Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 24, 2011

Report: Indiana State U Struggling to Retain Key Students

Indiana State University officials are looking at ways to keep students in college after seeing the retention rate for first-time students fall to a record low 58 percent.

The Tribune-Star reports the rate for African-American students is an even lower 40 percent.

Provost Jack Maynard says the goal is to get the retention rate back up in the high 60 percent range.

An ISU panel is drafting a three-year retention plan to present to President Dan Bradley in January. Ideas could include required tutoring and tighter admissions standards.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 23, 2011

Congressional Candidates File to be on March Ballot

Congressional candidates in Illinois have started filing petitions to get their names on the ballot for the upcoming election. Filing was delayed while Republicans unsuccessfully challenged the new Democratic drawn map of districts.

It's already evident there will be some key battles brought on by the changes. The new map has forced two Republican incumbents, Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo, to face off in the 16th District.

In the re-drawn 13th Congressional District, incumbent Tim Johnson of Urbana will be challenged in the Republican primary by Michael Firsching, a veterinarian from the Madison community of Moro who opposed Congressman John Shimkus in the 19th district last year. The Democrats in the race are Bloomington physician David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten.

Meanwhile, the 15th Congressional District, which now includes parts of Champaign County, has a smaller list of candidates. Republican Shimkus from Collinsville is running for re-election against pro-life Democrat Angela Michael of Highland. She's a retired nurse and radio talk show host.

Over in the southwest suburban 11th, GOP Congresswoman Judy Biggert will apparently have primary opposition while 3 Democrats have also filed, including former member of Congress Bill Foster.

The 2nd District will stretch from the south side of Chicago on to Kankakee. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is expected to face a primary challenge from former Democratic lawmaker Debbie Halvorson in what will likely be among the most closely watched races.

In the 8th District in Chicago's northwest suburbs, Tea Party backed Republican Joe Walsh is trying for a second term. Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lost a statewide bid in 2010, has submitted petitions and former member of the Obama Administration Tammy Duckworth is expected to as well.

There's an open spot near St. Louis in the metro east where Jerry Costello has retired. Five hopefuls have filed there including former GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate Jason Plummer.

Tuesday is the filing deadline. The primary election will be held on March 20th.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 23, 2011

Illinois Awarded Race To The Top Funding

Illinois is one of seven states to win a share of a $200 million dollar education grant in the federal Race to the Top program. The state won more than $43 million, more money than any of the other winners in this round of the competition.

Some of that money will help bolster education in science, math, engineering and technology. State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said Illinois is currently working on creating a system that ties student growth with teacher evaluations.

"About half of that fund will go to local districts out there in Illinois we have 868 districts," Fergus said. "The $21 million will go to those districts that have agreed to accelerate education reform."

The rest of the Race to the Top money will help install new Common Core State Standards that have already been adopted by many other states.

Judy Wiegand is the assistant superintendent of the Champaign School District, and she will become the district's superintendent next year.

"It's great in the sense that we're going to have one universal system for standards that's aligned with college and career readiness standards, and then even more importantly is really the instructional practices and the rigor that comes into the classroom to teach those standards," Wiegand said.

Wiegand said she expects Unit 4 to have the new Common Core standards fully implemented by the 2013-2014 school year. The Obama administration has awarded billions of dollars in Race to the Top funding.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Ex-Blagojevich Fundraiser Sentenced to Prison for Second Time

For the second time in two months, Tony Rezko was back in front of a judge Thursday to be sentenced to federal prison. Rezko was a fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Rezko was recently sentenced to 10-and-a-half years behind bars for his role in corruption in the Blagojevich administration. On Thursday, he was back in front of a judge to be sentenced in a different case. This time for lying to get some loans to keep his failing businesses afloat. The case was brought as prosecutors were applying pressure to individuals involved in illegal fundraising for Blagojevich.

Judge James Zagel handed Rezko a seven and a half year sentence, which he can serve at the same time as his other sentence. Zagel also admonished Rezko for entangling, "an honorable man" into his criminal acts. By that he meant one of Rezko's co-defendants who pleaded guilty, but the judge didn't say to whom he was referring.

Rezko will also have to pay more than $4 million in restitution, something his attorney said Rezko cannot afford to do.

As the frail-looking 56-year-old left the courtroom, he smiled at his family, who waved to him and yelled, "Merry Christmas.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Ill. Environmental Group Applauds Ruling on Mercury Restrictions

An environmental group in Illinois says it's happy that the federal government is following Illinois' lead in requiring power plants to cut down on mercury levels.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would force hundreds of the nation's power plants to control mercury and other toxic pollutants.

Max Muller with Environment Illinois said the state passed its own mercury restrictions in 2006, and they have proven to be successful.

"We've shown that in Illinois that mercury can be reduced cheaply, that the lights aren't going to go out, and it does in fact yield very good results in terms of decreasing mercury pollution on the environment that harms health," Muller said.

Muller said the new federal standards are expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90 percent.

But the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has come out against the plan, saying it will destroy jobs and raise energy rates.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Delay Asked in Lawsuits Against Indiana Immigration Law

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wants to delay two lawsuits challenging Indiana's tough new immigration law because the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the issue in an Arizona case.

Zoeller's office said Thursday it filed a motion in federal court in Indianapolis seeking a temporary delay in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in June granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction blocking Indiana from enforcing two provisions in that law, including one that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants who are subject to immigration court removal orders.

Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state also will seek a stay in a second lawsuit challenging the immigration law. That case was filed in northern Indiana this week by a Hispanic advocacy group.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Judge Throws Out Ind. Sec’y of State Election

A judge has reversed a decision by the Indiana Recount Commission and ordered it to decertify the 2010 election of Indiana's embattled Republican secretary of state.

Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg issued a ruling Thursday reversing and setting aside the Recount Commission's unanimous June decision that Charlie White was eligible to run for office last year despite questions over his residency. Rosenberg ordered the commission to certify Democrat Vop Osili as secretary of state.

Recount Commission spokesman AJ Feeney-Ruiz says White remains secretary of state for now. He says the commission won't take up Roserberg's ruling before late next week.

Feeney-Ruiz says the panel will meet with the state attorney general's office about seeking a stay of Rosenberg's ruling pending an appeal.

White faces trial next month for voter fraud.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Rain May End Decatur Water-Use Restrictions

Water officials in Decatur say that steady, recent rains have raised Lake Decatur's level enough for them to consider ending mandatory water-use restrictions.

Decatur Water Management director Keith Alexander told the Herald & Review in Decatur (http://bit.ly/ukDw2p ) on Wednesday that the lake's water level is just over 611 feet above sea level.

That's still a little low but within a foot or two of the typical winter water level.

Alexander said that if the water level reaches 611.5 feet, restrictions could be lifted.

The city put restrictions on water use in place in October as parts of central Illinois endured drought.

Categories: Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Latino Group Joins Lawsuit Against Indiana Immigration Law

La Union Benefica Mexican has been around for decades in Northwest Indiana.

The group promotes Mexican culture and traditions throughout the year with events and gatherings, but the UBM is taking a more serious tone by joining a federal lawsuit against Indiana's anti-illegal immigration law, S.B. 590.

Although adopted last spring by the Indiana General Assembly, certain provisions of law have yet to take effect since a federal judge's injunction kicked in last summer.

Still, Antonio Barreda, head of the UBM, said the bill discriminates against Latinos, not just those who may be in the United States illegally.

"The law itself could violate not only immigrants but American citizens such as I and many others," Barreda said. "It also gives businesses the opportunity to become even more discriminatory by not hiring Hispanics."

Barreda said UBM is join in its lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.

In a written statement, MALDEF said the bill "poses severe and immediate threats to the United States Constitution and to the livelihood of anyone who 'looks' to local authorities like an undocumented immigrant."

"This challenge is necessary to send a message to anti-immigrant groups that their efforts to pass Arizona-style legislation in the Midwest are not welcome and will be resisted," Alonzo Rivas, MALDEF Midwest Regional Counsel said in a statement.

The Republican-controlled Indiana State House pushed the immigration legislation, although many Indiana Democrats supported the measure which drew harsh criticism and protest by those opposed to it.

Several more controversial aspects were nixed from the bill, such as giving an Indiana state trooper the right to pull over anyone who appeared to be an undocumented immigrant.

But other provisions, primarily against businesses who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, remain in the law.

The bill is already being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Indiana is seeking to delay hearings on all challenges to the bill until the U.S. Supreme Court decides Arizona's own tough immigration law.

"We will be seeking a stay in this case in addition to the previous case while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to Arizona's immigration statute," Zoeller said in a statement. "Indiana will join with other states in seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court that will provide some guidance to states on immigration since Congress has thus far failed to enact or enforce federal immigration policies."

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court announced plans to hear the case challenging Arizona's immigration law this spring.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Urbana Seeking Art Proposals Eligible for Grants

The city of Urbana is looking for people with a creative vision.

It's offering $45,000 in grants that will be split up to support projects that include visual and performance art, design, and new media. Urbana Public Arts Coordinator Christina McClelland said the eligible projects must be free and accessible to the public.

"The city finds that where artists are making projects and where artist groups are doing projects, the quality of life really improves," McClelland said. "It's a real boon to economic development. It just promotes a vital artistic creative city."

Applications for the grants are due by the end of the day on Jan. 10, and the grant winners will be announced in the spring.

Categories: Government, Politics

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