Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

US Rep. Shimkus Meets with Champaign County Chamber of Commerce

Whether a federal court sides with Democrats or Republicans on their versions of a Congressional map, Illinois' 15th District would still include parts of Champaign County.

Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), 53, would end up in that district, and he and most other GOP lawmakers are challenging the Democrats' map as part of a lawsuit. The suit contends that the map is unfair to minorities and Republicans.

Shimkus, who hasn't declared his candidacy, visited members of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce Friday morning. He said he's hopeful the Democratic map won't stand up in court.

"I mean the Democrats thought we were over," he said. "They got more than they bargained for, and in our system of government, how are conflicts solved? Through the courts."

One difference between the maps is that the GOP's version would place less of Champaign and Vermilion Counties in the 15th district. Under either map, that district would contain all of Edgar, Coles, and Douglas Counties, but not the cities of Champaign or Urbana. Those areas would fall under a redrawn district inherited by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana), who plans on running for re-election.

During his meeting with chamber members, Shimkus was asked about the economy. He said the debate over raising the debt ceiling created more uncertainty about the state of the economy. He said his constituents want Congress to just stop spending.

"We know the economy, we know the job issue is difficult, but they really want to get control of this fiscal position," he said. "I think we did that by having that fight (with the debt ceiling debate), and now we just have to move forward."

As a Congressional Super Committee looks at ways to save more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, Shimkus said entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, should be considered for possible cuts.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 28, 2011

Report: Planned Prison Closure Could Spur Crowding

The Illinois Department of Corrections says the planned closure of a central Illinois prison could mean 1,500 inmates would be housed in prison gyms.

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/nPzzfO) reports the department detailed the scenario involving the medium-security Logan Correctional Center near Lincoln in a required report to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The closure also could mean crowding-related lawsuits.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called the closure unavoidable given budget cuts by lawmakers. The union representing many of the affected prison workers says the move could endanger corrections workers and inmates.

Meanwhile, the Belleville News-Democrat (http://bit.ly/q62Vqk ) reports plans to close a maximum-security state mental-health center in Chester could require hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades at sites elsewhere to accommodate patients.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 28, 2011

Ill. Teacher’s Retirement System Director Calls Fund Sustainable

The executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System says the fund is underfunded by $44 billion, but it will provide benefits for the foreseeable future.

Director Dick Ingram said the legislature took notice during the last session and gave precedence to payments to pensions.

"We became a priority and I think as long as that continues and the statutory plan that's in effect now is followed we will, in fact, be strong for the long term," Ingram said.

Ingram said the fund's total liability is $81 billion. He said the legislature's plan would put the fund at 90 percent of full funding by 2045.

Ingram also noted that while investment returns can vary last year the fund's return was about 24 percent.

Ingram added a senate bill would offer a third option for teachers to invest their retirement funds. State senate bill 512 would create a third tier for a defined-contribution plan that would resemble of 401-(K) plan. The benefits would depend on the amount invested and the return on investment.

He said the bill would also change the contributions for current teachers. Those in Tier I would see their contributions increase from 9.4% to 13.77% of their pay. Those in Tier II would see their contributions drop from 9.4 percent to 6 percent of their pay.

Ingram held an informational meeting for teachers in Macomb.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 27, 2011

Challenges Accessing Broadband Service Highlight of Congressional Hearing

People living in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain. The problem was a topic of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 27, 2011

Post Office Employees Rally at Congressional Offices

Post Office Employees Rally at Congressional Offices

Postal service workers across the country held a "Save America's Postal Service" rally outside of Congressional district offices, urging lawmakers to support legislation that they say will help solve the post office's financial problems.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 27, 2011

Urbana Council Gives Initial OK to New CVB Funding

Urbana city leaders have come up with new money targeted for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors' Bureau, after the city's mayor vetoed those funds in July.

Laurel Prussing opted not to cast a vote Monday night, when the Urbana City Council initially backed funding the CVB at a much lower level. The other members unanimously backed the nearly $19-thousand in funding. The city formerly contributed $72-thousand annually. Prussing says the $18-thousand-800 in township funds could have gone for better uses, including social service agencies and what it owes for raises through the city's AFSCME union.

The mayor says she's 'appalled' at how the CVB threatened to kill funding for the Illinois Marathon in four years if Urbana didn't pledge money. Prussing says the bureau isn't in charge of the marathon, or an upcoming theater festival planned for next year at the U of I's Krannert Center.

"People come to the marathon, regardless of the CVB, and people come to the Krannert Center regardless of the CVB," she said. "So they take credit for other work that other people have done. It's kind of unfortunate. They can't give us good information on what they've actually brought to the city of Urbana."

While the city council will look for more accountability from the CVB, Alderwoman Heather Stevenson contends the agency does keep vistors in town for a while once they're here.

"People don't come to the U of I football games because of the CVB, but they do stay because of things that the CVB to make sure that people are able to enjoy their time one they're here," said Stevenson. "So those are numbers that can't be tracked."

The city council will take a final vote on the CVB funding next Monday.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 27, 2011

Food Insecurity Focus at Hunger Symposium

At the 5th annual Hunger Symposium on Sept. 26, 2011 in Champaign, food insecurity took front stage.

People talking at the Hunger Symposium

Two million people in Illinois deal with food insecurity, and in eastern Illinois that number is about 80,000, according to a study released by the group, Feeding America. It's a problem that's being addressed through programs like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Local food pantries are also working hard to feed people who need food assistance. At the 5th annual Hunger Symposium on Sept. 26, 2011 in Champaign, food insecurity took front stage. The event was put on by the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and the Family Resiliency Center. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talks with Sean Powers, who attended the meeting.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 26, 2011

Illinois Seeks to Opt Out of NCLB Provisions

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan that would allow states to reject certain provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The measure, which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush 2002, sought to make schools more accountable for student performance and get better qualified teachers into classrooms.

But President Obama said the law's heavy reliance on annual testing isn't working, which why he announced waivers for states if they offer their own plans that meet federal testing standards.

"We can't let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn't have the courage to recognize what doesn't work, admit it, and replace it with something that does," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting."

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the plan would not undermine efforts in Congress because the waivers could serve as a bridge until Congress acts.

The Illinois State Board of Education is looking to opt out of some of the No Child Left Behind requirements. The group's spokeswoman, Mary Fergus, said the law isn't a realistic indicator of student success. She said last year, more than half of Illinois' schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under the law

"That includes a lot of really good schools, high schools that are sometimes named among the best American high schools," Fergus said. "We have done a lot of the groundwork to be a good candidate for this waiver by adopting the standards and implementing them, passing some laws that tie student growth to teacher evaluations, and working with teachers and educators across the state on that evaluation model."

No Child Left Behind sets out a goal for all of the nation's elementary and secondary students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, or risk losing federal funding. Duncan has said more than 80 percent of schools will not be able to meet that goal.

Angela Smith, the principal at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, was feet away from the president during his announcement about the waivers. Smith was invited with other educators to come to the White House. She said while No Child Left Behind has created more accountability in the classroom, she said it has also set up standards that rise each year and are difficult for schools to meet.

"With going through with the re-authorization, I'm hoping that they can continue to hear what's happening at the school level, and they can bring people together and come up with a solution that's going to be good for kids," Smith said. "This is an opportunity for Champaign schools to step up and say, 'Here's what we did to be accountable, here's some systems that we've put into place, here's some results and evidence.' We could really be leaders in the state, I believe."

It is expected that most states will apply for the waivers, which will be given to qualified states early next year.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2011

U of Ill. Fundraising Campaign Tops $2.25 billion

The University of Illinois has reached its third largest fundraising goal ever of $2.25 billion.

Money from the Brilliant Futures campaign came from university graduates, corporations and other groups. Foundation spokesman Donald Kojich said private donations are becoming more important, especially in this economy.

"State support for public higher education has declined significantly over the last three decades," Kojich said. "Institutions have raised tuition, but to be able to also be able to have another revenue stream, private giving is now more important than ever."

Money from the fundraising campaign will primarily be split up among the university's three campuses. The Champaign-Urbana campus is slated to receive more than $1.5 billion from the campaign. The Chicago campus will receive $593 million and the Springfield campus will get about $26 million.

"It will go to support a variety of different areas - scholarships, faculty support, student support, various academic programs, could be some capital programs in terms of buildings," Kojich explained.

The U of I Foundation said it raised $2.267 billion in donations, but it will continue the campaign until Dec. 31.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2011

Latinos Make Up Largest Minority Group in Illinois

U.S. Census figures show Hispanics are now Illinois' largest minority group, outnumbering African Americans. But not all communities are welcoming the trend, according to a professor a the University of Illinois.

Hispanics now make up nearly 16 percent of the state's population, an increase of nearly 500,000 people from a decade ago. The shift in demographics has put an emphasis on immigration issues such as housing and educational opportunities for Latinos and Latinas.

Jorge Chapa teaches Government and Public Affairs at the U of I, and he also co-authored the book "Apple Pie and Enchiladas: Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest."

"They are growing much more quickly than the capacity and the knowledge and how to serve them," Chapa said.

Chapa said very few Hispanics serve on local school boards or in other administrative roles. He said there are also communication barriers in medical care and schools. In addition to growth in Chicago and the collar counties, Illinois' Cass County has seen an influx in Latinos since the last census.


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