Illinois Public Media News

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2011

Typhoon Delays Indiana Trade Mission to Japan

A trade mission by Indiana government and business leaders to Japan is being delayed because of a typhoon expected to hit the island nation.

The group led by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman was set to fly from Indianapolis on Tuesday and arrive in Tokyo Wednesday evening. The typhoon is forecast to make landfall Wednesday afternoon.

Skillman's office says travel agents are working to find later flights for the trade group.

The group plans to visit Ohta City, Nagoya and Tochigi Prefecture, Indiana's sister state.

Representatives from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Duke Energy and regional economic development groups are part of the delegation. Japanese companies employ more than 38,000 people in Indiana.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2011

Urbana Council Unanimously Backs New Police Contract

The city of Urbana has a new three-year contract with its police union.

The contract with the Fraternal Order of Police provides raises of 1, 3, and 3 percent over the term of the deal, which is retroactive to July of 2010.

The council unanimously passed the agreement, but Alderman Brandon Bowersox called his yes vote a begrudging one that he's making because of state law, which requires binding arbitration.

Bowersox said the officers do a great job, but Urbana can't afford any raises right now. He said he fears any further ones would come from property taxes.

"It's disappointing, but our only choice is to move ahead with this, and to give this one unit of the city raises when others don't get raises, despite the fact that we can't afford it," Bowersox said.

The city started a 1 percent tax on packaged liquor, raised the hotel-motel tax from 5-to-6 percent, and it cut funding to Champaign County's Convention and Visitors Bureau in order to pay its police officers.

Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said there was give and take on both sides of the three year contract, and the best outcome the union could have asked for.

"There was give and take on both sides," Connolly said. "The city was certainly in financial dire straits, and the city was very generous in recognizing there were certain needs that had to be met on the part of contractual issues, legal issues."

Mayor Laurel Prussing also touted the police department's recent efforts, citing a report of decreased crime in Southeast Urbana.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 19, 2011

Cook County Turns to Commemorative Marriage Licenses to Raise Revenue

The Cook County Clerk's Office is trying to raise revenue by selling commemorative marriage certificates.

If the county board votes to pass the new fees this week, Chicago residents will be able to buy a large-scale, 10"x12" version of their marriage certificate meant for framing or scrap booking.

"It's a new product entirely that really has a lot of potential," Clerk's office spokeswoman Courtney Greve said. "Because our customers are not obligated to buy it, we really think that it'll be very marketable."

Greve said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had tasked the Clerk's office with finding new, creative methods of raising revenue. The office was inspired by states like Alaska, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio, Iowa, and Florida, all of which have similar programs.

Cook County reportedly has almost five million marriage records. In order to break even on costs, the clerk's office would need to sell 75-to-100 licenses at $65 apiece. The office will have to buy a new printer for the specialty archival linen paper. A basic marriage certificate in the county costs $15.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2011

Illinois Poverty Growing as State Help Shrinking

State budget cuts are leaving many Illinois social services agencies scrambling, especially homeless shelters.

The result is many of the state's poorest and most vulnerable are left with fewer options and more uncertainty. This comes at a time when census data show Illinois' highest poverty rate in nearly two decades and a high jobless rate.

Legislators chopped the Department of Human Services budget by hundreds of millions of dollars, including $4.7 million for homeless services.

That includes money for REST Shelter in Chicago. It was once a 24-hour homeless facility for more than 100 people, but had to lay off workers and close during the day.

Toni Irving is Gov. Pat Quinn's deputy chief of staff. She says Quinn is trying to get money reallocated, but it's a difficult situation.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2011

Will County Offers Temporary Support to Regional Office of Education

The funding situation for Illinois' regional offices of education is still in a state of flux after Gov. Pat Quinn slashed about $11 million in state support for 44 superintendents and about 40 assistants earlier this summer.

However, the Will County Board isn't waiting for the state to restore funding to its Regional Office of Education.

Board members unanimously voted Thursday to provide $2,000 a month in assistance for the regional superintendent and the assistant superintendent. That temporary funding will last until the end of the year, but county officials say it would be reimbursed if state funding is restored.

Will County Board Chair Jim Moustis is urging the General Assembly to override the governor's veto of state funding of regional offices of education. Quinn has said local governments should pick up the tab for those salaries, but Moustis said that is not a feasible long-term solution.

"I mean this would be like saying, 'What if they said tomorrow we're not paying judges? And let the counties pay judges, or you pay the state's attorney.' It's the same type of principle. Wouldn't you think?" Moustis said. "Until there's a viable alternative presented, this is what we have."

The superintendents have been working without pay since July 1. They perform a list of duties-many required by the state-including certifying teachers, doing background checks and running truancy programs.

Despite a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools demanding paychecks from the state, a circuit judge last month upheld Gov. Quinn's authority to eliminate salaries for regional school superintendents across Illinois.


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