Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Federal government fails their special education funding

The veto session discussion over a proposed school funding revamp overlooked one little thing. The federal government is obligated to fund 40 percent of special education in Illinois but contributes only 16 percent.

 The committee hearing about Senate Bill 16 put a spotlight on that problem.

“Part of the issue why I slowed down Senate Bill 16,” said State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), the chairwoman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, “is the inadequacy for the special ed community in Illinois. It's unbelievable that we’ve never had that discussion with our fellow congressmen at the federal level and why we’re not getting those dollars. That’s not OK,” she added in her remarks to staff members of the Illinois State Board of Education, as if there were any doubt as to her views.

 The bill, which passed the Senate in the spring, is meant to make more of elementary and secondary education funding need-based.

It’s not being called in the House without changes, Chapa LaVia said.

Food banks getting an upgrade with state funds

Eight food banks serving Illinois are getting an upgrade using state funds.

Nearly $4.5 million will go to regional food banks so they can upgrade their computer systems and cut down on paper record keeping. Gov. Pat Quinn says the benefits of this investment will trickle down to the thousands of food pantries in the state.

“You can go to any part of our state, and there are going to be food pantries,” Quinn said. “It’s important that we make sure that our food pantries and our food banks that supply those pantries are 21st century ready.”

Several food pantries around Chicago tested out the new system, and determined it would lower their costs and help them provide better service.

The food banks receiving the funds are located in Chicago, Springfield, Urbana, Geneva, Peoria, and Moline, as well as two food banks in Indiana and Missouri that serve parts of Illinois.

A small kitchen can pose problems cooking a large holiday dinner

Cooking a Thanksgiving meal in a small kitchen is a challenge that can be overcome with careful choreography.

Dana Wheeler is a culinary instructor at Danville Area Community College, and a former caterer in Danville, so she knows her way around a commercial kitchen. She says when it comes to something this complex in a home kitchen, make a list.

“When you write your list, put it in appropriate order so that you can mark it off as you go along, keeping things in mind of how to keep things hot or how to finish things off, or how many burners you have on top of the stove to use, or can you warm it up in the microwave once it’s prepared or different things like that,” she said.

She says if you take the turkey out early, it’ll help the juices flow back into the meat, and you can then use the oven to finish or heat up other dishes.

Don't forget the Flyer's Bill of Rights

If “over the river and through the woods” means “wait in line, take off your shoes, and sit on the tarmac,” the Illinois Public Interest Research Group wants to inform you on the subject of rights: the Flyers’ Bill of Rights.

 “These are things such as not being stuck on the tarmac for too long, or (without) medical attention, food and water,” says Abe Scarr, director of Illinois PIRG, “or the right to be reimbursed if your travel is delayed, or your luggage is delayed or lost.”

Flying before the terrorist attacks of 2001 was no picnic, either – Scarr says airline deregulation could be the cause of more air travel angst than 21st Century security.

Obama's immigration tour comes to Illinois

President Obama’s tour to gather support for his actions on immigration rolls through his home state.

 Speaking at a Polish-American community center in Chicago, Obama defended his actions as lawful and necessary considering how the Republican-controlled House has refused to vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. He says his executive actions are meant only as a temporary solution.

“The day I sign a comprehensive immigration bill into law, then the actions I take will no longer be necessary,” Obama said. “But in the meantime, I’m going to do what I can to make this system work better. And in the meantime, Washington shouldn’t let disagreements over one issue be a deal breaker on every issue.”

Obama went on to say that Republicans in Congress shouldn’t attempt another government shutdown in response to his actions, but instead he recommended the same remedy from his televised speech last week: passing the Senate immigration bill.

Obama was interrupted during his speech by people upset that his actions didn’t go far enough. Obama responded by admitting there have been“significant numbers of deportations” during his presidency, but said that’s part of the reason he acted on the issue.

More patrols by law enforcement during the holiday weekend

You know the drill. Click it or ticket. Drive sober or get pulled over. Slow down or change lanes when someone's on the shoulder.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Police are reminding everyone to do their part to keep traffic fatalities low. The state's highway death count remains short of 1,000, and IDOT and the State Police want to keep it that way.

“During the holiday weekend, Illinois State Police will increase patrols to help make roads safer for the holiday travelers,” said Trooper Emanuel Edwards. “Troopers will focus on identifying impaired drivers, distracted driving, and will be enforcing speed, seat belt, and move over laws.”

“When we get in our vehicles, we should choose to buckle up, to put our children in those child safety seats, to put our cell phones in the glove box, and we must choose not to drive if we've been drinking,” added Melissa Schaive, the occupant protection coordinator for IDOT. “It's as simple as that.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

New lotto ticket will benefit Illinois veterans

A new lottery ticket is going on sale to help Illinois veterans.

All the proceeds from the newest $2 Veterans Cash scratch-off ticket are distributed to veterans’ organizations, focusing on services like job training and long-term medical care.

Gov. Pat Quinn feels buying a ticket is a win-win scenario. “We all win in Illinois, we help those service members that have answered the call to duty,” Quinn said. “It’s important we take good care of those who have borne the battle.”

The governor’s office says more than 240 statewide groups have received money from the game since it was first launched in 2006.

Ag Madigan says the state will appeal the pension reform ruling

The state will be appealing the circuit court ruling on pension reform.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office will be filing an appeal shortly, asking for an expedited hearing before the Illinois Supreme Court. Madigan says a showdown before the higher court was expected.

 “No matter what it was going to end up before the Illinois Supreme Court,” Madigan said. “I think everybody’s known that since this started.”

Despite the circuit court ruling the law is unconstitutional, Madigan doesn’t anticipate her strategy for defending the law will change.

“No, we think we have a very strong argument, and we will make that argument to the Illinois Supreme Court,” Madigan said.

If the court grants Madigan’s request for an expedited hearing, it could be held as early as the end of January.

So far road fatalities down this year

Fatalities on Illinois roads are down this year vs. last – but they’re making a comeback.

Fatalities stand at 822, which is 85 fewer than at this time last year, and it’s possible to finish the year under 900, if people put their phones down and take other safety measures, says State Police Lt. David Byrd.

“The motoring public has to really do their part for their own safety, so please buckle up, please do not drink and drive, and then you have to reduce your speeds. I think if everyone does their part, that number is attainable,” he said.

Early in the year, the number of fatalities was way down, with full-year extrapolations coming in in the 600s. The pace has quickened, with Byrd placing most of the blame on drunk drivers.

Totals in recent years have been in the 900s.

New U of I president from across the pond

The incoming president of the University of Illinois comes from an accomplished family.

Timothy Killeen comes here from the State University of New York, and he spent two decades at the University of Michigan. So where’d he get that funny accent?

“I grew up in Wales, and then I went to college in London. My father worked in business, but he had been formerly a lecturer at the University of Birmingham,” he said. And his mother was a doctor.

“I learned after she passed away that she was the second woman M.D. to be qualified to be a doctor in Wales. I kind of felt proud about that,” he said.

Killeen says he has visited the Champaign campus many times and knows a lot about Illinois, but is not yet ready to be quizzed about the finer points.

Preparing 4th graders to read well a battle

Getting Illinois fourth-graders to be proficient at reading is a battle.

Proficient means the kids can read to learn; the reading itself is no longer a struggle, and being proficient by fourth grade is a good indication of how students will do for the rest of their school career.

Robin Steans of the education group Advance Illinois says Illinois “inched up” from 33 percent in 2012 to 34 percent this year, in spite of tough times for school budgets, and an increasing student population from low-income families and those learning English as a second language.

“The fact that we were able to make gains, that’s really good news. It is worth celebrating. It is worth commenting on. And then the minute you’re done celebrating and commenting you’ve gotta look at that and say 34 percent – That’s not good enough,” she said.

Beneath that main statistic is the fact that the results are worse for minority kids – 14 percent for African-Americans and 18 percent for Latinos – though poverty affected the reading ability of students of all races.

 This information is contained in the Advance Illinois report The State We’re In: A Report Card on Public Education in Illinois.

Durbin plans on working well with new Republican govenor

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says he has had good relationships with Republican governors in the past, and the same should hold true for Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.

Durbin says the two have spoken since Rauner won the election. “He called me on the Wednesday after the election,” Durbin said. “We had a brief conversation, and I’m planning, once things settle down a little bit, to sit down with him and talk about his challenges and some ideas I might have.”

During Durbin’s 32 years in Congress, he has had to work with several Republican governors, and says he usually got along with Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar.

The only governor he didn’t get along with was from his own party, adding “and it wasn’t Pat Quinn.”

U.S. Sen. Mark S. Kirk (R-Ill.) says he’s hoping to arrange a lunch with Durbin, Rauner, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the near future.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scammers will be around more due to immigration reform

Immigration reform will bring out scammers, according to the Illinois attorney general’s office.

The scammers materialize anytime there’s a government program to apply for, and the deportation relief the president announced this week will be no different, the attorney general warns. Notarios, who are not lawyers, may purport to be able to offer assistance in navigating an arcane process, but you’ll end up paying large, up-front fees and getting little in the way of results, says Natalie Bauer of the attorney general’s office.

 “We really want to encourage people going straight to the source, so that’s the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services (, and that is legitimate, accredited organizations that provide immigration services.

People can find that information through the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (,” she said.

What the application process will be for deportation relief hasn’t been determined. Immigration service providers who aren’t lawyers must register with that office, and abide by rules under Illinois law:

  • They must provide consumers with a written contract in English and their native language
  • They must provide consumers with a three-day right to cancel the contract
  • They must return all documents to the consumer upon the demand.

Affordable Care Act decision could affect Illinois

A U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act could affect Illinois—unless the state sets up its own insurance marketplace.

The pending case questions whether the subsidies are legal in states relying on the federal insurance marketplace. Illinois is among those states, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says the best solution requires action from state legislators.

“We can absolve ourselves from any worry about that pending Supreme Court case by creating our own state marketplace,” Durbin said. “Many states have done it. I hope Illinois will do it.”

The court challenge is based on a sentence in the Affordable Care Act that seems to restrict federal subsidies to health care plans bought on state-run exchanges, which most states opted not to set up. Legislators have considered the idea before, with a bill passing the Illinois Senate but never being put up for a vote in the House.

Time was already a factor because federal grants for states setting up their own exchanges won’t be available after this year.

Oberweis advocates higher speed limits on all interstates

Higher speed limits are a thing in Illinois. State lawmakers are working to make it more so.

The Senate has overridden the governor’s vetoes of bills which would allow the 70 mph speed limit – already in effect on Downstate interstates – on the state’s tollway system. The tollway bill is sponsored by State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), burnishing his legacy as the father of the 70 mph speed limit in Illinois.

“That can save lives,” Oberweis argued. “Reducing the differential in speeds is the key element, and, as long as the traffic is moving at a closer level, it saves lives.”

The other veto overridden in the Senate involves truck speed limits. “It sets the maximum speed limit outside an urban district for … a truck interstate highway at 60 mph,” in rural areas of Cook and five nearby counties in the Chicago area, said sponsoring State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero).

“Let's make the will of the people the law of the land,” added Sandoval, sarcastically invoking one of the governor's catchphrases.

  • The override of the veto of SB 2015 (tollway speed) passed the Senate, 44-5-1.
  • The override of the veto of SB 930 (truck speed) passed the Senate, 54-0-3.
Both override attempts now go to the House.

Friday, November 21, 2014

GCMS Board of Education notes

The GCMS Board of Education met in a regular meeting on Tuesday, November 18th.
The following donations were approved:

  • $1000 - Youth Service America for Project Ignition
  • $250 - Anonymous for Project Ignition
  • $250 - Illinois Educators Credit Union for the high school language department
  • $250 - Atlas agency to the district
  • $2200 - Anonymous to high school basketball
  • $50 - Ron and Carol Bielfeldt to the GCMS FFA program
In other action, the resignation of Elizabeth Ertal as a teacher at GCMS was approved with thanks from the district for her service. The resignation is effective on November 25th, 2014.
The following volunteer coaches were approved:

  • Susan Riley for the high school scholastic bowl team
  • Cameron Schwing for the middle school wrestling program
A motion was approved to set the levy hearing for December 18th at 6 P-M at the unit office boardroom.

The Board discussed the early college and career academy with Parkland College. Seniors will be eligible the first year with juniors included thereafter. Transportation and fees were discussed and no further action was taken at this time.

The district's crisis plan was reviewed and it was found that most of the items on the list complied last year have been completed. All mandated drills have been completed at all three schools. The ALICE drill that included local law enforcement was completed at the high school.

This week is "School Board Appreciation Week" with superintendent Anthonly Galindo giving each board member a certificate of recogniton for their service to GCMS.

Susan Riley of the GCMS Interact Club thanked the Board for their support for their trip to Joplin, Missouri.