Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has approved a budget proposal for next year that it will send to lawmakers in Springfield.
After the General Assembly passed a massive 67-percent income tax hike, it is uncertain how Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature will respond to the request. The ISBE is asking for $709.4 million in additional state support for Fiscal Year 2012. Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the funding request will be approved.
Fergus explained that in formulating the proposal, the ISBE considered feedback from the public and the state's Education Funding Advisory Board, which pushed for a much larger $4 billion increase in education funding.
"We know the economic reality is not going to support that," she said.
State support for education has plunged in the last couple of years by about $450 million.
A bulk of the money requested by the ISBE would support General State Aid and mandated categoricals that have seen cuts, like transportation funding. Also included in the budget request is a $3.5 million increase for bilingual education, a $2.3 million increase to improve teacher training programs, and a $900,000 increase in the amount of funding for feasibility studies as school districts consider consolidations.
"We're not really talking about expanding a lot of programs," Fergus said. "Some of this increase will go toward a little bit of expansion, but really this is about restoring funds."
The Illinois State Board of Education will include its budget recommendation as part of the overall Fiscal Year 2012 state budget.
An Illinois law requiring a daily moment of silence in public schools is back in effect after a 2-year hiatus.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois State Board of Education notified schools Friday that the law is back.
A federal injunction barring the moment of silence has been in place for two years.
Illinois legislators approved the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act in October 2007. The law was challenged in court by Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter Dawn, a student at Buffalo Grove High School in suburban Chicago.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman overturned the law in 2009, but a federal appeals court ruled the law is constitutional because it doesn't specify prayer.
Gettleman reportedly lifted the injunction Thursday.
A University of Illinois economist doesn't predict a long line of businesses leaving the state because of higher income taxes, but he said Illinois remains an uncertain place for commerce and industry.
Daniel Merriman of the Illinois Institute of government and Public Affairs said neighboring states had already begun to lure away employers concerned about Illinois' uncertain deficit situation even before lawmakers passed a 67 percent hike in personal income taxes this week. Governor Pat Quinn signed the increase into law Thursday afternoon.
Merriman said the tax increase will be one more drawback, but it still won't be enough to address all the red ink in Springfield.
"A combination of tax increases, expenditure reductions and growth is necessary to eliminate it," Merriman said. "The taxes actually do help reduce the deficit. It's just that it hasn't done enough to fully eliminate it, and they're still going to have to have expenditure reductions along the way."
Merriman said lawmakers still haven't addressed structural problems either, like fixing the underfunded pension system or revamping Medicaid and workers' compensation laws. But he said employers are not as mobile as some would believe - noting that most firms are rooted in the state and serve mainly Illinois customers.
Then there is the question of the region's overall economic health. Merriman said the pressure facing manufacturers in Illinois would face them wherever they relocate.
"A lot of the concern that people have had with the kind of business loss in Illinois has been with manufacturing establishments that have been leaving the entire Midwest, and to some extent they're just leaving the country as a whole," he said. "So it's not clear that Illinois is going to be losing that much to neighboring states. It's that manufacturing just isn't as strong as it used to be.
In a new security measure, the University of Illinois said it will limit admission to its Urbana campus libraries after midnight to those with university I-D cards, also known as I-Cards. The restriction begins when the spring semester starts on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Libraries on the U of I Urbana campus are open to the general public during the day, and early evening. But U of I Associate Librarian for Services Scott Walter said security concerns have led them to restrict library admission after midnight to those with I-Cards, which are provided to university students, faculty and employees. Student fees pay to keep the Undergraduate, Grainger Engineering and Funk ACES libraries open late. Walter said students have made it clear their priority for those hours is having a safe place to study.
"The primary concern is the provision of study space for students and for faculty users, during those late-night hours, when other safe and secure academic spaces are not necessarily available," he said.
Walter said no particular incident led to the new policy, but he said faculty, students --- and students' parents --- have all expressed concerns about library security, amid recent incidents of crimes in and near the Urbana campus. He said the policy is similar to those at other university libraries with late-night hours.
In addition to the late-night I-Card requirement, the lower level of the Undergraduate Library will now be closed after midnight, although materials from that floor can still be requested.
In the 11th hour of the 96th General Assembly, lawmakers in Springfield passed an income tax increase, which could chip away at unpaid bills to the state's universities.
But there is another measure in the Illinois House that will be introduced later this year sponsored by Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and Rep. Chad Hays (R-Daville) that seeks to improve the economic outlook for higher education without raising taxes.
"How do we work together in a way that makes sense to do a better job with limited resources?" Hays said. "This is one small step in that direction, and my hope would be that we're having many of these conversations as we go forward."
The legislation would create a moratorium on new, unfunded mandates on state universities. University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy said even public policy with the best intentions can lead to mandates which make it difficult for universities to operate in a cost-effective way.
"You know, unfunded mandates that gets talked about frequently are tuition waivers," Hardy said. "That's something that should be looked at to free up potentially millions of dollars in tuition waivers that public universities across the state are funding."
The University of Illinois system is waiting on $413 million in reimbursements from the state. It has explored ways to improve its budget situation through furloughs, department consolidations, and a tuition hike. The U of I's Board of Trustees is slated to vote Jan. 20 on a series of fee increases for its students.
Hays noted that another important part of the legislation includes a provision that would create a single procurement officer who would coordinate purchases for every university in the state.
He added that the legislation was influenced by the recommendations of officials at the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University, and he expects the measure to be introduced in the spring.
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure went to his old school Tuesday morning, and told students at the Centennial High School gym in Champaign what his plans are for the fall.
"I'm here to announce that I will forgo my senior season at the University of Illinois, and enter the 2011 NFL draft," Leshoure announced to cheers from the assembled students.
Leshoure rushed for 17 touchdowns last fall, and set Illinois' single-season rushing record, with 1697 yards, breaking the mark set by Rashard Mendenhall three years earlier. He said he has done everything he can do at the college level, and is ready for professional football. He also said he is not deterred by the possibility that a labor dispute could lead to a player lockout that curtails his first season in the NFL.
"I definitely thought about all those things in my decision, took a long time to think about it, prayed on it," Leshoure said. "I still woke up with the same decision that I made today. So, I'm willing of the risks and I know, you know, what's at stake."
The 6-0, 230-pound Leshoure is projected to be taken anywhere from the first through fourth rounds in the April draft.
Although he is giving up his senior year in college, LeShoure said he still plans to eventually earn his degree in communications. He told the athletes in the Centennial High student assembly to study hard if they want to reach their goals and have a good life beyond the playing field.
"Sports won't be here forever," Leshoure said to students. "Regardless of how good you are and what you think, it won't be forever. You need a backup plan and it starts here at Centennial."
Leshoure's old high school coach was on hand for the announcement. Centennial High School Football Coach Mike McDonnell cited Leshoure's maturity as a high school player.
"I was always impressed with his character and his maturity, because he was always older than what he was," McDonnell said. "I think that's part of his success, because he understood the importance of working out during the off season, getting his grades."
McDonnell credited Leshoure's mother, with instilling her son with self-discipline at an early age.
Illinois football coach Ron Zook also had praise for Leshoure. An article posted on the U of I's Fighting Illini website quoted Zook: "I am extremely proud of how Mikel has matured as a young man and leader for our football team since his arrival at Illinois. He'll be remembered here as one of the greatest running backs in Illinois football history. We hope he has a long and successful NFL career."
Leshoure's announcement comes a day after Illini junior linebacker Martez Wilson said he'll also enter the NFL draft.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
The head of Champaign's Judah Christian School hasn't given up on plans to relocate in a developing area to the southwest.
Tuesday night the city council rejected the annexation agreement for 50 acres with developer Jacob's Landing, located at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. School Administrator Tim Hayes the decision comes as a shock after hearing positive remarks in the past from city leaders.
The council voted to 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the item failed since it needed a two-thirds majority. Some council members were concerned that the non-profit school couldn't reimburse property taxes for emergency services, and that building a new school to the Southwest would set a bad precedent as Champaign's Central High School looks to rebuild in a few years.
Hayes said he is working with Judah Christian's real estate attorney to see if the school can go back before the council with an amended request for the same area.
"At this point, we're trying to decide whether it would be in our best interests to move forward," he said. "We'd like for it to be this piece of property, but I don't know what our options are, and I think we're trying to establish that before we make a decision on whether we're going to move forward or look for another piece of property."
Judah Christian is nearly at capacity with just under 600 students, and the lack of athletic facilities means the school has to rent out areas for baseball and soccer games. The school on Prospect Avenue has been trying to re-locate for the last few years, including to an area in North Urbana.
In 2008, city leaders there rejected the plan since the industrial location wasn't compatible with a school. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight says it's possible the school could alter its relocation plan to include a payment in lieu of taxes. Unless the city council suspended its rules, Judah Christian would have to wait six months to come back before the council.
Champaign city council members have rejected an annexation agreement that would have allowed Judah Christian School to relocate.
The plan called for the re-development of 50 acres just outside Southwest Champaign, at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. The private school on Prospect Avenue has sought a new location due to space concerns.
Council member Marci Dodds said she has nothing against Judah Christian, but since it is a not-for-profit religious school, she said it does not provide any property taxes for the city, so it will not reimburse for emergency services. The proposed location is not served by Champaign-Urbana's Mass Transit District, and Dodds said heavy traffic will cause wear and tear on the roads. The land was originally zoned for single-family homes.
Council member Tom Bruno said he is troubled by the pressure on Champaign schools to locate in the same area when a new Central High School is built.
"Facilitating the movement of any school to the very periphery of town, out in the cornfields, where every single kid will arrive by private motor vehicle for years, decades, maybe a century to come - just bothered me." Bruno said. "We need to continue to send the message that the community ought to be more compact and contiguous, and we ought to build things in the heart of town and re-build things things in the heart of town rather than just sprawl."
The land was originally zoned for single-family homes. The council tied 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the annexation failed since a two-thirds vote was required.
The economy may still be slowly improving in Illinois, but the author of a monthly gauge of the state's economic performance says it's far from healthy.
For the seventh consecutive month, the University of Illinois Flash Index went up. In December, the index measured 94.9, up .7 from November, but 100 is the break-even point between growth and contraction, and economist Fred Giertz said the slow growth has not been very noticeable.
Giertz said unemployment remains a problem, even though the state's jobless rate is slightly under the national average -- a rare occurrence.
"It may just be an aberration, or it may be that our industries, especially agriculture, are doing fairly well," Giertz said. "Some of the exporting industries are doing alright, and we were not really devastated by the crisis with real estate or things of that sort."
Giertz is also not too concerned that Illinois or the nation will see a return of inflation in the near term. Rising commodity prices, bailout legislation and the Federal Reserve's decision to enact "quantitative easing" have prompted some to warn of an effect on overall consumer prices. But Giertz does not detect any unwillingness in financial markets to lend money at the current very-low interest rates.
"The fact that people ware willing to lend money for the long term at relatively low interest rates suggests that people don't think there's going to be a lot inflation on the horizon," Giertz said. "The Federal Reserve is very wary of the possibility (of inflation). They've made mistakes in the past and I think their intention is to start reining things in once the economy gets going again."
Giertz said there is some good news in the weak Flash Index numbers. He said revenue from sales taxes was up in December, marking a better holiday shopping season than many retailers had expected. The Index uses revenue reports from state income, sales and business taxes to calculate its measurement.
The man now assigned with overseeing Illinois' colleges and universities says the change in jobs was a perfect fit for many reasons.
Before starting last week as Executive Director of the state Board of Higher Education, George Reid had just completed a kind of post-secondary blueprint for Maryland as part of that state's Higher Education Commission. And Reid says this new job will borrow from his background as both an administrator and an educator.
Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Reid about the challenges that await him:
(Photo Courtesy of Illinois Board of Higher Education)
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