Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

Danville School District Tryng to Bring Teachers Back

With contract negotiations and a possible strike on the horizon, Danville school officials are trying to restore teaching positions that were cut in a series of layoffs last spring.

The state currently owes Danville's schools about $3 million in unpaid bills. Legislation President Obama signed in August doles out about $2.5 million to support education. The money could allow District 118 to hire more teachers and issue pay raises, which is one of the demands by union officials.

Superintendent Mark Denman cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, he said it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.

"If we hired a number of people back, and then next March the federal month is not coming any further in the next year and state funding isn't better," he said. "Then those jobs will have to be eliminated in all probability at that time."

Denman said the school district needs to submit proposals to the federal government outlining how it would spend the money. He said he hopes to go over possible spending options in a couple of weeks with the school board during its regular meeting.

In the meantime, the school board is scheduled to continue negotiations on Sunday with union members in an attempt to avert a possible strike.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

Champaign County Boosts Head Start Enrollment

The Champaign County Head Start program kicked off the new school year Thursday with 56 more children.

With the help of $810,000 in federal funding, the program has expanded its early childhood division to serve more infants and toddlers. Enrollment has been added to its existing center in Rantoul, and a new site in Urbana. Kathleen Liffick is the director of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's Early Childhood Division. Liffick said the expansion only meets about 36 percent of the community's need for Early Head Start services.

"But it is a small step and we're glad to be able to do that," she said. "We will be certainly be looking for additional expansion opportunities should the federal government make those available."

Playground enhancements were also made with a $68,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois grant at sites in Rantoul, Savoy, and Urbana.

The new Urbana center is located at 108 South Webber Street. For questions about enrollment or to complete an enrollment application, call 217-384-1252 to speak with a family advocate.

(Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission)

Categories: Community, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2010

DOE Projects Expected to Test Technologies To Be Used in FutureGen

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said many of the nearly $600 million in carbon capture and storage projects announced Tuesday will help make FutureGen a less costly and more efficient operation.

The $575 million in stimulus dollars targets 15 states - including Illinois. About $312 million will go to large-scale testing of coal gasification technologies, and $90 million will examine the way carbon capture will operate in power plants, like the one in Western Illinois that is set to be part of the reconfigured plans for FutureGen.

Chu said the projects announced Tuesday will create jobs, and encompass many of the practices involved in FutureGen. "While the FutureGen project will test the system, we're also investing in the components of the system so that we drive down costs,' said Chu. "Our goal is to start to deploy scale commercially within 10 years."

One of the projects announced Tuesday involves $5 million that will allow the University of Illinois to further evaluate the state's geology. Rob Finley with Illinois' State Geological Survey said the funds will help with continuing research of the Knox dolomite and sandstone formations in the western portion of the Illinois Basin, and could help determine what site will best accommodate FutureGen's carbon emissions facility.

"Basically what we're looking for is to make sure that the site is picked, and can effectively keep the CO2 isolated from the atmosphere," said Finley, director of the Survey's Advanced Energy Technology Initiative. "So that site has to be safe, you have to make sure the CO2 is not going to leak out, that it's not going to affect groundwater in people's properties. So, anytime we have more geologic information about the regional geology, it helps us pick a better and safer site."

Finley said the $5 million project covers a lot of East Central Illinois, and he added that the DOE's specification on locating a storage site 100 miles from Meredosia is likely based on the cost of the pipeline, which can run about $1 million a mile.

Champaign County Board Chair and geologist Pius Weibel said bringing FutureGen to the county is geologically feasible, but he wants to know more about Department of Energy guidelines, which he said are constantly changing. Meanwhile, Assistant Energy Secretary Jim Markowski said that he expects an announcement on a city to host that site by next spring or summer.

Chu would not endorse or dismiss any of the 26 communities that have expressed an interest, saying they are under evaluation.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2010

U.S. Senate Candidate Hears from Veterans in Urbana

The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.

U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.

Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.

Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.

"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.

Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.

"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."

Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.

"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."

Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.

During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.

The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.

The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.

A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2010

Champaign County Board Members Seeks to Block Coal Mine, Lure in FutureGen

Despite an Attorney General's ruling, a Champaign County Board member still believes there's a way to block a coal mine from locating in the southeast part of the county.

Democrat Alan Kurtz wants to force out Sunrise Coal and find a way to lure in FutureGen's carbon storage facility that's part of new Department of Energy plans. Kurtz says the State's Attorney's office could allow Champaign County to intervene if there are health, safety, or welfare concerns involved with the coal mine. He says that would overrule the 1993 ruling discovered last week, saying non home-rule counties like Champaign can't use zoning to regulate mining for fossil fuels. The Terre Haute-based Sunrise is buying mineral rights to locate a mine south of Homer.

Kurtz says a mine could pollute water, cause flooding and hurt farmland in that area. He says he doesn't care that Sunrise intends to use a less invasive mining technique. "Room-and-pillar may be supposedly safer than longwall mining," said Kurtz. "But the key is even with room-and-pillar, eventually there have been subsidence and sinkholes that appear in the land above. It could be 20 years from now or 30 years from now." Sunrise is expected to locate primarily in Vermilion County. But Kurtz says if more coal is found, nothing would keep Sunrise from submitting applications for additional land in Champaign County. Meanwhile, Kurtz says he's called Senator Dick Durbin's office about the reconfigured FutureGen, which now includes a site for storing carbon emissions pumped from a power plant in Western Illinois.

"I've asked Pius (County Board Chair Pius Weibel) who's a geologist to check and see if Champaign County has the facility to be able to house this project," said Kurtz. "Why? Because it's worth $400 million in new economic development. It's worth 350 new jobs here in Champaign County. And it's cleaning up the coal." About 25 communities, including Decatur and Marshall, have shown an interest in bringing the new facility. Kurtz contends an underground aquifer in Champaign County's Newcomb Township contains the pipelines that would accommodate the plant.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2010

Lawmakers Push for Immigration Law in Illinois

A proposal that will be introduced later this fall in the Illinois House of Representatives seeks to put an immigration law similar to the one passed in Arizona on the books.

State representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) is co-sponsoring the measure with Republican Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream). Mitchell said a centerpiece to the measure would cut Medicaid services to people who are not U.S. citizens by modifying the Illinois All Kids program, which provides health coverage for children regardless of immigration status.

"We're spending millions of dollars on health care for illegals," said Mitchell. "It's time to say enough is enough."

Illinois is just one of nine states that offers Medicaid to undocumented immigrants. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 1.6 million children are covered under the All Kids program, and a little more than three percent of those covered are undocumented.

"If you're going to do something in which you specifically target children, and make it so that they're not eligible for certain services and accesses, that's not only cruel and heartless, it's just absolutely mind-boggling," said Linus Chan, a staff attorney at the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul University. "That's not going to solve the problem of undocumented immigration."

Mitchell said with a $13 billion budget deficit, Illinois is in no shape to be offering health care services to people living in the country illegally. He said an influx of undocumented immigrants coming to the state are weighing down on the number of available jobs, and contributing to higher taxes going to support education and health care services.

He added that the legislation will also create more stringent regulations for employers who hire undocumented workers, and include language allowing law enforcement officials to ask for someone's paperwork when a "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally." Mitchell noted that the color of a person's skin would not qualify as a "reasonable suspicion."

Chan said he is worried pushing people out of the state could have dire consequences on Illinois' economy. He took note of a 2006 study released by the Texas comptroller's office, which indicates that eliminating illegal immigration could reduce that state's workforce, personal income, and gross state product.

Mitchell said the legislation will be introduced in November. Since Arizona passed its controversial law in April, other states have considered similar proposals, including Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

(Photo courtesy of mk30/flickr)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2010

Mayors of Decatur and Marshall Are Making Their Pitch for FutureGen

The Mayor of Decatur said he has received his share of questions from residents about bringing FutureGen's carbon emissions storage facility to the city.

Mike McElroy said once the Department of Energy canceled the original plan for a power plant in Mattoon and that city rejected the revamped plan, he placed a call to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office expressing interest in the so-called clean coal project.

McElroy said he expects to receive more details soon about FutureGen 2.0. He said any answers not given by the energy department could be provided by one of the city's major employers - noting Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is developing a carbon capture facility.

"Once the Department of Energy sends its stuff, we can give them the answers," said McElroy. "I feel very secure of the fact that we can call out to ADM and talk to the people that are running that.and they will give us the answers that we're looking for."

McElroy says he does not know where the FutureGen facility could be located in his city.

Meanwhile, a small southeastern Illinois community that was in the running for the original FutureGen power plant is doing what it can to recruit the carbon dioxide storage facility. Marshall Mayor Ken Smith said he has let his interests about the project known with Senator Durbin's office and the Department of Energy.

Marshall housed the chemical plant, Velsicol, for more than 40 years in a 400 acre site, and Smith said the city has the deep wells that would accommodate the carbon emissions site the DOE now wants to build as part of FutureGen 2.0. If Marshall can lure in FutureGen's storage facility, Smith said the facilities could stimulate more jobs in the community.

"It might also spark some interest of a power plant here in the future if they know they can already sequester here," said Smith. "The property owner that has this land also owns about 8,000 acres in Clark County, and he's also in the power plant business, he owns Indeck Energy. So he's very receptive to it being here if it works out."

Marshall is also the county seat in Clark County, where Smith noted the unemployment rate exceeds 12-percent. He says the DOE should be sending his community a packet on facility requirements soon. One of about 25 cities is looking to store carbon dioxide emissions after being piped from a retrofitted power plant in the Western Illinois city of Meredosia.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Despite Unanswered Questions, Senator Has Faith in Reconfigured FutureGen

US Senator Dick Durbin said cost overruns in the original plan for FutureGen led to the decision to reconfigure the project.

Illinois' Senior Senator said for months, the price tag was going up faster than the FutureGen Alliance could generate private money to pay for it. Durbin said he was on a one-man crusade to find new companies to join the Alliance.

He added that once the Energy Department would not pay more than $1.1 billion, plans for a power plant in Mattoon were scrapped. Durbin said he only knew of FutureGen 2.0 six days before it was publicly announced, and he was told to keep silent then, while federal officials sought support from companies like Ameren. Durbin says he couldn't even tell companies with the FutureGen Alliance.

"The Alliance members knew that we were in trouble,' says Durbin. "Because they knew it was costing too much money. They were soliciting new members into the Alliance to try to keep up with the increased cost of the construction - we just couldn't keep up with it. They knew that we had an economic problem. The thing I didn't know was that the original concept of FutureGen that was announced and was solicited was now in production in four different places in the United States, so it was no longer a unique research undertaking."

Durbin said a plant of the same type in Mississippi was even larger than the proposed FutureGen plant for Mattoon.

The Senator says he knows a lot of residents there are upset, but added he did not sell out on them.

"At the end, Illinois ends up with $1.1 billion in clean-coal technology," he said. "It means that we're going to be leading the nation in terms of reducing emissions from coal-fired plants. We're going to use our own geology to be able to protect those emissions from causing environmental harm."

The companies making up the Alliance put their support Tuesday behind the new plan, which includes retrofitting a power plant in Western Illinois, and finding another community for storing carbon emissions.

Durbin admitted a lot of elements of the plan have to be spelled out by the Energy Department, but said the private sector buy-in will allow the project to succeed. Durban said twenty five other Illinois communities, including Marshall and Taylorville, have inquired about the new emissions facility. Durbin said Coles County and an area within 100 miles of it has the capacity to hold the emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants for 50 years.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Durbin Touts Bill To Reduce Textbook Costs

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said he believes far too much of a college student's debt after four years comes from textbooks.

Durbin said the average student now spends nearly $900 a year on textbooks. Durbin said legislation that passed in July will make a few simple changes to let the student and professor know what that cost will be. In a stop at the University of Illinois Wednesday, Illinois' Senior Senator promoted the College Textbook Affordability Act. He says it's shocking that many professors actually don't know the retail price of a book. The measure requires publishers to provide that price in writing, and for faculty to keep students apprised of those costs. Durbin says another goal of the legislation is to create a market economy for students. "The good news is, for students, textbooks are more affordable," said Durbin, speaking in front of the Illini Union Bookstore. "The textbook publishers.. their prices have to be more competitive. For professors, be sensitive to the cost of textbooks for students and give these a chance to go shopping on line to find a bargain."

Graduate Student Josh Sulkin co-founded Illini Book Exchange, a free web site that allows students to exchange books without having to go through any book stores.

"The great thing this bill provides is information," said Sulkin. "Some of the other bookstores actually hide the ISBN numbers from you, so you can't know ahead of time unless you see the book physically what book you really need for the class. So you might buy a book on line based on the title, but it's the wrong book for the class and then you can't return it because it's on line, and then you just wasted even more money."

Durbin said a third part of the legislation will keep students from having to buy CD-ROM's and other supplemental equipment - those materials will now be bundled separately. Durbin said he introduced a second bill that will allow students to use 'open textbooks' on line.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Lt. Gov. Candidate Sheila Simon Talks About Education with U of I Students

Sheila Simon says improving education will bring more jobs to Illinois.

During a campaign stop on the University of Illinois campus, the democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said improving access to education will be a top priority if she and Pat Quinn win the general election in November.

She criticized GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for calling on a 10 percent budget cut across the board to different state programs, saying public education cannot afford to sustain cuts that steep. However, during a campaign stop in Champaign earlier in the day, Brady acknowledged that some programs may see more drastic cuts than others.

Simon also praised her running mate, Pat Quinn, for supporting the $26 billion jobs bill passed by Congress last month. Quinn has said the money will save about six thousand jobs for Illinois teachers, while Brady said he would rather use that federal money to help the state's budget.

"State Senator Brady said, 'No, it's irresponsible.' I think we have a different definition of irresponsible," she said. "I think it's irresponsible not to support education in the state."

Sheila Simon also commended the Quinn administration for raising more awareness about the problems facing the Monetary Award Program. The MAP program gives grants to needy college students attending public and private schools, but has been turning more students away. Simon said it is critical to find a better way to support the program.

During her campaign stop, Simon also described her interest in working with community organizations to curb the level of domestic violence in the state.

Simon is the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. She was appointed to run on the democratic ticket earlier this year after Independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen was forced to drop out because of his personal life. Cohen is now running as an Independent for governor, along with the Green Party's Rich Whitney.


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