Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 21, 2011

Congressional Super Committee Fails to Reach Agreement

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Congressional leaders of the deficit super committee says they have failed to hammer out an agreement that would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over the next decade.

Failure to do so would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts -- starting in 2013 - over the next decade. Speaking before the announcement that committee failed to achieve its task, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that should the committee fail to act, it would confirm Congress's inability to solve the nation's big problems.

"If the super committee fails, it will just confirm the suspicions that most people have had, that congress is incapable of taking on big issues and coming to any positive resolution," said Durbin. "It's happened too many times, over and over again. Threats of shutting down the government. Threats of even shutting down the economy in the course of this year. So this is further disappointment, and it won't help the image of Congress."

The super committee was created with 12 members of congress - six Democrats and six Republicans. Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) said the idea behind the panel was a bad one from the start.

"I think it was doomed from the beginning," Johnson said. "You appoint 12 people who are intentionally partisan and expect to come up with a bipartisan solution. That's unrealistic. I would have liked to have seen a more fair, transparent, and open process, but that didn't happen."

The committee has been divided from the beginning over taxes and cuts to popular government benefit programs like Medicare. It has until Wednesday to vote on a plan.

Categories: Economics, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Labor Charge Against U of I Prompted by VAP’s Not Getting Raise

An unfair labor practice charge has been filed against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and the Association of Academic Professionals.

A few months ago, the university began offering a 3 percent raise to its employees, which included about 3,000 academic professionals. The Association of Academic Professionals said the U of I withheld those raises from about 300 visiting academic professionals (VAP), who are in the middle of contract negotiations. Association spokesman Alan Bilansky said that was a violation of an existing agreement that the two sides already hashed out.

Bilansky said the most recent VAP contract doesn't expire until a new contract is in place, and he said the previous agreement allows those employees to participate in the campus salary program.

"Everyone is getting an across the board raise, and the VAPs should be sharing in that," Bilansky said. "We're trying to not let resentment get in the way of negotiating a fair deal, and we are making progress....but there are grumblings from every VAP that I talk to."

Officials representing the university and the visiting academic professionals have been in talks over a new contract for the last several months.

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the previous contract for visiting academic professionals had no pay schedule for annual step increases. She also noted that the university did not guarantee that the recent 3 percent pay increase would apply to all employees.

"Pay rates differ among employees in different departments," Kaler said. "Pay adjustments are decided at the department level and may vary.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

NCLB Waiver Leads States to Toughen Teacher Evaluations

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Teachers and principals' own report cards are getting a lot more attention.

The way educators are evaluated is changing across the country, with a switch from routine "satisfactory" ratings to actual proof that students are learning.

President Barack Obama's recent use of executive authority to revise the No Child Left Behind education law is one of several factors driving a trend toward using student test scores, classroom observation and potentially even input from students, among other measures, to determine the effectiveness of educators. A growing number of states are using these evaluations to decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recently unveiled a new report card and incentive pay program aimed at boosting the performance of school principals. And next year, Chicago Public School teachers evaluations will include criteria tied directly to student achievement. The specific metrics and achievement tests included in those evaluations must be agreeed upon by the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union, which will be renegotiating its contract next year. CPS expects half of its schools will be using the new form by next fall, before rolling it out to the rest of the district by 2013.

Two years ago, only four states used student achievement as a predominant influence in how teacher performance is assessed. Today, the number is 13, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. Ten other states count student achievement in a lesser but still significant way in teacher evaluations. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, teachers can be fired based on the results, the report said.

Even more changes are anticipated in coming months.

Obama said in September that states wanting relief from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law could apply for a waiver from the law's tough-to-meet requirements for student achievement in reading and math. To get a waiver, one thing states must do is come up with ways to use teacher and principal evaluations to make personnel decisions.

This week, 11 states applied for waivers, and an additional 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico say they will be seeking waivers, too.

In addition to Obama's waivers, a major driver has been the administration's high-profile "Race to the Top" competition, which had states competing for billions in prize dollars if they adopted stronger evaluation systems. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said another factor is a growing body of research showing that teachers matter in how much students learn and an influential 2009 report by the New Teacher Project revealing that fewer than 1 percent of teachers surveyed receive unsatisfactory ratings - even in failing schools.

Historically, states have considered teacher evaluations to be untouchable, in part because of teachers unions.

"Once states started to see from other states that you could move this, the ball has continued to roll," Jacobs said.

States are using a combination of measures to evaluate educators. For example, in Minnesota, evaluation systems under development for teachers and principals will include feedback from superiors, fellow educators and parents. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test scores, but teachers will also be able to present a portfolio showing professional growth that includes student work and classroom video.

Some states, such as Georgia and Massachusetts, are testing or considering the limited use of student input. A study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found the average student can tell who is an effective teacher. It said students' feedback is more specific and useful to teachers than scores or tests alone.

Those opposed to linking test scores to evaluations say standardized tests are limited and don't necessarily reflect what's taught in the classroom. They say student performance can be affected by variables outside a teacher's control like a child coming from an abusive home, transferring midyear or being behind because a previous teacher didn't teach properly.

In recent years, however, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association unions have warmed to the idea of teacher evaluations based on student performance, with some caveats. In July, delegates to the NEA's national convention voted in support of a policy statement that called for a comprehensive overhaul of teacher evaluations. The AFT has worked for two years with dozens of districts to help develop such systems, said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

But the unions want evaluations developed at the local level with input from teachers and little reliance on test scores. In too many places, Weingarten said, systems are being rolled out too fast with serious implications for educators.

She said that has happened in the District of Columbia and Tennessee, though advocates of tougher evaluation systems have held both up for praise.

This year, Tennessee implemented a new system that has teachers rated every year and observed multiple times a year. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on student growth on the state standardized test over time. Weingarten said the system has put the focus on test scores instead of learning and that there have been too many bureaucratic hurdles.

"Teachers are not nervous about taking responsibility," Weingarten said. "What they are nervous about is that all of this is being done to them, without them ... in so many places (not) having any voice in it whatsoever, and it's about thwarting and firing as opposed to about helping to improve instruction."

In the District of Columbia, controversial former Chancellor Michelle Rhee adopted a teacher evaluation system in part based on student performance, and teachers were among hundreds of school employees laid off under the new evaluation system. Some teachers like the recognition and pay increases in the system, but her policies played a role in the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty for re-election.

As states develop new methods of rating teachers, challenges include training school districts to use the new systems and finding ways to evaluate teachers of subjects that don't have standardized tests, said Janice Poda of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

To ease growing pains, some states like New Jersey, which asked the Obama administration this week for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, have opted to try evaluation systems in only a limited number of school districts before going statewide. Among the 11 states that asked for waivers this week, much of what was included on teacher and principal evaluations was preliminary but already in the works. As other states submit applications, more changes in evaluations are expected.

"I absolutely think it's important for teachers to get feedback about their practice," said Poda, the council's strategic initiative director for the education workforce.

"I think all teachers should be on some kind of a continuous growth plan so that they can always be learning new things and improving their practice, and I think that's true for leaders as well," Poda said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2011

Gov. Quinn ‘Optimistic’ On Budget Plan for State Facilities

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's "very optimistic'' a budget deal can be worked out to keep seven state facilities he'd planned to close open through the fiscal year.

Quinn told reporters Wednesday in Chicago that he hopes lawmakers can get it passed when they return to Springfield on Nov 29.

He says there have been good budget negotiations with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. Earlier this year, Quinn said nearly 2,000 workers had to be laid off and seven state-run centers closed because the state didn't have the money to operate them. A bipartisan commission of lawmakers rejected closing the facilities that include a prison (the Logan Correctional Center) and centers for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill.

Quinn says changes need to be made in how the developmentally disabled are care for.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2011

SIUC, Faculty Association Sign Tentative Agreement

The Faculty Association and the administration at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have signed off on a tentative contract agreement.

FA spokesman Dave Johnson confirms the two sides signed the tentative deal Monday after the union ended its week-long strike Nov. 9.

He says the next stage in the ratification process will be for the union's Departmental Representative Council to discuss the tentative agreement on Thursday.

Then there will be a general membership meeting to give members an opportunity to ask questions about the agreement on Nov. 28, and a vote by all dues-paying members will take place on Nov. 30.

The signing of the FA's tentative deal means the other three IEA-affiliated unions on the SIU-C campus will now hold their own ratification votes after reaching tentative deals earlier this month.

The Association of Civil Service Employees union says it will hold its ratification vote Wednesday. Graduate Assistants United will vote on Monday, Nov. 21. No word yet on when the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association will hold its ratification vote.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 14, 2011

Quinn OKs Bill to Restore Superintendents’ Pay

Regional education superintendents across Illinois are going to get paychecks again after more than four months.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Monday restoring the superintendents' pay.

Quinn eliminated their salaries from the state budget over the summer. He said the state needed the roughly $13 million for other services.

The superintendents and their assistants have not been paid since June.

Lawmakers voted last week to pay the superintendents out of money that usually goes to local governments, which means a tiny reduction in funds to cities and counties. The arrangement only lasts one year.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Former Ill. Gov. Edgar Weighs in on State Finances

Illinois lawmakers this week sent Gov. Pat Quinn a plan to pay the state's regional school superintendents and their assistants through local property taxes. Those employees have been working without pay since July after Quinn slashed state support for the office. But former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, who is a Republican, said that was a vote lawmakers shouldn't have had to make.

"It was a tough vote, but they had to do something to take care of that problem until they resolved the issue," Edgar said. "But the way (Gov. Quinn) tried to resolve it, I think was a huge governmental mistake."

Edgar said Quinn should have talked to the legislature before cutting off funding for the state's regional school superintendents

Edgar served two terms as governor from 1991 to 1999. During his second term, Edgar tried to raise income taxes and lower property taxes to support education programs, but he wasn't able to get enough support from the General Assembly. Edgar said he is not sure that measure would get the needed support now given the state's financial problems.

"If you get the state back where we're paying our bills on time and we got some money in the bank, then maybe you can take a look at a tax reform," he said. "I think until we deal with the immediate problem, we don't have the luxury to deal with tax reform."

Edgar said before lawmakers consider any tax reforms, they should first take care of the state's debt problems through additional cuts.

He also expressed support for a gambling expansion bill that would allow racetracks in the state to operate slot machines, and establish five new casinos in areas, such as Chicago and Danville. The Senate is expected to vote on that measure later this month.

Edgar spoke Friday on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Airtran Airways to End Service in Central Illinois

Nineteen Airtran Airways workers will lose their jobs in Bloomington-Normal, and travelers will have to book flights on other airlines when the carrier pulls out of the Central Illinois Regional Airport next June.

According to a release from Airtran, continued high fuel prices and the changing economic climate require the end of air service to Central Illinois. Airtran carried 39-percent of Bloomington Normal passengers last year. Airtran also cut service to three other cities and earlier this year dropped four other cities including the Quad Cities in Illinois.

Bloomington-Normal's largest carrier remains Delta. The loss of service includes three daily non-stop flights. Municipal leaders had expressed concern earlier this year about the possibility of service loss when Airtran did not renew special spring break flights to Fort Myers.

Airport Director Carl Olson had been meeting with Southwest executives for more than six months trying to make the case


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Adjourn Without Action on Gambling

Illinois lawmakers have gone home without making another attempt at passing gaming expansion.

The measure failed to come up for a vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon, but Senate President John Cullerton said he prefers to deal with the issue when legislators are expected back Nov. 29.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan claims opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn and the head of the Illinois Gaming Board likely hurt the bill's level of support.

The measure would allow racetracks to operate slot machines, and establish five new casinos in areas, including Chicago and Danville.

Catlin House Republican Chad Hays voted in favor of it, saying it would be an economic boon for the state.

"This would be a measure that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to Danville," Hays said. "To me it's really not about gaming. It's about economic development and jobs."

Champaign Democratic Sen. Mike Frerichs said he believes this bill will have better success late this month.

"I think there are many house members who weren't present when the bill was called for a vote," Frerichs said. "I think if they call it again sometime in the future they can pass something. Sponsors of the bill incorporated many of the suggestions the governor had made, and made many improvements to the bill. It should be a better bill, and easier to pass."

Frerichs said he will vote for the bill should it reach the Senate.

Six months ago, a major gambling expansion passed the House but not with enough votes to survive a potential veto by Governor Quinn. Quinn has a number of concerns, particularly allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ind. Attorney General Says School Bus Fees Illegal

Indiana's attorney general says in a legal opinion that it is unconstitutional for the state's school districts to end free school bus service by turning transportation over to outside agencies.

The opinion issued Thursday by Attorney General Greg Zoeller supports arguments that opponents have made against a bus fee that started this fall in the Franklin Township district of suburban Indianapolis.

District officials say budget troubles forced it to get out of the transportation business by turning its buses over to an agency that is charging at least $40 a month per child for bus service.

Zoeller issued a similar non-binding opinion last year that district's couldn't directly charge bus fees.

The district argues that it isn't involved in the contract between parents and the bus service.


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