Comcast has unveiled a program, known as "Internet Essentials," to expand Internet access for about $10 a month to low-income families.
The cable and Internet provider wants to make the program available next month in 39 states, including Illinois, where the company's Internet service is offered. Comcast spokesman Jack Segal said eligible families must have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. He estimates that lunch program is open to more than 4,500 students in Champaign and Urbana.
"Internet access is the great equalizer," Segal said. "It's great for people economically to have access --- kids especially to have access to the internet to do their homework, to learn, to dream, and to really, really participate in the world."
To qualify for the program, customers must not have any overdue bills with the company or unreturned equipment. They also cannot join Comcast's Internet service 90 days prior to joining the program.
The low-income families who qualify can purchase vouchers for a new computer valued at around $150. They can also sign up for free digital literacy training.
This is not the only internet plan coming to Champaign-Urbana. Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hoping to get high-speed Internet in the area by Feb. 2013. The University of Illinois has taken the lead in getting the more than $22 million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant to support the project, but it is leaving much of the work to the cities.
The high-speed Internet plan would costs about twice as much for customers compared to the Comcast program and run up to 10 times faster, according Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of UC2B's grant.
"Our connection will be massively fast," Smeltzer said. "I think (Comcast's plan) is kind of like training wheels for our project. If somebody doesn't have Internet today, and they look at this and they say, 'Hey, this would be good for our kids that are in school, and we can afford the 10 bucks a month, let's get it.' It will only wet their appetite for something better."
Smeltzer also praised Comcast's reduced-price service, saying it will help connect people in areas where the UC2B project won't be available.
The restoration of the clock and bell tower at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana is one of 40 success stories that a statewide preservation group is highlighting to mark its 40th anniversary.
Landmarks Illinois isn't taking credit for the entire list of 40 landmarks across the state. Instead, the group's president, Jim Peters, says they show what can be done when people in local communities pull together to save a piece of their history.
In the case of the Champaign County Courthouse, Peters said the county and local donors were able to both preserve the crumbling brick walls of the courthouse --- and rebuild a clock and bell tower that had been shortened by lightning strikes.
"I think people for decades have been trying to get the (courthouse) building restored, and the long-missing tower put back," Peters said. "So we thought that was just an amazing effort. So that kind of --- you know, it was emblematic of that grassroots effort, that stick-to-it-ivness - figuring out they wanted to do something, and just kept at it until it was accomplished."
Champaign's Orpheum Theater is also on Landmarks Illinois' "40 Over 40" list. Local preservationists reopened the old movie house as a children's museum in the 1990s. Other landmarks on the list include the old Chicago Public Library (now a cultural center), the old city hall and fire station in Pontiac (now operating as the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum) and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas house in Springfield.
Peters said most of the preservation efforts have one thing in common--- strong community support.
"What we wanted to focus on were grassroots efforts: community-wide efforts to either save a building, restore a building --- in some cases, even move a building to keep it from being demolished," he said. "You know, a community, a neighborhood group or a city itself."
Landmarks Illinois was founded in 1971 as the Landmarks Preservation Council. Its first project was an unsuccessful effort to save the Louis Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Building. It claims the preservation of the old downtown Chicago Public Library building as the city's Cultural Center as its first major success. The group expanded its scope to cover Illinois in the late 1970s, and changed its name to Landmarks Illinois in 2006.
Peters said he hopes the "40 Over 40" list can inspire other communities to work to save their important historic buildings.
View a slideshow of some of the sites that made the list:
Authorities say two women found dead early Friday in a rural central Illinois home were a mother and daughter.
Macon County Sheriff Thomas P. Schneider says 57-year-old Cindanett Eaton and 23-year-old Lindsey Eaton were found in their rural Harristown home after a 911 call about 12:45 a.m. Friday. The community is just west of Decatur.
Another woman whom Schneider says is also Cindanett Eaton's daughter is hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. The sheriff wouldn't identify her or discuss the nature of the women's injuries.
Schneider said 27-year-old Timothy Giles of Centralia has been arrested. Giles is being held on $2 million bond and has not appeared in court but his warrant lists murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery and home invasion charges.
The University of Illinois' new chancellor maintains that her role as a member of Nike's Board of Directors doesn't represent a conflict of interest.
Both the University of Washington and the U of I hold contracts with the sportswear company. Phyllis Wise currently serves as provost at UW, and will start her role as chancellor at the U of I Oct. 1, pending Trustees' approval.
Wise's role with Nike has been a source of contention for Washington's Faculty Senate, which called for her to step down from the board post. Wise said she has put it in writing to UW that she would remove herself from any university business pertaining to Nike, and intends to do the same at the U of I.
"I have written a letter to the president, and then when I was the interim president, a letter to the Board of Regents, saying that anything having to do with Nike and the University of Washington, I would be recused from," she said. "In other words, I would have nothing to do with the discussion, or even knowledge about the issue."
But anthropology professor Janelle Taylor, president of the American Association of University Professors at UW, said that is not enough.
"How can you take a job as a major administrator at the university and then because you've also kind of accepted this big payoff with a company that has contracts then say 'I'm not going to do this big part of my job because it would be a conflict of interest,' Taylor said. "Personally, I don't find that a satisfactory answer. If I were at the University of Illinois, I'd want a better answer than that."
Wise was appointed to Nike's board of directors in fall of 2009. She said she has always given more money to philanthropic efforts than what she has earned as a board member of Nike. She added that a lot of that money has gone to higher education and student scholarships.
Wise said the Nike position has also helped her as an administrator.
"Everything that I've learned in terms of how they run their budgets and their finances, and with their overall mission of producing the best athletic apparel is something that I've learned about," she said. "I think some of it can be applied to what I do."
Wise's term with Nike is set to expire in September, when board members are elected or re-elected as part of the company's stockholders meeting. The U of I is in the middle of a $16 million,10-year contract with the sportswear provider.
(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.
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.
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.