Illinois Public Media News
A panel created by state lawmakers is wrapping up work on recommendations on higher education funding. The proposals include changes to the MAP financial aid program, and tying state funding bonuses for colleges and universities to institutional performance --- such as a school's graduation rate.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he thinks his school will do pretty well on the institutional performance front. But the commission's recommendations will also include increased funding for higher education. Hogan said lawmakers will have to decide whether increasing higher education funding is important to them, at a time when state government faces a financial crisis.
"I think this is all part of a larger discussion we have to have with the state," Hogan said. "Because the real conundrum here is that the state can't afford us, but it can't afford to do without us. So we have to find a way to sustain the quality of the educational and research product we have on all of our campuses --- at a time when the state has no money for it."
Illinois Board of Higher Education executive director Don Sevener said the recommendations include requirements that colleges and universities don't sacrifice academic rigor in the quest to get students to complete their studies.
"We do not want to incentivize colleges simply to pass students along to get more money for more course completions or more degrees granted, if those degrees are not high quality and useful in the marketplace," Sevener said.
The Illinois Higher Education Finance Study Commission holds its final meeting Wednesday, November 10, at Columbia College in Chicago. Lawmakers want the commission's final report is to be ready for review by December 1st. The Study Commission is made up of lawmakers and educators, including Illinois State University professor James Palmer, an expert in higher education funding.
The University of Illinois' Urbana Faculty Senate has unanimously rejected administrative changes proposed by President Michael Hogan.
In a written three page statement, the Senate reported that plans to add a vice president, new duties for some administrators, and change titles for others simply have too many unanswered questions. However, Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver said U of I Trustees have been encouraged to refine the proposals, and discuss them further with campus Senators. Tolliver said one key area of concern is money, especially when the U of I's fiscal situation is dire.
"We are told that this is an investment we should make," Tolliver said. "That is probably true. I think some of us accept that logic, but many of us on the campus are very worried about where the money is going to come from in order to create new positions, and in order to do searches for re-defined existing positions."
Tolliver said the entire process for whatever changes occur needs to be slowed down.
"We were given an extraordinary tight time frame to respond to the proposed changes to the University administration," she said. "There are still entire areas in which we have asked for more information, and haven't been addressed."
A capacity crowd rejected President Hogan's plan at the Senate's regular meeting on Monday. The Senate's executive committee will send a much longer version of its statement to the Senates Conference, which is made up of elected officials from all three U of I campus Senates. That group will forward that document, along with its own advice on the proposed changes, onto the U of I Board of Trustees. Tolliver said the Senate is not afraid of change, but would like to seek out new ways to accomplish these goals.
Candidates for Illinois governor touted their efforts to create jobs and reduce the state's $13 billion budget deficit during campaign stops in Savoy.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn returned to Savoy's Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Hall where he was joined by union members and state elected officials.
Quinn said while his Republican opponent, State Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington, seeks to cut the state's minimum wage and slash education funding by more than a billion dollars, he said his own initiatives while serving as governor have helped the state's unemployment rate begin to drop in the past nine months.
"We're not going to be tearing down Illinois; we're building up," Quinn explained. "We want to make sure we have the proper funding for our schools, and for our students."
Quinn touted his efforts to rescue Illinois' Monetary Awards Program, which provides grants to college-bound students. He blasted Brady for wanting to cut education programs and the minimum wage.
"If you're working 40 hours a week, you shouldn't have to live in poverty," Quinn said.
As Quinn was talking to supporters, Brady was nearby at Savoy's Willard Airport where he criticized Quinn's track record as governor, and reiterated his own plans to balance the state's budget without raising taxes.
"The last two years have been a failure for Illinois under (Quinn's) reign," Brady said. "Illinois needs a governor who will put the people first, not a governor who has secret deals, secret early release programs, secret pay raises, secret tax increases, and record unemployment."
Looking forward to Tuesday's legislative races, Brady predicted Republicans will set victory records across the state.
"We're going to do better than we've ever done," Brady said. "For too long we've had a Chicago-centric governance that needs to understand that there's more to Illinois than Chicago."
With Congressman and U.S. Senate hopeful, Mark Kirk, by his side, Brady also said he thinks Illinois voters will shift party leadership in the U.S. House of Representative by sending as many as four more Republicans to Congress.
Despite polls showing Brady ahead, both candidates are working to get out the vote until the polls close. The Green Party's Rich Whitney, Independent Scott Lee Cohen, and Libertarian Lex Green are also on the ballot.
(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL and Sean Powers/WILL)
A supercomputer in China last week took over the title of world's fastest, outpacing a supercomputer in the United States. However, a new supercomputer under development at the University of Illinois is still projected to be even faster.
The Tianhe-1A supercomputer in the Chinese city of Tianjin is reported to have a peak computing capacity of around 2.5 petaflops --- a petaflop equals one quadrillion calculations per second. Still, the Blue Waters supercomputer at the U of I is expected to have a peak capacity of 10 petaflops when completed, and there are other differences.
Thom Dunning of the University's National Center for Supercomputing Applications said the Chinese supercomputer uses two types of processors: a central processing unit (CPU) and a graphics processing unit (GPU). Dunning said Blue Waters will be based on CPU's only. He said Blue Waters will be designed to take on a much broader range of science and engineering problems, compared to Tianhe 1A.
"It is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison because you're comparing a very general purpose supercomputer with a very specialized purpose supercomputer." Dunning said. "But even given that comparison, Blue Waters is going to outperform the new Chinese supercomputer, even on those applications for which the Chinese supercomputer is well-suited."
The U of I is working with IBM on Blue Waters, which will use the company's new POWER7 microprocessors. Meanwhile, new Chinese-designed interconnect or network technology is a notable feature of Tianhe 1A. Blue Waters is set to start operation next fall, and be at full capacity in 2012.
The Rantoul City Schools are among the nearly 2,000 Illinois schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, this year.
Superintendent Bill Trankina called the Illinois Student Achievement Test a mere snapshot of performance. His district includes four grade schools and a middle school.
Rantoul Township High School has a separate administration, but it also failed to make AYP. Trankina noted that his district has a mobility rate of about 35-percent, and a poverty rate of over 80-percent. Still, he said students are making fundamental changes in reading and writing. He noted that his district has installed smart boards into each classroom, which should help state test scores. Trankina said he is frustrated by the lack of clarity on the state's report card, citing an example of how a subgroup's performance impacts an entire district.
"If a child attended school all day everyday, had passing grades, then in the fourth quarter happened to fail one course, and (the district said) 'we know your child passed everything every quarter, except for the fourth quarter they fail one subject - your child's going to be retained for next year," Trankina said. "Immediately the parent would be very upset. I think we all see the absurdity in that example."
Trankina also said analyzing test scores in two time periods with different standards really is not a fair comparison.
"To a certain degree, we're being evaluated and placed on certain academic watch status based upon how students did when the standards were administered in the past," Trankina said. "And we think that only compounds to the confusion that most people feel about the standards."
Trankina also said it is terribly unfair that the performance of one subgroup on the Illinois Student Achievement Test would decide whether the entire district made AYP. On a local level, he said the district is making strides with a new writing and reading curriculum.
A tentative agreement has been reached between Champaign's Teamsters union and representatives of the First Student bus company.
The two sides met for about eight hours Friday discussing details of a new three-year contract for 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors in the Danville School District. Those employees have been working without a contract since August 1st, and have never publicly announced plans to strike.
"We're very pleased to have a tentative agreement," said Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the First Student bus company. "We very much value all of our employees - our drivers, monitors, mechanics, across the board - and take pride in the excellent work every day."
Richmond refrained from releasing details about the proposed contract, saying the union must first ratify the agreement. She said she expects union members to vote on the contract sometime within the next week.
Since July, the union had been demanding higher wages and benefits. Officials from Teamsters Local 26 did not return a call for comment.
(Photo courtesy of First Student)
Illinois released school-by-school test score data Friday, and it shows 2010 to be a watershed year: More than half of the state's schools are now considered failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Schools were supposed to get 77.5 percent of their students to meet standards in reading and math during the 2009-2010 school year, a significant increase from the year prior. That is one reason why more Illinois schools missed the mark than made it.
"The levels have gone up and that's what No Child Left Behind was designed to do, keep ratcheting up the levels each year," said Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Ruiz and other state leaders have said they want to see schools measured on "growth" once No Child Left Behind is reauthorized, which could happen early next year. Growth models look at how much students improve year to year, rather than the percentage of students who meet standards.
Most schools in the state did show improvement. But that often did not matter for schools, which can eventually face sanctions for failing to meet testing targets.
"Our AP exams are the best they've ever been, our ACT exams are the best they've ever been, and yet we didn't make the cut-off point, so it was very disappointing," said Sandra Doebert, superintendent of Lemont High School District 210 in the southwest suburbs. This was the first year Lemont has run afoul of the federal law.
Doebert points to the state's difficult high school test-which includes the ACT college entrance exam-as one reason 90 percent of the state's high schools failed to meet standards. Nearly everyone in the state agrees that Illinois elementary school standards are not rigorous enough, and that causes elementary school students to arrive at high school unprepared.
That's one reason the state board adopted new learning standards in June. New tests are being developed and will debut in the 2014-2015 school year.
Test scores released Friday show that Chicago schools posted the highest-and lowest-test scores in the state. At the high school level, city kids who test into Chicago's elite selective enrollment high schools again beat out posh districts like New Trier and Deerfield.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Numbers released Friday show nearly 500 schools are at least 90 percent poor and 90 percent minority, but only one of them has also gotten 90 percent of its students to meet standards on state tests. Illinois Public Radio's Linda Lutton reports from the state's only "90-90-90" school.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Heavy turnout has made an early voting site on the University of Illinois campus a success, according to the Champaign County Clerk.
Mark Shelden said when the Gregory Place location closed Thursday, 857 people had cast their ballot. Meanwhile, 2,981 had cast their ballots at Urbana's Brookens Center, meaning with absentee totals thus far, a total of 5,386 had already voted. But at the campus polling site, Shelden said only about 10-percent of the voters were U of I students. He said voters from all over the county came to the site over the 18-day early voting period, including faculty and people living in rural areas.
The campus polling site was mandated by a new state law, but Shelden suggested an alternative, if legislators are willing to fund it.
"You could do two or three days in Mahomet, two or three days in St. Joseph, a couple days in the western campus area and a couple of days in the eastern campus area," he said. "I mean, there are ways to do it that can be fair for everybody and at the same time, not overly tax all our resources."
Shelden selected Gregory Place over the Illini Union, saying the heavy political activity there made it inappropriate site for early voting. Democrats on the Champaign County Board and the U of I Student Senate opposed the decision, saying the Union would be free to use and easier to find.
David Pileski, who chairs the Student Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs, said a more open dialogue with Shelden may have produced a compromise.
"There's Foellinger Hall, which houses a lot of space that students could vote early in, as well as other buildings that could be utilized on this campus had we dealt with it in advance prior to a couple of months," Pileski said.
This was the first election to include a state-mandated campus polling site. Nolan Drea, the Vice President of the Student Senate, suggested legislators write a stronger bill that specifies that all campus early voting take place at a university-owned location, like a campus union.
Shelden said voters have not complained about the Gregory street location, or paying the parking meters there. Champaign County's total of early votes for the 2006 election was less than 4,000. Shelden says with the additional absentee votes and ballots from voters in nursing homes, Champaign County will likely have cast more than 6,000 ballots before polls even open on Tuesday.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
Talks will resume Friday morning between Teamsters Local 226 and representatives of the First Student bus company, which runs transportation services in the Danville School District.
The two sides have been mulling over a new three-year contract for the district's 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors who respond to 56 routes. The union wants those employees to get higher wages and benefits.
After more than four months of contract negations, Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the bus company, said she had hoped to reach a resolution by now.
"We do believe that the compensation and benefits package that we've offered to the union representatives is a fair market value, especially given the current economic conditions," Richmond said.
Richmond would not release details of the proposed contract.
Union members have not formally announced plans to walk off the job and strike, even though its members have been without a contract since August 1.
A representative from the Teamsters Union could not be reached for comment.
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