Illinois Public Media News
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)
The job market in Illinois is showing a sign of improvement.
The unemployment rate for September in the Champaign-Urbana area fell from 9.4% in August to 8.3% in September - that's .4 less than at this time a year ago.
The state Department of Employment Security says every other metropolitan area in the state also saw a lower jobless rate in September compared to September of 2009 - the first time a statewide decrease has taken place since early 2007.
About 800 more people in the Champaign area were working in September over August according to the monthly figures. Danville's unemployment rate fell in the last month to 10.8% - Decatur's jobless rate dropped to 10.9%. Bloomington-Normal continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in Illinois at 7.2%.
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.
A voter guide put out by a local health care advocacy group shows rough adherence to political party lines when it comes to health care issues and Illinois candidates.
Of the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, only Congressional candidate David Gill (D-Bloomington) responded to the survey from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, but state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) took part.
The group's director, Claudia Lennhoff, said even though this year's health care overhaul is a national undertaking, state lawmakers' views on health care play a big role.
"So much of the implementation of national health reform actually happens at the state level and requires state legislatures to pass laws in order to enact some of the health reform changes," said Lennhoff.
While Jakobsson supports implementing the health care bill, Reynolds opposes it. However, Reynolds and Jakobsson agree that the state should enact controls on rising health insurance premiums.
East Central Illinois Republicans say Governor Pat Quinn is lying when saying that the early release of prisoners has been 'stopped cold.'
Mahomet State Representative Chapin Rose said the governor's latest campaign ads are misleading. He cites the Department of Corrections data that indicates more than 2,000 prisoners, including violent offenders, that have been set free since July.
"The day his ads began to run, that very day they released (someone convicted of) aggravated unlawful use of a weapon," Rose said. "There's a murderer in here. Aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Battery of a pregnant person. Numerous firearms offenses. All let out since (Quinn) told the people he stopped the program."
In July, a bill sponsored by Senator and gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) went into effect requiring the Department of Corrections to require public notification of the prisoners granted Meritorious Good Time Release.
Early this year, Governor Quinn did away with a program called MGT Push, but also suspended all other early release programs. Sharyn Elman, a spokeswoman for Illinois' Department of Corrections, called the accusations "completely false and political posturing."
"The Governor terminated MGT Push as of December of 2009 and no prisoners have been released under MGT Push," Elman said. "MGT was suspended in January of 2010, and no awards have been granted since that time."
Rose noted while the programs are technically over, the state has not revoked the good-time credit of prisoners who earned it, and that is why some prisoners are still being set free. He said Governor Quinn is relying on semantics and not awarding any new credit to prisoners in order to claim the programs have been suspended or shut down.
The Rantoul Township High School board unanimously voted Monday night to suspend Superintendent Janet Koroscik over allegations of misconduct.
School Board member Marla Deem would not go into detail about the charges, except saying students and faculty have complained about Koroscik's leadership.
"There are just some issues that have been brought to the board's attention that we feel need to be addressed," Deem said. "It would be in the best interest of everyone involved not to let those issues out until the research has been completed."
Deem said she does not know exactly how long it will take before the school board concludes its investigation, but she said it could go on for at least a month.
Koroscik is not allowed on school premises during the suspension. She started working for the Rantoul Township High School District on July 1, 2009 on a three-year contract. She praised her own efforts in tightening security in the school, trying to boost test scores, and offering healthier food in the student cafeteria.
Still, she said during her tenure, she has had a tumultuous relationship with the school board, at times accusing its members of abusing their powers. Koroscik said she suspects that she is the target of a "witch hunt" brought on by a school board dissatisfied with her.
"I've done nothing wrong," Koroscik explained. "I just plan to get this situation resolved in the best way, so it doesn't hurt the school (and) the community."
Coincidently, the same day Koroscik was suspended, she returned to work full-time from medical leave, recovering from a blood clot in her leg. She said if the school board exonerates her, she would consider returning to work.
"I don't know how I could possibly continue to work with people who intentionally tried to destroy my career and never even gave me a chance," she said. "It was never my intention to leave Rantoul."
Koroscik refrained from saying whether anyone from the school board should resign.
While the school board investigates the charges, Principal Scott Amerio will serve as interim superintendent.
(Photo courtesy of Rantoul Township High School)
An advisory referendum on the Champaign County ballot next week asks voters if they want their county board to have fewer members, but more districts.
The referendum question on the Champaign County November 2nd ballot reads: "Shall the Champaign County Board size be reduced from 27 members elected from nine multi-member districts with three members elected from each district, to 22 members elected from eleven multi-member districts with two members elected from each district?"
District 4 County Board member Greg Knott (R-Rural St Joseph) said shrinking the board from 27 to 22 seats is a way to weed out less active members. At the same time, he said increasing the number of districts from nine to 11 would ensure better representation and less gerrymandering of district boundaries. For instance, he said rural representation has been diluted on the county board, because rural areas are often combined with urban areas to make up a district.
"To achieve pure rural representation with the current structure is difficult," Knott said. "Having 11 districts really allows more flexibility for those that draw the map to come up with those types of districts."
However, District 7 County Board member Alan Kurtz (D-Champaign) noted that the Champaign County Farm Bureau has gone on record opposing a change in county board size. He said switching to more, but smaller, county board districts would hurt rural representation on the board.
"If we shrink the board and move to different districts, the population of the cities will definitely overtake the population of the rural areas," Kurtz argued.
Under the proposed change, county board districts would be represented by two members each, instead of three. Knott said the change would lead to county board members who are more accountable because they serve a smaller area, and voters would have fewer county board members to track.
"I think when we added that other element of more districts, that's where we hope to improve that quality," Knott explained. "Smaller districts may encourage more competitive elections."
Still, Kurtz said those changes would lead to less diversity on a county board that needs to reflect a diverse population of urban, rural and student residents. He said the current county board is an effective one, where members with diverse views are able to work together on legislation such as the county's wind farm ordinance, and the Land Resource Management Plan.
"If we had major conflicts, if we couldn't get legislation through, if we were paralyzed, if we weren't able to work together, I would say we need to make some major changes," Kurtz said. "But I haven't seen that".
Despite his own feelings, Kurtz said he will follow whatever the voters advise him to do when they vote on the referendum November 2nd. Knott said he expects most county board members to do that same. If the referendum passes and the county board heeds its advice, the number of county board members would change with the 2012 election.
The television airwaves are littered with loud political ads, but chances are you're not seeing any from the race in Illinois' 15th congressional district. The incumbent in that District is holding tight to his campaign war chest, and the Democratic challenger hasn't built up the budget to make many media buys. As Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers reports, the incumbent has kept an unusually low profile.
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