News Clips - July 16-23, 2004
Marathon on budget in last leg Chicago Tribune
Malpractice issue 1 of side issues still unresolved
Ray Long and Christi Parsons,
SPRINGFIELD -- Lawmakers return here Friday for what they hope will be the end of a spring session that dragged on long into summer as agreement on a state spending plan was held hostage for weeks by political jealousies and competing fiscal agendas.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders reached tentative agreement on a new budget Tuesday--three weeks into the fiscal year--and a standoff over side issues such as how to reform medical malpractice laws may still get in the way of a quick and final resolution.
If lawmakers do approve the budget deal this weekend, it would increase
education funding for elementary and high schools and keep open prisons
Many state agencies would see across-the-board cuts of up to 4 percent from the level the governor proposed in February, potentially compounding problems for health and social-service programs that had already absorbed budget cuts over the last few years. But a handful of programs and agencies--most notably schools, the General Assembly and the offices of the governor, attorney general and other statewide officers--will be spared from the cuts.
A severance package also would be offered to state employees in hopes of lowering the number of state workers by about 3,000--a move aimed at bringing the workforce under 60,000 for the first time in decades.
"We played an extra-inning game here," Blagojevich said.
"But the people of
Overall, the governor said, the budget proposal includes $500 million more in operating funds than were authorized in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30. That still would be $400 million less than Blagojevich wanted.
The budget proposal, which totals about $43 billion, does not address more than $10 billion in a variety of capital programs ranging from road and school construction to legislative pork-barrel projects and the governor's pet Opportunity Returns program to promote local economic development. By agreement, the governor and Republican and Democratic leaders put off many of those decisions until after the November elections.
One of the biggest disputes in the protracted budget battle was over how to close an estimated $2.3 billion deficit.
Bridging the considerable differences over the budget was made more difficult by the intense disdain that many of the key players in the negotiations displayed for each other.
The ease with which Blagojevich won approval of his first budget last year was supplanted by a new dynamic, involving intraparty enmity and cross-party alliance.
The Democratic governor and Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) became steadfast allies in a budget battle with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the state Democratic Party chairman, that was intensified by bruised egos and obvious personal disdain.
Madigan, meanwhile, paired up with the legislature's two Republican
leaders, Sen. Frank Watson of
1-party rule failed
Even though the governor's office and the two houses were controlled by Democrats for the first time in a generation, the one-party rule failed to send the governor a budget by the end of May.
Jones and Blagojevich pushed a budget bill through the Senate, but the speaker refused to go along, saying it was out of balance. At that point, Republicans, the minority party in both chambers, gained a voice because the state Constitution requires that any budget action after May 31 requires a three-fifths vote.
In the end, less than half of the $400 million in business tax hikes
that Blagojevich wanted remain in the final package. Those changes,
which he called closure of "loopholes," would range from enacting
new ways to calculate income taxes on business to preventing Illinois-based
companies from setting up shell corporations in places like
Blagojevich and Jones had sought to inject $400 million in additional money into the billions the state already disburses to public schools, but settled for a little less. They also wanted to use most of that additional money to substantially increase the floor on per pupil spending at public schools, but agreed to a more modest hike.
The tradeoff placated Republicans, who wanted to steer a share of the new money into programs that tend to benefit the suburbs more, such as special education and transportation.
The budget deal also includes increases for bilingual education and early childhood education, a program pushed hard by the governor.
While the hike is heralded as good news for school districts that make heavy use of those programs, some school officials are concerned about another part of the tentative budget that would cut money for some student assessment tests.
State Supt. Robert Schiller sent an urgent letter to other educators Thursday warning that the proposal would eliminate some important tests and might cause schools to put less emphasis on writing, social studies, fine arts and physical education as a result.
"I know that if I was still a district superintendent and was forced to choose how my limited amount of dollars and resources were to be used, I would be tempted to no longer put the time and effort into teaching subject areas where my students would not [be] assessed," Schiller wrote.
In the prolonged negotiations, legislative leaders fought successfully
to keep open prisons that Blagojevich had sought to close in
For consumers, the private sale of boats worth between $12,000 and $3 million would be taxed under the proposal, a move that eliminates a longtime exemption.
A state fee imposed on drunken drivers would be raised from $100 to $500. A late fee would be assessed on people who are tardy paying for their vehicle stickers.
In an interview on WGN radio Thursday, Madigan said that the budget deal satisfied his goals of reining in state borrowing and spending.
"I'm not going to characterize that the governor lost," Madigan said. "I think it was a good learning experience for the governor.
"In his first year, he went through a honeymoon period, but some reality was brought into the negotiations in this particular session," Madigan said. "And I think that when we finish this, I think the governor will step back, he'll reflect and he'll say, `You know, I learned a lot about state government. I learned a lot about working with everybody that's in the Capitol building.'"
Key points in the proposed
- Provide $390 million in new funding for grade and high schools*
- Expand KidCare and Family Care to cover an additional 20,000 children and 56,000 adults
- Reduce state agency budgets by $1.3 billion, excluding education and health care
- Defer funding for economic development and job creation program until November
- Reduce state workforce to under 60,000 through a severance package
- Close some corporate loopholes through business tax increases
Zhanda Malone, Edwardsville Intelligencer,
Will aid school report card accuracy
The Illinois State Board of Education recently approved a three-year project that will greatly enhance the data collection process of student information at the district level resulting in more accurate information being submitted to the state for school annual report cards.
Known as the Student Information System, ISBE in conjunction with IBM will develop and implement the tracking system that will help districts to provide more accurate student information for state assessments used for the Report Card.
"SIS has been in the planning stages for several years and is finally coming to fruition," said State Superintendent of Education Robert Schiller. "With the requirements that NCLB places on states and schools, this will help all of us improve the process of data collection related to each of our students."
According to Schiller, the SIS system is yet another major portion of the agency's initiative to create more processes which are completely electronic and paperless, resulting in greater efficiency.
SIS promises to offer several benefits including:
- Reducing the burden of repeated data collection by schools and districts;
- Enhancing the use of state data by schools and districts;
- Improving the accuracy and quality of information gathered from schools and districts;
- Enable ISBE to respond to the accountability and reporting requirement of N0 Child Left Behind, and other federal and state mandates; and
"ISBE and everyone involved are well aware of the magnitude of this project," Schiller said. "We are all committed to maintaining the privacy, confidentially and security of student information. Local involvement in all design, development and implementation decisions will be critical to the project's success."
Phase I of the project (school year 2004-05), will involve two pilot projects with a consortium of selected districts, venders that support their local student information systems, ISBE Student Assessment staff, and ISBE testing contractors.
Phase II (school year 2005-06) will expand Phase I activities statewide, building on the lessons and experiences gained during the Phase I pilots. Phase II (school year 2006-07) will focus on integrating existing special education and career and technical education student systems into the ISBE SIS, and building interfaces to other ISBE systems.
The contract with IBM over the next three years will cost $5.7 million and will be funded equally through state and federal sources.
A new study is the first look into state costs for the federal No Child Left Behind Act
Susan Essoyan, Star Bulletin,
Prepared by a Denver-based consulting firm, the report focused only on what it called "marginal, new costs" of the 2 1/2-year-old federal law, which requires states to set educational standards, measure performance and impose consequences on schools that fall short. The study is the first glimpse of the state's costs to comply with the federal law.
"I think the estimates are understated because we're looking at the process without looking at how do we achieve the results," Board of Education Chairman Breene Harimoto said. "That has to be factored in somehow to complete the picture."
Augenblick, Palaich & Associates Inc., a nationally known firm that works with state policy-makers on education finance issues, prepared the study, "Estimating the New, Marginal Costs of NCLB in Hawaii," for the Hawaii Educational Policy Center on a $50,000 contract paid by the Department of Education.
The firm predicts that 162 of the state's 282 public schools will be rated low-performing under federal guidelines when test results come out this fall. By 2008, as students must meet ever-higher academic targets, that number is expected to jump to 237 schools. Low-performing schools are required to offer tutoring or transfers to students, adopt new academic programs and, ultimately, replace staff.
Department of Education administrators are handling No Child Left Behind tasks on top of their regular jobs, putting in long days and risking burning out, said John Augenblick, lead author of the report.
"They're not getting paid for it," he said, "but it is a cost. It was not just an isolated person or two working 10- or 12-hour days. It was everybody. People are working very hard. At some point you're going to have to address that question."
Big-ticket items in the $30 million cost for the last school year include school improvement programs, standards and assessment, and data management. The amount is projected at nearly $34 million by 2007. That works out to about $175 per student in the system.
Rep. Guy Ontai (R, Waipahu-Mililani) said he was encouraged that the cost figures were not higher.
"The numbers are much more comforting than some of the rhetoric," he said. "The fact that it's costing an additional $25 (million) to $30 million a year, to me, makes ludicrous the suggestion of my colleagues a couple of years back that asked the DOE to consider dropping (federal) Title I funds so that they don't have to comply with No Child Left Behind."
He added, "I've been staunchly behind this program because I think the DOE has been moving too slowly toward accountability."
Last school year, the department received about $36 million in federal Title I money, which is targeted to high-poverty schools, and it expects $43 million this year, according to Elaine Takenaka, educational administrative services director. But starting this school year, non-Title I schools will be identified as needing help under No Child Left Behind, as well.
"If we are to treat all schools equitably, we definitely need more money," Takenaka said. "For the current group of schools, we are struggling already."
Title I money goes toward school improvement and staff training programs on campuses, not the broader No Child Left Behind administrative tasks reflected in the report.
Rhonda Robinson, The Illinois Leader
SPRINGFIELD -- As public forums continue this week throughout the state, more concerns are emerging as parents learn of a new mental health screening plan for Illinois' children ages zero through 18 and pregnant women.
“Children’s Mental Health: An Urgent Priority for Illinois,” the 53
page report in which The Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003 is based
upon details a vast new bureaucracy which st
Sighting early intervention as key to academic success and crime prevention,
this new law, if enacted according to current recommendations, would
also require all pregnant women to be screened prior to delivery for
“This is a major piece of legislation,” Mike Burke, Ounce of Prevention's
director of communications told IllinoisLeader.com. “We know that behavior
is shaped in the early years, and that emotional well being is affected
by complications with birth. This act forces
The Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003 requi
Screenings, testing, and treatments are to be offered in homes, pre-schools, daycare, and throughout the public school system. A child over the age of 12 will be provided two mental health sessions without parental consent.
This Act creates a “Children’s Mental Health Partnership” that reports
directly to the Governor. It requi
All Illinois School districts are required to develop a policy incorporating
emotional and social development into the district’s educational program.
This policy is to be submitted to the ISBE by
The report states the policy the schools adopt should add
It also says that the program will monitor school systems’ collecting
and reporting of information about student prog
Funding to implement these policies are not outlined fully in the report.
The report acknowledges that mental health in Illinois is severely under funded, and children’s mental health can “hardly be called a system” and yet, this massive creation of a new bureaucracy which expands it’s reach to pregnant women, infants and eighteen year olds, in it’s current form, is laden with unfunded mandates for the school system and a host of other agency currently offering services to Illinois children.
The Department of Human Services es
Public hearings will be in
Judge Bonnie Wheaton ruled that the district was justified in its decision
"Her decision supports the board determination that expulsion was warranted and serious acts of misconduct were committed," said district spokeswoman Peg Mannion.
The district expelled Ahmed in March, after they learned that copies of the advanced-placement calculus examination had been passed out to students. Officials said someone hacked into a school computer and stole copies of the midterm.
Ahmed's family, who filed a petition asking the court to evaluate the district's decision, continues to maintain the Bloomingdale teenager's innocence and plans to appeal the judge's decision within the next 30 days.
Steve Glink, Ahmed's attorney, said that, although the judge ruled in the school's favor, she also said that "the punishment was too harsh, but the law does not give her the option to change it if she does not agree."
Nine students were suspended in connection with the incident, but Ahmed, who bypassed the advanced-placement calculus class for a higher-level math course, was the only student expelled.
"Ibrahim is not getting benefits out of any of those things. If someone was to commit a crime wouldn't they get some benefit out of it?" said his father, Muhammad Ahmed, whose son received a perfect score on the math portion of his ACT and had no prior disciplinary problems at school.
Without a high school diploma, Ahmed, who only needs a half-credit course and a physical-education class to graduate, will be unable to attend college in the fall. His expulsion lasts until next January.
"In this case, it's not so much the length of the expulsion as the effect of it," said Glink.
"We're planning on working with the local (Veterans of Foreign
Wars) chapter to try to come up with something that is appropriate,"
Superintendent Brent Clark said. "We would like to have some sort
of tasteful and
"The last thing we want to do is overlook someone,"
Bob Gardner, a spokesman for the VFW's
"It's mission impossible to find all those names if you're talking
about World War II,"
But he said now would be a good
"We're in a two-three year project on the East campus doing landscaping
and renovating the central terrace,"
The claims, filed last week by the district's legal counsel, Hinshaw & Culbertson, say the student in the complaint, 15-year-old Lindsey Bunch, made false statements to the media about a Feb. 3 incident at Jefferson High School involving Vice Principal Larry Smith and those statements "impute the commission of a crime and prejudice (Smith) in his profession."
In her lawsuit, Bunch says Smith touched her inappropriately while conducting a search of her person. She said the search including a pat-down of her breasts, crotch and buttocks.
Lawyers for Smith and the
They are seeking monetary damages of an unspecified amount for harm done to Smith's reputation, and attorney's fees and penalties against Bunch's lawyer, Rene Hernandez, for making "outrageous claims" against the district ... "without having performed a reasonable investigation."
Bunch's lawsuit seeks $200,000 or more for illegal search and seizure, battery, failure to train and allowing the custom of opposite-sex searches.
Parties are due back in federal court in
Guardian drops suit over fees against
Another lawsuit against a school district, this one concerning the allocation of federal and state-mandated fee waivers, has been voluntarily withdrawn by the woman who filed it last year.
Linda Young, the guardian of her grandkids, filed the suit against
Her lawsuit asked for $100,000 in damages and a ruling that the district provide appropriate notice to all parents and guardians about their rights to have fees waived.
All public schools are required by law to have fee-waiver policies and notify parents of the policy. When Young filed her lawsuit, district leaders admitted that their policy needed work.
Young said her grandchildren's fees are waived now, and the district
is working on its policy. She dropped her lawsuit in April and has one
year from that
"I'm going to watch and see what happens when school starts this year," Young said. "This has never been about the money. I want to be sure that kids aren't being deprived of things, not signing up or not going to things because their parents can't afford it and they don't know about the waivers."
Mold removal scam alleged in Connecticut
Source: American Federation of Teachers
Remodeling underway at
Illinois State Board of Education