school funding formula was his top accomplishment of the past year. But yesterday, he struck down a measure needed to implement that reform, by issuing an amendatory veto of a relatively short, simple “trailer” bill drafted to ensure that the 550-page reform plan squared up with the financial models lawmakers had approved.

For the past several years, Illinois has been losing more college students than any state except New Jersey. Last year, as higher education was starved by the state budget impasse, that trend continued.

Overall, undergraduate enrollment decreased by 2 percent, with even steeper drops at public universities and community colleges. 

Schools defying this trend include those focused on medical professions, such as City Colleges of Chicago's Malcolm X campus. Mark Potter, the provost, said its home in the medical district makes it more attractive.

geographic chart of private school donations in Illinois
Illinois Department of Revenue

Beginning this week, people and corporations donating up to $1.3 million for private school scholarships can get a 75 percent credit toward their state income tax. This was a controversial but bipartisan concept, adopted last summer to help forge a compromise in a big overhaul of Illinois' school funding plan.

Such programs have taken off in other states, but it’s off to a slower start here.

Asia Gentry and Jessica Atterberry midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

If you’ve got a recent college graduate on your gift list, you might be interested in the results of a survey conducted by the finance firm Lend Edu. They asked people with student loans whether they’d rather get a holiday gift or an equal value payment toward that debt. We decided to take that poll for a tiny test drive with two recent college grads, who gave us plenty of food for thought.

Myles Mendoza midshot
Courtesy of Myles Mendoza

Many of us enjoy a party on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, but for a few wealthy Illinois residents, Jan. 2 will be the day to celebrate. Beginning at 8 a.m., on a first-come, first-served basis, they can reserve a hefty tax credit in return for their donation to a private school.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School districts had a year to implement a state law that banned zero-tolerance policies and emphasized restorative justice practices. We check back in with five districts we visited  in the summer of 2016 to see how school discipline has changed. / Flickr-Creative Commons

A recent report shows Illinois is facing a teacher shortage. But changes to teachers’ pensions — including cutbacks on the state’s share of contributions — spells uncertainty for anyone going into the profession.

Slide outside classroom window
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Just when you thought the state’s controversial battle over school funding was over, it turns out there’s a few technicalities that need to be addressed.

State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

With teachers devoting much of their time to preparing students for standardized tests, penmanship has disappeared from the curriculum in many schools. A new state law approved yesterday will bring it back, to ensure elementary students get instruction in cursive writing — sometime between 2nd and 5th grade.

State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch (D-Hillside) filed the measure the same day lawmakers approved his resolution on zombie apocalypse preparedness.

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

Let's say you've got a student loan and you get laid off your job. Your loan servicer suggests something called "forebearance" — the chance to delay payments for a year or two. Sounds tempting, but it ends up costing you more money.

That's one of the many tricky facts loan servicers will have to disclose in Illinois, where lawmakers yesterday approved stringent regulations on student loan service companies.

Jessica Handy works as a lobbyist for an education advocacy organization called Stand for Children. I’ve aired interviews with her in the past because she’s got a knack for explaining complex numbers. So to her, the most critical part of this story is the numbers. Specifically, some very long odds.

Al Bowman midshot in tree-lined area
Illinois State University

Al Bowman, a former president of Illinois State University, has been tapped to lead the Illinois Board of Higher Education. His appointment comes as higher education institutions have seen their budgets slashed and enrollment decline, so it’s hard to know whether to congratulate him.

“You know, I’ve been getting that from people,” Bowman laughs.

He is going into his new job eyes wide open. Illinois ranked number two in the nation for net loss of college students.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

Want to know how your kid's school is performing compared to others? The Illinois State Board of Education today released graduation rates, test scores, and other metrics through its online school report cards. Results show that standardized test scores, graduation rates and participation in advanced placement courses are all inching upwards.

Google Maps

Derek Hutchins is the superintendent of Crab Orchard Schools. It's a district of only 530 students, east of the town of Marion, in southern Illinois.  So he was surprised last week when his tech support guy showed up in his office with big news.

frowning piggy bank
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The debate over school funding dominated much of the legislative session, and concluded with a compromise plan designed to send more state funds to the neediest districts. But so far, those districts haven't gotten any extra funds.

Elizabeth Belletire House

A new effort to get kids more active and in touch with their thoughts has come to Springfield's public school district - in the form of yoga classes. It could also have implications for how students are disciplined in the future.


The University of Illinois Springfield plans to establish a center to study President Abraham Lincoln and his continuing relevance.

The initiative is one of several priorities for a $40 million fundraising campaign the university launched Tuesday.