Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A former aide to General David Petraeus has been nominated to be director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that Erica Borggren will be taking over the position vacated by Iraq War Veteran Dan Grant, who is leaving the position to attend Harvard's Masters of Business program.
Quinn said he expects "unanimous approval" of Borggren by the state Senate.
"David Petraeus is a pretty good reference, don't you think Erica?" Quinn said. "I could read for a long time what he has said about Erica. 'Matchless ability to research and analyze the most complex issues.' 'Exemplary in every respect.'"
Borggren is an Army Veteran and served as a senior staffer and speechwriter for General Petraeus.
"As a daughter of Illinois, and as a veteran myself, I can think of no more exciting or worthwhile endeavor than this one," she said.
Borggren also praised Illinois and Gov. Quinn, saying the state is "at the forefront of the veteran community."
Previous Veterans' Affair director Tammy Duckworth also supports the nomination. Duckworth recently announced her run for Congress in the 8th District of Illinois.
Meanwhile, Quinn signed legislation Friday to make it an annual goal for the state to set aside a certain percentage of its contracts for businesses owned by vets.
According to Quinn's office, the new law would make the goal three percent of every state contract be reserved for businesses owned by veterans and service-disabled veterans. The governor said it's a way to recognize their service.
Eligible businesses must be based in Illinois, 51 percent owned by veterans and have annual gross sales of $75 million or less. Larger veteran-owned businesses are able to apply for exemptions.
The Illinois State Board of Education has launched a statewide investigation into possible cheating on standardized tests. The analysis, dubbed by state officials as "proactive," comes as other states grapple with widespread, systematic cheating by teachers and principals trying to boost their schools' scores.
Illinois is reviewing every answer sheet from the state ISAT tests that elementary students took last spring. The Illinois Standards Achievement Test is given to students in grades three through eight.
The so-called "erasure analysis" will look for instances in which improbably high numbers of answers were changed from wrong to right. Officials are also scrutinizing schools or classrooms that have implausibly high gains from one year to the next. And they're hunting for strange patterns, such as classrooms of students who get the difficult questions correct but miss the easy ones.
The same type of analysis uncovered extensive cheating in Atlanta schools and has raised red flags in Philadelphia. In Atlanta, investigators discovered organized efforts by teachers and principals to change wrong answers on children's tests; the cheating went back as far as a decade.
Matt Vanover, a state board spokesman, says Illinois state schools superintendent Christopher Koch ordered the exhaustive analysis last spring, though it wasn't publicized at the time. Vanover says Koch was being proactive.
"This was basically a natural progression of the process we have for quality control," Vanover said.
Until now, the state has relied on complaints and "self-reporting" to find cheating. Vanover said four school districts came to the state board this spring after conducting local investigations that found test results had been manipulated in some way. The state is still reviewing those cases, but if it determines cheating occurred, the guilty educators' teaching certificates could be revoked, Vanover said.
In 2010, three districts came forward to say they'd discovered cheating.
The statewide analysis of standardized tests should be completed later this year, Vanover said.
The investigation comes as Illinois is poised to put more emphasis on student test scores. Teachers in the state are scheduled to be evaluated based on student achievement, and hiring and firing decisions will be made on those evaluations.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Illinois will be joined by West Virginia in a stop at an American air base on its upcoming trip to Italy.
The university says the Illini and Mountaineers will be at Aviano Air Base on Aug. 17.
The teams will face each other on base in a short scrimmage.They'll also conduct a clinic for children of troops stationed at the base north of Venice. The teams will also hold a dunk contest and scrimmage against some of the troops.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber says the event required an NCAA waiver. He says he's looking forward to the visit.
The Illini leave for Italy on Aug. 10 and return ten days later. They'll play Italian pro squads and other teams while abroad.
Gov. Pat Quinn says that by the middle of September he hopes to name a nine-member commission that will establish private scholarships for immigrant children in Illinois both illegally and legally.
Quinn says he wants to make sure people who want to serve on the commission created by the Illinois Dream Act he signed this week have time to submit their names for consideration.
The Chicago Democrat will name the commission that has to raise private money to fund the scholarships because no taxpayer dollars will be used.
Immigrant children can qualify if they attend an Illinois high school for at least three years and have at least one parent who immigrated to the United States.
Quinn has already pledged $1,000 to the fund.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's office is working on legislation to restore funds to pay the salaries of the state's regional school superintendents.
Quinn cut their funding earlier this year. But the Superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties says she is pessimistic that anything will be settled prior to start of the legislature's fall veto session. That means Jane Quinlan and other superintendents won't get paid until November or December. Quinlan said it is a hard time of the year to be dealing without income.
"All bus drivers have to have refresher courses," Quinlan explained. "We've had a number of people in the office trying to get their authorization to substitute teach in schools, we provide the training for new administrators that they need to take before they can evaluate staff. There are a number of things that like that going on this month that are critical to getting school started."
Quinlan said there does not appear to be plan in place for superintendent's offices that are forced to close.
"If it's a case where you have savings or you have a spouse who's employed, you're able to perhaps work longer without a paycheck," she said. "Though I think most people understand that they expect to be paid when they're working."
A spokesman for the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, Ryan Keith, said the governor could be looking into using money from the State Board of Education as a short-term fix, but he said there is no specific proposal yet.
The governor's office expects to have more information about this legislation next week, but Keith questions whether the measure needs approval by lawmakers this fall anyway.
Quinlan said it is more likely that legislators override the governor's original veto of the superintendent funding when the fall veto session begins in October.
New U.S. Census Bureau figures show the number of Illinois households run by same-sex couples has jumped nearly 42 percent in the last decade.
That's from 22,887 in 2000 to 32,469 last year.
The trend in Illinois mirrors those nationwide. Experts and advocates say social attitudes toward same-sex couples are changing. Also, over the last decade Illinois has passed several laws for gay rights. Most recently, the state approved same-sex civil unions, which give gay couples many of the same rights as married couples.
The census data released late Wednesday shows a 53 percent jump in female couples since 2000.
In 2000, most of the couples were male - 12,155 compared with 10,732 female couples. But last year there were 16,416 female couples compared with 16,053 male couples.
Postcards are in the mail to Illinois low-income senior citizens eligible to ride free on public transit.
The Department on Aging announced Wednesday the postcards went to seniors enrolled in the Circuit Breaker program.
Those seniors remain eligible for free rides on public buses and trains.
Free rides are ending for other seniors, although they'll still get reduced fares. Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in February to limit the "Seniors Ride Free" program to low-income seniors.
Seniors in the Circuit Breaker program may need to contact their local public transit agency for a free ride card.
To qualify for Circuit Breaker assistance, an applicant's total income for 2010 must be less than $27,610 for a household size of one.
(Photo courtesy of erekslater/Flickr)
President Barack Obama is praising a bipartisan deal that will end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration and get thousands of workers back on the job.
Obama says the nation "can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery.''
He says he's pleased to see leaders in Congress working together to settle the issue.
The FAA flap has become another embarrassment for the federal government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal to extend the FAA's operating authority through mid-September. Under the plan, the Senate will approve a House bill that includes a contentious provision cutting $16.5 million in subsidies for rural communities. Democrats say the administration will use authority under the deal to waive those cuts.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Illinois-based Kraft Foods announced Thursday that it plans to split into two separate companies by the end of next year.
One company would focus on international growth by selling snack products, like Oreo cookies, Trident gum, and Cadbury chocolates. The snacks business is estimated to have revenue of about $32 billion.
The other part of the company would stick to the North American grocery business, which would include Kraft cheese and Maxwell House coffee. Kraft estimates revenue of approximately $16 billion for that part of the company.
"Our strategic actions have put us in a position to create two great companies, each with the leadership, resources and strong market positions to realize their full potential," Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld said in statement.
The move by Kraft comes at a time when other companies, including Wal-Mart and Target, are trying to respond to one-stop shopping needs by adding more grocery store choices. University of Illinois finance professor Heitor Almeida said Kraft's decision is a smart one because it'll allow the company to spend more time focusing on opportunities for growth.
"It should be ok for the company as a whole, including the employees and everything," Almeida said. "I guess one concern is whether the North American grocery business might become a target for an acquisition for another company because it's clearly the less glamorous one."
While investors reacted well to the news, analysts were skepticism about the strategy and as to whether the deal, when fully formed, will provide shareholder value. Some analysts question the split of what they see as overlapping businesses.
"We are surprised,'' said Morningstar analyst Matt Arnold. "It's definitely a change in philosophy; they used to say we will win with scale. It's tough to say if there is pressure from investors."
Aside from the spinoff plans, Kraft announced that its second-quarter earnings climbed 4 percent to $976 million, or 55 cents per share, from $937 million, or 53 cents per share, a year ago. The food maker's stock gained 92 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $35.22 in premarket trading.
Kraft runs a major food processing plant in Champaign. The company says there are no immediate plans to change its operations in the state.
For the first time in its history, all of the leaders of the University of Illinois' three individual campuses will be women. A search committee has picked University of Washington provost and vice president Phyllis Wise to head the Urbana-Champaign campus starting in October, if the board of trustees gives its likely approval. She will receive a $500,000 annual salary with another $100,000 set aside each of the next five years. She will receive that money if she remains at the U of I's Urbana campus that long.
Wise spoke to Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers. She said her role as a researcher will inform her administrative decisions.
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