Manar optimistic for change this year
VIRDEN – A broken school funding system is cheating North Mac students out of educational resources and opportunities and needs to be changed, state Senator Andy Manar told a crowd Monday that turned out for a town hall meeting hosted by the North Mac School Board.
“Right now the state is failing our students,” Manar said. “We need a complete overhaul to bring funding and resources to schools and students who need them.”
Manar, who’s leading efforts in the General Assembly to modernize how the state funds schools, outlined what a new system should look like. The guiding principle, he said, is that funding should target students and schools who need it the most for instance, those serving high numbers of low-income students, students with special needs and other key education and cost factors.
Local officials joined Manar in calling for sweeping changes to the outdated system now in place.
“The North Mac Schools have been hit hard financially by the inequitable education funding formula and recent state cuts. We’ve been forced to cut 38 staff and teaching positions and increase class sizes. We’ve also delayed educational improvements and building renovations to ensure the financial survival of the district,” said North Mac School Board President Robyn Hays.
Manar is hopeful that a new education funding system, one that would recognize North Mac’s educational and financial needs, will be approved this year in Springfield.
CHICAGO—Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) issued the following statement in strong support of Senate President John Cullerton’s speech detailing the necessity for need-based school funding reform Monday at the City Club of Chicago.
“Just as President Cullerton expressed so eloquently today, we must continue to shed light on one of the grossest injustices setting back Illinois today – the iniquities of our school funding system. Working together is the only way we turn our education system’s regression into progression. It’s the only way we turn systemic disadvantage into education equity. If we don’t act now in the interest of our children’s futures, it will be too late for another generation, and this, we cannot afford.” Sen. Lightford said.
Senate President John Cullerton addressed the Chicago City Club today. Cullerton’s speech focused on education funding reform as a priority for legislature. State Senator Napoleon Harris (D-Harvey) reacted to the speech with the following:
“Affording children a quality education has been one of my priorities since becoming a state senator. I applaud President Cullerton for focusing on the issue in his City Club speech today. I’m currently working with Senator Andy Manar to produce legislation that would secure a fair, adequate and well-funded education for all children,” State Senator Napoleon Harris (D-Harvey) said. “Our education funding formula doesn’t work, and it’s hurting the poorest kids in our state. We can’t continue to ignore this issue. Our state’s future is at stake.”
CHICAGO—State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) issued the following statement in support of Senate President John Cullerton’s speech detailing the necessity for need-based school funding reform Monday at the City Club of Chicago.
"Solving our school funding crisis isn't just a downstate problem or a Chicago problem or a suburban problem. The rampant inequity in our public schools affects every community in Illinois.
“I appreciate Senate President Cullerton’s strong call today for a statewide solution to this statewide challenge. The time has come for Governor Rauner and the General Assembly to take decisive action to end the least equitable system in America," Manar said.
Senate President John Cullerton on Monday called Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation school funding formula the defining crisis of our time and challenged Gov. Bruce Rauner to turn around Illinois by making fair funding for schools his top priority.
Cullerton outlined the problems with Illinois’ school-funding formula during a sold-out speech at the City Club of Chicago, whose members include prominent civic, business and government leaders.
“Our students, parents, teachers and taxpayers are tired of the bickering, tired of the impasse,” Cullerton said. “They’re looking for leaders with the courage to step beyond the status quo and do what’s right. Today I’m asking my colleagues to take that step.”
Illinois has not updated its school funding formula since 1997. The system has resulted in striking inequities across Illinois’ school districts, rewarding wealthier communities and penalizing impoverished communities where students need more resources to succeed.
In addition, Illinois covers barely a third of the total cost of public education, while most states cover half.
As a result, the performance gap that divides rich and poor students, as well as students of color, ranks among the worst in the nation. Illinois is 42nd in terms of the gap in reading scores among these students, and it falls among the bottom 10 in the achievement gap between black and white students.
Cullerton said Illinois leaders must ask themselves two questions: How much are we going to spend on education, and how are we going to spend it?
“If the money isn’t going to help students in need, it doesn’t really matter how much we spend,” he said. “That’s why our funding formula needs to be overhauled.”
To level the playing field among schools, Cullerton said a new funding approach must include some key principles:
Cullerton noted that no one wants any school district to lose money. But in Illinois’ system of winning and losing school districts, there are far too many losers.
“There’s a reason why the current school funding formula has been in place for two decades. It’s hard to change an entrenched status quo. It requires true, dedicated leadership,” Cullerton said. “The question is whether today’s leaders are up to the task.”
Download the Senate President's City Club remarks Download the slides from the Senate President's presentation
TAYLORVILLE – Illinois’ outdated, unfair system of school funding is forcing Taylorville public schools to consider laying off teachers and staff, consolidate schools and eliminate athletic programs. Taylorville Community Unit School District 3 is faced with the challenge of cutting $680,000 from its budget under a state system that defunds downstate school districts.
State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), Representative Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) and Taylorville CUSD 3 Superintendent Gregg Fuerstenau spoke out for the need at a press conference at North Elementary School on Tuesday.
“The state is failing Taylorville. The school board and the district are doing everything they can to make due with less and have been taking extremely difficult financial decisions for years. Regardless of these savings the schools are being strangled by a funding system that has no connection to the realities of teaching students,” Manar said.
“We have great teachers and staff and provide our students with the best resources that we can afford. But we can only do so much under Illinois' unfair school funding structure. Our students are in desperate need of a balanced funding structure that treats down state students fairly. A student’s zip code should not matter,” Fuerstenau said.
“As a public school teacher for more than 30 years, I know firsthand how students are harmed by inadequate funding and resources," Scherer said.
"It’s a struggle for any teacher to give individualized attention to his or her students and meet each child’s unique needs. Research shows that large class size is the number one detriment to teaching and learning, and to backslide into large class sizes would only short students of many opportunities for growth. It is unconscionable for the state to do anything other than fairly and equally fund all schools, no matter where the students come from,” Scherer said.
The Illinois State Board of Education has recognized the district for its sound finances.
Taylorville teachers already take home smaller paychecks than the statewide average and the district’s administrative costs are within the lowest 10 percent of unit districts in the state.
To educate students, the school district can only afford to spend $7,163 dollars per student, well below the state average of $12,521. Students and teachers must also cope with above average class sizes.
The state has made minor improvements to increase funding to districts like Taylorville. This year’s state school budget set aside extra money for financially distressed school districts. Under this increase Taylorville schools receive an additional $53,000.
Despite increased funding and cost-cutting measures, the district is still facing the difficult decision to cut another $680,000.
Manar is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1, a complete overhaul of the state’s school funding system that prioritizes funding for school districts like Taylorville based on the needs of their students. Under the reform plan, Taylorville public schools could see an additional $1.07 million in annual state aid.
CHICAGO — On Jan. 1, prospective student-teachers in Illinois will be required to go through the same background check process as a regular teacher. Senate Bill 706, passed during the last session of the 99th General Assembly, improved the process of how to properly screen student-teacher candidates.
The legislation is the result of a multi-year discussion between Senator Bill Cunningham (D-18), the Illinois State Board of Education and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Currently in Illinois, student-teachers are required to get separate background checks for each school they teach at, which can create confusion for the student-teacher and the districts where they are placed to teach.
“Our first priority should be protecting our children while they are at school,” Cunningham said. “This law is a sustainable way to allow student teachers to get the on the job training they need while protecting our students.”
The legislation requires that student-teachers submit to a series of background checks, including a fingerprint-based criminal history check, a Statewide Sex Offender Database check along with a check of the Statewide Murderer and Violent Offender Databases. The Illinois State Police and FBI are also required to furnish any conviction records of prospective student teachers.
“This is about protecting our students from predators. If we want to keep excellent teachers in the classroom, we need a plan to both protect our future leaders and ensure our instructors are the best and safest,” Cunningham said.
The legislation passed both the Senate and the House and was signed by Gov. Rauner.
For other laws going into effect on Jan. 1, please visit the Illinois Senate Democrats’ website.
Deal provides new early childhood, administration, job training centers
AURORA — West Aurora School District 129 today announced its proposed new West Aurora School District Campus – a 15-acre site near the intersection of Galena Boulevard and Edgelawn Avenue on Aurora’s west side.
“The unique partnership demonstrates how high quality education offerings affect economic development and quality of life in the community,” said District 129 Superintendent Jeff Craig. “Most certainly, this investment from the District, the City of Aurora and Advocate Health will benefit West Aurora School District for generations to come.” The campus will be home to the district’s new Early Childhood Development Center, new district administration offices, and a new technical training center. The agreement comes 14 months after a capital needs referendum that identified early childhood and post-secondary training as areas to expand upon, Craig said. State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, assisted the district by bringing together representatives of Advocate and the school district.
“This is the result of government, business and school districts working together,” Holmes said. “Dreyer has been a member of the community for nearly a century and this is an investment in the community that will enrich education for generations of students to come.” Advocate Health Care will donate part of what is now the Dreyer Medical Clinic building at 1870 W. Galena Boulevard to house the district’s new Early Childhood Development Center. West Aurora Schools will purchase the facility for just $600,000. More than 1,000 students and their families will benefit from the center that will replace the Todd Early Childhood Center. “Advocate Dreyer has been an important part of the Aurora community for nearly 100 years and we are so pleased to build on our partnership and donate our building for such a worthy cause,” said Donna Cooper, President of Dreyer Medical Clinic and Chief Operating Officer of Advocate Medical Group. Advocate will begin the transition process to its new facility next spring. The new Early Childhood Development Center is expected to open for the 2018-19 school year. The West Aurora Board of Education also approved the purchase of the building immediately south of the clinic at 1877 W. Downer Place to house the district’s central administration. The current administration building is nearly a century old and in need of $800,000 in repairs. The move will place the district’s headquarters more conveniently. “This facility will enable more interaction with district administration and staff, students and parents,” said Craig. “We are being more cost efficient by transitioning into existing facilities as opposed to building brand new or investing in our current aging infrastructure.” The district expects to be fully operational in its new headquarters by the start of the 2016-17 school year. The City of Aurora will provide a $150,000 tax rebate to Advocate Dreyer, offsetting part of West Aurora Schools’ purchase of its new property. In exchange, the City will secure the current River Street administration building and seek redevelopment opportunities.
“This is a win-win-win for all involved because we know all too well the difficulties of repurposing medical buildings and special-use facilities like the current District 129 headquarters,” said Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner. “As a major employer, District 129 will provide immediate economic stability to the West Galena corridor, as the City works to put the current building back on the tax rolls. We are here today because District 129 parents and taxpayers chose to invest in Aurora’s most important resource – our children.” Finally, the school district announced the construction of a new technical training center on the campus that will provide opportunities for students to pursue dual credit classes, job-ready training and career certifications as a part of the Pathways to Prosperity initiative. Training available includes Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology, and Health Occupations services. This component is a result of many years of research and planning on the citywide Pathways to Prosperity initiative. Currently, West Aurora students are traveling nearly two hours each day to a training center 19 miles away in Maple Park. Groundbreaking for the tech center on the southwest corner of the new campus could happen as early as next summer. Complete plans for the proposed West Aurora School District Campus are available at www.sd129.org.
As Illinois students begin preparing for mid-terms, Chairman Pat McGuire (D-Crest Hill) assembled the Senate’s Higher Education Committee at Joliet Junior College to hear from students, parents and state community colleges and universities on the impact the current budget impasse is having on higher education in Illinois.“Time's a'wastin' - first semester already has started. Governor Rauner, get on board,” McGuire said. “Support MAP and higher education funding so Illinois high school graduates and returning adults can earn the knowledge and skills needed in today's economy to make our state strong again.”
CHICAGO – Senate President John J. Cullerton released the following statement regarding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2016 budget address.
“I join Mayor Emanuel in his efforts to both celebrate and protect our world-class city. We simply cannot ignore the painful reality that the city’s looming pension debt is threatening the financial stability of Chicago. In the coming days, city and state leaders will be calling on Chicagoans to accept the challenges and financial obligations that come with maintaining the progress of the city that is the economic engine of Illinois.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 40,000 suicides were reported in 2013. This places suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
September 6-12 is designated Suicide Prevention Week to help spread awareness about the severity of this issue and put a stop to the steady increase in yearly suicide rates.
The Illinois Senate recently passed legislation focused on preventing youth suicide, and it was signed into law on August 21. The sponsor of the legislation, Senator Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park), initiated the plan after a traumatic local experience.
With this year’s main session of the General Assembly over, Illinois has several new laws that could make a significant impact on your daily life.
If you have kids, enjoy after-work cocktails or are a veteran, you should definitely check out our list of the most important and interesting new laws that took effect this summer.
CHICAGO-In order to help students get prepared for the school year, State Senator William Delgado (D-Chicago) joined with local businesses to host a back to school health and education fair on Saturday, August 29. The event, hosted at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Hermosa, offered free school supplies, backpacks, flu shots, child identification cards, a dance fitness class and a wide variety of other services.
“I’m so glad I was able to give back to this community that has already given me so much,” Delgado said. “The families and children that joined us today are my neighbors and friends. The generosity that all of these vendors has shown for all of them is truly inspiring.”
"The 1st all kids back to school health and education fair was an initiative started by a concerned neighbor. Hair stylist and long-time Hermosa resident Sammy Soto came to Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center and Senator Delgado with a concrete plan to make this event a reality. It was very humbling to see the community coming together under the leadership of Senator Delgado, who immediately made this event a priority,” said Omar Torres-Kortright, executive director of Segundo Ruiz.
“His office went to work and secured sponsors and partners that provided free book bags, school supplies and medical services ranging from flu shots to dental, hearing and vision screenings. Sammy's Hair studio provided 100 free haircuts and Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center was happy to provide its 4500 sq ft facility, staff, volunteers and a dance and fitness class to complement the many resources already available. The event was a complete success and a clear example of what can be accomplished when public officials partner with local residents and arts organizations for the good of all children," Omar Torres-Kortright said.
SPRINGFIELD – Almost a year ago, a faulty exhaust pipe at North Mac Intermediate School in Girard sent 150 students and staff to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning. Since last September, the school has installed carbon monoxide detectors, but at the time there were none.
Legislation requiring schools to install carbon monoxide detectors was signed into law Thursday. State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) sponsored the proposal.
“Last year, Girard could have faced an unimaginably horrific tragedy. We have an obligation to protect children while at school and ensure something like this can’t happen again,” Manar said.
The law will require schools to install detectors within 20 feet of equipment that produce carbon monoxide. School buildings without carbon monoxide sources would be exempt.
“We always look for lessons learned, and installing the detectors was a preventative measure that we needed to take to assure everyone that our schools are safe from this threat,” said North Mac Superintendent Marica Cullen.
A similar incident occurred last October at Harper High School in Chicago when the school was evacuated and nine students were hospitalized.
State Representative Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) sponsored the proposal in the House.
The legislation was negotiated with the Illinois Association of School Boards and the Illinois School Management Alliance, which represent the interests of school administration in Springfield.
California, Connecticut and Maryland have similar requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in school buildings.
The new law, House Bill 152, takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.
SPRINGFIELD- Illinois high school graduates will now have a better understanding of state government. State Senator Tom Cullerton’s (D-Villa Park) initiative that would require a semester of civics to graduate high school was signed into law today. Illinois has joined 40 other states in requiring at least one civics course as a graduation requirement for high school graduates. Illinois high school students are already required to complete two years of social studies. The high school curriculum will change starting with the freshman class of 2016-2017 to simply require one semester of the existing two year requirement to include a civics course. “This is a big step toward engaging more people in the democratic process. Our goal is to give our young people the tools to make informed decisions and take an active role in government at all levels,” said Cullerton. The Illinois Task Force on Civic Education recommended that Illinois should require a civic education course for all high schools in Illinois. The class would focus on government institutions, current issues and discussions and simulations of the democratic process. Private funding will be provided to cover the costs associated with the implementation of the civics courses, such as professional development and other school needs. “We need to give our young people the tools to be civically responsible,” said Cullerton. “Our children are the future of our state and nation, we need them make sure they are involved in order to ensure this world a better place.” House Bill 4025 was signed into law on August 21 and goes into effect on January 1, 2016.
CHICAGO- After cuts proposed by the governor earlier this year threatened to shut down a majority of its operations The Children’s Place Association, a pre-K education facility, spent Thursday morning celebrating. State Senator William Delgado (D-Chicago) was in attendance as the facility and staff held a ceremony for their students’ graduation, as some of them will move up to Kindergarten.
Children’s Place provides a wide variety of services to over 70 children a day. Most of whom come from low income families affected by debilitating diseases and disabilities including autism, HIV, heart ailments, epilepsy, spina bifida and hydrocephalus. For many of the children, this is the only early education facility they can attend due to their illness.
SPRINGFIELD – Residents of Illinois who have been convicted of minor drug or sex offenses but have worked to turn their lives around may now have the opportunity to become educators in the state thanks to a new law sponsored by State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago 5th).
The new law, proposed by the Illinois State Board of Education and Cabrini Green Legal Aid, to limit the types of convictions that would automatically disqualify individuals from employment within a school district, disqualify individuals from obtaining an educator’s license or result in revocation of an educator’s license.
House Bill 494 states that persons convicted of possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis as well as those convicted of misdemeanor public indecency and prostitution will not be automatically disqualified for school district employment or obtaining licensing. The legislation also allows convicted drug offenders who have turned their lives around to apply for employment and licensing after seven years without committing new offenses.
“Barring those who have made mistakes in their lives from gainful employment puts an undue burden on families and communities. By allowing those who have paid their debts to society a second chance, we are opening up opportunities to turn lives around and rebuild our communities,” Senator Van Pelt said.
The new law was co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans and was promoted by the State Board of Education, along with other community stakeholders.
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