Illinois Public Media News
School lunches and breakfasts are sometimes a lifeline for children whose families face problems affording healthy food. School officials understand that and are extending school meal programs into the summer.
Starting Monday, Champaign Unit 4 food service crews will bring breakfasts and lunches to four community centers - they'll be available free to children under age 18.
Unit 4 food service director Mary Davis says the federally-funded program is there to fill the gap when school lets out and children on free or reduced-price lunches still need food.
"Especially now where jobs are hard to find and so money isn't coming into a household like it was, this is going to help all those households," Davis said. "It'll take a worry off their mind because it's both breakfast and lunch. So it does help."
Davis said people at the sites won't ask for proof of need. She said she expects the nine sites across the Champaign area will give out about a thousand breakfasts and up to two thousand school lunches every weekday through the end of July.
Six of those sites are open to anyone - the sites at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club (201 E. Park Ave.), First Presbyterian Church (302 W. Church), Douglass Community Center (512 E. Grove) and Jericho Church (1601 W. Bloomington Rd.)open Monday. Sites at Carrie Busey and Stratton schools open June 13th.
On Friday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is expected to visit another school meal program funded by the Department of Agriculture. Decatur's Boys and Girls Club is one of several sites in that city where the Summer Food Service Program is also taking place.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the new head of the Chicago Public Schools plan to save $75 million by trimming administrative and non-classroom spending from the district's budget.
Emanuel and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced the cuts Thursday.
The mayor's office says $16 million in savings will come from limited layoffs, eliminating some open positions and other reductions at the district's Central Office. Another $44 million in planned savings would come from minimizing debt servicing costs.
Emanuel says he's trying to cut bureaucracy so the schools can focus resources on supporting students and teachers.
Brizard says he wants to make the system more efficient so he can spend every dollar he can in the classroom.
Tax revenue keeps going up in Illinois, and that means a continued rise in an indicator of how well the state's economy is doing.
The monthly University of Illinois Flash Index rose.2 in May to 96.8. For the past two years it's been creeping ever closer to 100, the break-even point between economic growth and contraction. The Flash Index uses tax revenue from sales and income to measure the overall economy.
U of I economist Fred Giertz authored the index. He says a small portion of that increasing tax revenue may have come from rising prices on food and fuel. "Some tax revenues are stimulated by inflation, actually -- for example, the sales tax on gasoline," Giertz pointed out. "So it's not directly about that; certainly over the long run it would be related, but not over the short run. The more direct link would be something that came out (Tuesday) about consumer confidence."
Last month's confidence index dropped sharply - Giertz says that's a more significant result of higher food and gas prices.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn kept up his criticism Wednesday of the budget lawmakers sent him, and heaped scorn on a massive gambling plan despite the Chicago mayor's support for it.
The General Assembly forwarded to Quinn a spending blueprint of about $2 billion less than what he proposed, including a cut of nearly $300 million for schools and universities. The Democrat said lawmakers "didn't get the job done" but would not say what he would do with the plan.
"They kicked bills into the next fiscal year. That's not cutting the budget," Quinn said at a news conference. "You've got to invest in things that count, that matter for jobs, that matter for families."
With some of the strongest veto powers of any governor in the country, Quinn could strike out parts of the budget or reduce spending amounts. But he may not add money. Quinn would not say whether he would call legislators into special session in an attempt to persuade them to kick in more for schools and other of his priorities.
Quinn continued to lambaste the huge gambling plan that calls for five new casinos and slot machines at horseracing tracks, Chicago's airports and even the state fairgrounds.
"Most people in Illinois, when they take a look at the size of this, would say it's excessive, it's top-heavy, it's too much," Quinn said.
He said he would listen to constituents before deciding what to do with the gambling legislation, which supporters say would bring in $1.6 billion in upfront fees and $500 million or more annually.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied hard for the bill because it includes the first-ever gambling house for Chicago. Quinn risks alienating the new, popular mayor by saying "no" to the legislation.
"I'm beholden to the people of Illinois," Quinn said, "not to legislators, not to mayors."
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A retired state legislator from Danville says Governor Pat Quinn would send a strange message if he approved a casino for Chicago and nowhere else.
During a Wednesday morning press conference, the governor described the gambling legislation passed by lawmakers as 'top heavy', but that he planned to listen to the people before deciding whether to sign or veto the bill. Quinn says he could envision a casino in Chicago if it's properly done.
Former Republican House member and current Danville Alderman Bill Black says he understands all the moral arguments against gaming, but favors a riverboat casino after seeing the economic benefit for cities like Metropolis and Joliet.
And Black says it's unrealistic to believe his city should focus solely on industry and agriculture.
"You can't just sit back and say 'I only want to attract a certain kind of job," said Black, "And I'm not going to lift a finger to bring in any other kind of job. So I realize it's controversial, I realize there's a downside, I realize that some people unfortunately will get themselves in trouble by gambling, but they do that now."
Black says he can't turn his back on a plan to bring in $300-million in private investment, along with construction jobs and 800 permanent positions when a casino is up and running. Black says he's written Governor Quinn, urging him to support it.
"I just said 'take a long look at it governor, because this is something that might pump enough money into Danville where we can help finance some of our own infrastructure projects," said Black. 'I know it's not a panacea, and I know it will not solve all our problems for the next 20 years."
The former legislator says he warmed the idea of a Danville casino in his later years in the legislature, citing improved security measures at riverboat casinos as well as better infrastructure for the facilities.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan says the state's appropriation to the school in the budget awaiting the governor's signature is 'about as close to total victory' as you can get given the climate in Springfield.
The suggested appropriation is just over $689 million, a reduction of just over one percent over what was originally planned for the U of I. Hogan says administrators once feared a hit as high 10 percent. But he said this doesn't mean the U of I is out of the woods yet, since it's owed nearly half of the current year's appropriations, or just over $310 million.
He said the next step would be looking into raises for faculty and staff.
"I'm very, very happy with the results (of the funding package)," Hogan said. "It puts us in a better position to move forward with our plans to do the first comprehensive compensation adjustment in three years. That was the main thing."
Given the figures from Springfield, Hogan said he's looking at salary adjustments of over two-percent. He said he expects to resume the battle over pension reform soon.
"The bill that was on the table - up to 20-percent of our workforce could have retired - walked right out the door," Hogan said. "And that would have been a big run up on pension costs for the state to begin with, and left us with a real headache in terms of staffing our classes, and fulfilling our research agenda, and probably would have had altogether a long-term negative effect on the state."
He testified recently in Springfield against legislation that would lower pension benefits. That bill was tabled until the fall. Hogan says he might consider his own proposal regarding pensions, but adds that's hard to say without a lot of discussions in advance.
Hogan spoke Tuesday before the U of I Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee.
It happened without much fanfare, but the deed is done. Governor Pat Quinn is being presented with a budget that cuts $2.3 billion from the one he proposed in February.
The measure reduces school funding, it whacks state support for child care, and decreases Medicaid funding for the poor. It also gives three percent less to education for the coming year that begins in July.
The measure had earlier passed the House with bipartisan support, but it barely made it through the Senate with heavy criticism from that chamber's GOP contingent for not cutting enough.
Senate Democrats, worried about the effects of some of the cuts, voted in a separate measure, to restore about $430 million to programs, like meals on wheels for seniors and free lunch for low-income schoolchildren.
"The fact is, there are services in there for people who are the most vulnerable in our state," Senator Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) said. "They're aged, disabled. They need services. Transitional housing for homeless people."
House Democrat Marlow Colvin of Chicago said a long day of negotiations is ahead on Tuesday to see if the House will agree with that proposal
"It's going to be quite a lesson in budget making in Springfield, Illinois," Colvin said. "Something we haven't seen in a long time."
Another unknown is how Governor Quinn will react to the budget cuts, which he has spoken out against. He can veto the budget, or specific parts of it, but he does not have power to add money.
The children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, would be able to obtain private college scholarships and enroll in Illinois state savings programs under legislation approved Monday.
A 61-53 vote in the Illinois House sent the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk because it already passed the state Senate. Quinn said in a statement that he looked forward to signing it.
Supporters praised the legislation as a much-needed way to offer financial help to undocumented immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools and want to continue their studies in college but can't afford it.
The Illinois Dream Act would create a panel to raise private money for college scholarships and let the children of immigrants join programs that help them invest money and save for college.
"These students deserve an opportunity. They work hard. We send them through grade school, we send them through high school, then we slam a door in their face and say `Oh well, all the hard work is for nothing. You can't go to college,"' said state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago.
To qualify for the college savings pool, students must have a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number. Scholarship recipients must have at least one immigrant parent and the student must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years.
Carla Navoa, a 22-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is in the country illegally, lobbied for the bill because it will help others like her pay for college. She said she currently isn't enrolled in college because of the financial stress on her family with a younger sister in college, too.
"Having access to this Dream Fund would really help us," Navoa said.
Opponents have criticized the legislation as improper because it provides benefits that could help people who violate immigration laws. They also have complained it's confusing because of proposed federal legislation by the same name that would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
The Illinois Dream Act has no impact on a person's immigration status and it doesn't offer a path to citizenship.
The Illinois House is bucking recent history by approving a major expansion of legalized gambling.
The House voted 65-50 Monday to approve five new casinos, including one in Danville. The others would go to Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and somewhere in the south suburbs.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
State Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the legislation would bring the state one and a half billion dollars in startup fees and $500 million or more a year in ongoing revenue.
Governor Pat Quinn has said he dislikes such a huge expansion.
But Lang said the additional casinos would bring in money to pay overdue bills.
"The most important part of this has nothing to do with gaming at all, the most important part of this is putting people to work and helping pay the bills of the state of Illinois," Lang said. "That is an important goal."
The proposal also allows horse race tracks to add slot machines, and it'd permit both slots and racing at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.
Lawmakers in Springfield have passed legislation to expand access to higher education for undocumented immigrants. It now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he would sign the measure into law. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, this isn't the first time the state has considered how far it should go to accommodate people who have come to this country illegally.
(AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
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