Illinois Public Media News

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

Danville Teachers Overwhelmingly Support Strike

A negotiating session Sunday is all that will keep Danville teachers and support staff from walking off the job.

Union President Robin Twidwell said a vote to strike got overwhelming support in a membership meeting Wednesday night, almost exactly the same numbers as when the Danville Education Association backed an intent-to-strike vote two weeks ago. A strike is set to start Monday, but Twidwell said there is a chance Sunday's negotiations can avert that.

"We still remain hopeful that we will be able to get this contract settled on Sunday and resume our normal duties on Monday," said Twidwell.

After the votes were cast by union members, the school board held a two-hour closed session meeting to discuss the ripple affect a strike could have on the school district. School board president Bill Dobbles said a strike would essentially shut down schools in the area, bringing a halt to extracurricular activities and most sporting events.

"The only exception is that I think there's some like middle school state tournaments going on," he said. "If a tournament started before the strike, then those teams can continue to play."

Dobbles also said health insurance covered through the district would for now remain intact, but he said depending how long a strike lasts, that could eventually fall into the hands of union members.

The school board will continue discussing its response to a possible strike on Friday afternoon. Dobbles said he remains hopeful that the two sides can reach common ground by Sunday's negotiating session at 2pm with a federal mediator. This will be the fourth meeting in which the two sides have sought mediation.

District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman said progress was made in a 4-hour session Tuesday night, but Twidwell said she would characterize it as 'having dialogue' on some issues.

The union is asking for salary increases, ways to balance the larger class sizes caused by last spring's staff reductions, and improved retirement incentives.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2010

Danville School District and Teachers Union to Meet Again Sunday

Tuesday night's bargaining session between the Danville School District and its teachers union apparently went well enough for another meeting with a federal mediator to be scheduled for this Sunday afternoon.

In a joint statement, the school district and the union said the four hour bargaining session produced a "frank discussion".

Superintendent Mark Denman said he thinks some progress was made.

"I would say there was some positive progress made," he said. "Maybe not on any particular issues, but in a spirit of keeping the talks going. So we'll meet again on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully we can reach an agreement at that point."

Meanwhile, the two sides are scheduled to meet separately on Wednesday. Members of the Danville Education Association will meet at 5 PM at Danville High School. Union Vice-President Corey Pullin says his group will take another strike vote at that meeting, which could pave the way for a teachers strike on Monday --- if Sunday's bargaining session does not go well.

Meanwhile, the Danville School Board's agenda for its Wednesday night meeting includes a closed-door session for discussing what measures District 118 will take if the strike takes place.

Categories: Education, Politics

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 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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

Brady Touts Jobs Plan, Backs off 10-Percent Cuts Pledge

Illinois' Republican candidate for governor says his plan for jobs would ultimately mean property tax relief for local school districts.

Bloomington Senator Bill Brady visited a machining facility in Champaign Tuesday to tout those plans. He says by introducing $3,750 dollars in tax credits for businesses over a 2-year period - and repealing the estate tax and gasoline sales taxes - that would bring 700,000 jobs back to Illinois.

Brady said 10-percent of revenue growth from those jobs will be placed into a property tax relief fund for school districts. He also refuted claims by his opponent, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn - that his more immediate plans for cutting education would actually raise property taxes.

"Ten percent of state funding on average to the school system is less than 2-and a-half percent reduction in overall spending," said Brady. "Now, there are many raises that are out there and contracts that might be negotiated to forgo for one year to meet these difficult times without pink-slipping or raising property taxes."

Brady also insists that school districts, universities, and social service providers would not experience the same problems they are now if they knew how much state money to count on in the first place. Brady says struggles at institutions like the University of Illinois are a result of state leaders "over promising and under-delivering."

The Senator has long pushed for 10-percent across the board cuts in state spending to balance the budget. But Brady said Tuesday that if elected, he will have experts audit the state's budget.

"Every dollar will be examined," said Brady. "Some programs likely will go by the wayside. Some will be examined. Some will be reduced. But we need someone to scrutinize every dollar of state spending so that we're utilizing the precious resources the taxpayers give us in a balanced way to focus on our highest priorities."

Brady said it is a mathematical equation that the state has to cut at least a dime in every dollar of spending, but wants to prioritize the remaining 90 cents.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 30, 2010

New System Allows Campus Motorists to Pay Meter by Phone

The University of Illinois is testing a new parking payment system that aims to end the need to run outside to feed the parking meter.

The Verrus Pay By Phone system allows motorists to pay for parking by credit card, using their cell phone. U of I Facilities and Services spokesman Andy Blacker says Verrus will even send out a phone message when parking time is about to run out --- to give motorists a chance to buy extended parking time.

"For a large number of people that get tied up in a meeting, or class runs over, they don't have to worry about going out to find a parking ticket," said Blakcer. "They can actually use their cell phone to add time to their meter."

The convenience costs a little extra. Blacker said the Verrus Park By Phone system charges a 35-cent "convenience fee", on top of the university's standard parking rates. He said the fee is per transaction, so motorists will pay the same additional fee no matter how long they park.

The U of I is testing the Verrus system this fall at about 200 metered parking lots at four parking lots scattered around the U of I Urbana campus --- B1, C7, E3 and D22. Verrus provides its parking payment system in several cities in Canada and the United States, including Chicago. Blacker said they may expand its use at the University of Illinois, if the pilot program is a success.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 29, 2010

Federal Court Allows Autistic Child to Keep Dog in School

An Illinois appeals court has agreed to allow Villa Grove student to keep his autism helper dog in school.

The Fourth District Appellate Court sided with the family of Kaleb Drew. They had argued that the boy's yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under state law. The boy's mother had testified that the dog prevents the boy from running away, helps him focus on his homework and calms him when he has a tantrum. The appeals court upheld the November decision of a Douglas County judge. The court issued its opinion Tuesday.

The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog's presence and argued that it isn't a true service animal. A telephone message for the school district's attorney was not immediately returned.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

Gov. Quinn Touts Income Tax Hike for Education

Governor Pat Quinn has renewed talk of an income tax hike for education.

The Illinois democrat said getting a 33% increase in income taxes past lawmakers would mean asking school districts to cut property taxes in return. If elected, he said his tax hike will pass the legislature by the end of this year.

During an appearance at the University of Illinois on Friday, Quinn noted how opponent, State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) wants to cut education by $1.26 billion, leading to an increase in property taxes. The governor said investing in education means local units of government should abate part of their property taxes.

"This university is a classic example of getting good jobs by having smart people," said Quinn. "So if my opponent - Senator Brady - wants to go around Illinois cutting and slashing education at every level - less scholarships, less early childhood education, less money for K thru 12 - he's on the wrong track."

The governor called the November 2nd election a "referendum for education." He said the difference between electing him and Brady will mean investments versus cuts.

Quinn called Brady a 'false prophet' by simply shifting the tax burden, but he would not say he had assurances from House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton that a vote on his 33% income tax proposal would take place.

Quinn also touted his efforts to start up a $31 billion capital plan for road construction, safer bridges, high speed rail, and sustainability initiatives like solar and wind power that will result in matching federal dollars. He was at the U of I Friday to address the 2010 Sustainable University Symposium. The university has signed the Sustainability Compact, which encourages institutions to use 'green' practices in their campus operations as well as academic and research programs.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

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