Illinois Public Media News
Illinois education officials say cases of cheating on state exams by teachers and principals are on the rise.
Those cases add to a pile of about 300 other cases of misconduct that range from cheating to inappropriate relationships with students.
That's why this year the Illinois State Board of Education wants to double the amount of money dedicated to investigations.
Darren Reisberg, deputy superintendent at the state Board of Education, said the money would help his department speed up the process or hire an investigator to help with the caseload.
Misconduct investigations are timely and cost a significant amount of money, Reisberg said.
The state is also still investigating suspicious patterns on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), which is taken by every third through eighth grade student.
That analysis would look for high number of answers changed from wrong to right, unlikely large gains from one year to the next and classrooms where a significant number of students answered a difficult question correctly, but missed an easy one.
State board spokeswoman Mary Fergus said that analysis is not complete.
In the past, the state has relied on districts to report allegations of misconduct. According to those reports, there have been 33 cases of possible cheating since 2005.
But the likelihood the state will grant the board the money it's requesting is unlikely.
Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget does not increase funding for investigations. Two House resolutions passed last month also limit the state's education budget to $6.5 billion, $523 million less than what the state board is proposing.
Four area lawmakers say it took the approval of the DeWitt County Board to send a controversial proposal to store PCB's at the Clinton landfill to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But those lawmakers say that under their proposal, one county's OK would not be enough.
Under their legislation (House Bill 6153), any hazardous waste facility located over an aquifer would need the approval of county boards of all the counties with land over that aquifer. The Clinton Landfill lies over the Mahomet Aquifer, which spreads out over 15 different counties.
That includes Champaign County, where the county board has already gone on record opposing the storage of PCB's at the Clinton Landfill. However, the Champaign County Board vote has no legal effect, because the landfill addition would be built in DeWitt County, not Champaign County.
State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said requiring all 15 counties in the Mahomet Aquifer area to approve the storage of PCB's is a good way to avoid what he calls "pollution without representation."
'There are communities throughout east-central Illinois that are going to potentially have grave harm to their drinking source, their aquifer, and not have some say in the siting of this landfill. And that's the problem we're hoping to rectify," Frerichs said.
Besides Frerichs, the measure also has the backing of State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, (D-Urbana), Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet).
Rose drafted the legislation, working with Piatt County State's Attorney Dana Rhoades. Rose said he hopes he can win approval for the measure in the General Assembly, before the EPA makes a ruling on the Clinton Landfill proposal.
"There's a race to beat the clock here," Rose said. "If the federal EPA issues a permit, then we have a problem. So we're trying to do this as quickly as possible."
The EPA has delayed making a ruling on the Clinton Landfill PCB proposal, pending further study.
Fracking" Comes to Southern Illinois
The controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing could be coming to Southern Illinois as soon as next month.
The authenticity of an iconic stovepipe hat believed to have been worn by Abraham Lincoln is being called into question.
In a story Sunday, the Chicago-Sun Times reported (http://bit.ly/HFo58o) that the leaders of the Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum cannot explain how a farmer acquired the stovepipe hat more than 150 years ago.
The news comes on the heels of a significant historical gaffe revealing that a famous portrait of Abraham Lincoln's wife that hung in the governor's mansion in Springfield for more than threedecades was a fake.
No one has been able to refute the hat's authenticity with certainty. Museum officials say the hat belonged to Lincoln.
The heirloom is valued at $6.5 million.
The chairman of the Vermilion County Board says a presentation from a potential management agency is just one option they're exploring for the beleaguered Vermilion Manor Nursing Home. Jim McMahon says the county might also explore leasing or even selling the facility. But on Tuesday night, officials with Provena Life Connections will talk about their proposal at the Vermilion County Board meeting in Danville.
McMahon says he's looking for any viable option that can keep the nursing home going, at a time when the state is regularly late in delivering Medicaid and Medicare funding.
"What we're looking for is, how can we keep a county-owned nursing home running with 42% of the income coming from the state of Illinois, and they pay that when they feel like it, " says Durbin.
Provena Life Connections operates facilities and services for the elderly in several cities. In Champaign, they provide both home health services and hospice care.
McMahon says Provena Life Connections could bring additional services to residents at the county-owned nursing home that would help bring in additional organization>
"So a management firm can come in and say, we'll add this type of specialist," says Mamahon, "or they could bring dialysis on location. There's lots of things they can do that we can't as a county-run organization."
McMahon says he was referred to Provena Life Connections by officials at Provena United Samaritan Hospital in Danville.
The Provena Life Connections presentation is scheduled for the Vermilion County Board meeting set for Tuesday, April 17th at 6 PM at the Courthouse Annex in Danville. McMahon says no action will be taken that night, but the proposal will be considered by the county board's Nursing Home Committee on April 24th..
The State Employees Retirement System says many government workers in Illinois are rushing to retire.
SERS Executive Secretary Tim Blair says more than 4,000 state workers will retire in the fiscal year that ends June 30. That's up more than 40 percent from last year's roughly 2,750.
The Mattoon Journal-Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/IDEucf ) that the push to retire is being driven in part by concerns about state government's multibillion-dollar budget deficit.
But discussions about changing Illinois' pension systems are a factor, too. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to soon announce a plan to deal with underfunded pension systems.
But the state won't be able to simply leave the jobs open and save money.
Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said at least some of the retiring workers will have to be replaced.
Chicago Sun-Times editor-in-chief Don Hayner has announced he is retiring after nearly 30 years at the newspaper.
The Sun-Times reports Hayner made the announcement Thursday afternoon. He will be succeeded by John Barron, who will be executive editor after three years as publisher. Hayner led the Sun-Times when it won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 2011.
Hayner told staffers he decided to retire and it is "time to hand off the baton."
The 60-year-old Hayner started at the newspaper as a general assignment reporter. He was named editor in February 2009. He also served as city editor, metro editor and managing editor. He also was a lawyer who represented criminal defendants at the Cook County courthouse before working for the City News Bureau and the Chicago Tribune.
McLean County's Republican Party chair calls next week's interviews with potential Congressional candidates 'unprecedented.'
John Parrot said the intent of Monday's interviews with eight people seeing the GOP nomination for the 13th Congressional district was to generate feedback from the public on the process. Parrot admits a lot of voters are upset about Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson's decision to announce his retirement after the primary.
"They have reiterated that we need to make sure that whoever the county chairmen appoint to this position is a rock-solid individual who has got some experience, and will have the opportunity to build the organization that they're going to need to build in record time," Parrot said.
He said members of the state legislature have an advantage since they already have an organization in place following the March 20th primary. The interviews will run from 11-30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday at the Doubletree Hotel in Bloomington.
Champaign County Acting Republican chair Habeeb Habeeb said it is possible that a similar event will be held locally, after it holds a convention next week. GOP county chairmen in 14 counties will meet in a few weeks and hold a weighted vote for a 13th district candidate to replace Johnson.
A full set of links to county GOP chairmen in the 13th District is listed below.
A top state Democrat says pension boosts for public employees in Illinois should require more support in the General Assembly before becoming law.
House Speaker Michael Madigan is proposing a constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths vote of the House and Senate for any legislation that increases retirement benefits. A simple majority is required now.
The state owes its pension systems $80 billion and a committee appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn is set to deliver its recommendations for fixing the problem next week.
Spokesman Steve Brown says Madigan's idea would force public officials to think more "seriously'' about pension sweeteners which increase the pension debt.
The Legislature would have to approve the idea by May 6 to put the question before voters in the November election.
Illinois lawmakers are once again debating a bill that could help ease the state's bursting prison population at a time when there are plans to close several correctional facilities.
But it may take some work to convince Gov. Pat Quinn to go along with the plan in reintroducing a program that he suspended two years ago due to problems surrounding it.
In 2010 Quinn put on hold the state's Meritorious Good Time program (MGT) which reduced the sentences for inmates considered non-violent. Quinn pulled it after he learned that more than 1,000 inmates did not serve the required minimum of 60 days and committed more crimes once back on the streets.
But some saw it as an election year political move.
Since that time, more than 4,000 inmates have been added to the ranks, pushing Illinois' total prison population to 49,000. The state's prison system is designed to handle a mere 33,700.
Some lawmakers and prison advocates are pushing Quinn to reinstate the MGT program to ease overcrowding and making unhealthy living conditions even worse.
"The decision to suspend Meritorious Good Time was the result of an election cycle political firestorm. Good time credits became widely and inaccurately described ... became the ammunition for political attacks between Illinois candidates and branches of government in 2009 and 2010," Malcolm Young, director of prison re-entry strategies at Northwestern University law school's Bluhm Legal Clinic, told an Illinois House Criminal Law Committee meeting in downtown Chicago on Wednesday.
Young supports passage of House Bill 3899 that would reinstate MGT. Chicago Democratic State Rep. Arthur Turner introduced the bill.
"It provides a reasoned, manageable, beneficial framework or approach to the challenge of implementing the good conduct program. It's an approach that would alleviate today's prison crowding crisis and accomplish other public policy goals," Young said.
Quinn's deputy chief of staff, Toni Irving, told the House committee that the old MGT law is no longer valid.
"The statute is outdated and at the time the statute was created, certain offenses that we now consider violent, i.e. DUI, can't be excluded," Irving said. "So, MGT as it currently exists isn't really a sound policy. It would require something brand new."
Irving added that Quinn is reviewing a similar bill introduced in the state Senate (SB2621) but is so far uncommitted to supporting it.
"We are certainly interested in working with the Legislature in making sure that we have a collaborative effort. I think it's super important that the legislature be very involved in this process since it's the legislature also determines the budget for the Department of Corrections and often times these things are linked to programs that are then defunded in the process," Irving said. "There has to be a connection between those two."
The push for early release of certain prisoners will grow if Quinn's plans to shut as many as 14 state juvenile prisons, several adult transition centers and a super max prison to save money as the state addresses budget issues.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman,File)
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