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Pleasant Plains is a small but prosperous town about 15 minutes northwest of Springfield. Its schools are all rated "commendable," and their test results outshine state averages in every subject.

Pleasant Plains is a small but prosperous town about 15 minutes northwest of Springfield. Its schools are all rated “commendable,” and their test results outshine state averages in every subject.

And yet, in March, the high school principal, Luke Brooks, asked Illinois lawmakers to stop requiring algebra.

Last year, a school nurse in East Moline faced a moral dilemma when a diabetic student lost consciousness in her office. Now she’s trying to make sure no other school nurse has to face the same tough choice.

Low blood sugar can usually be cured with orange juice and a granola bar. But those snacks and glucose tabs weren’t helping the 7th grader sitting in Jennifer Jacobs’ office.

“Her blood sugar kept falling, and we kept pushing the snacks,” Jacobs says.

Almost two years after Illinois overhauled its school funding formula, educators are still trying to tie up a few loose ends that got overlooked in the 540-page legislation. One of those loose ends omitted funding for about 7,000 students.

Those kids are the ones who need what's called "alternative school," because they've struggled with discipline or truancy, and fallen behind. Many alternative schools are run by regional offices, rather than traditional school districts. And those regional offices weren't incorporated in the overhaul plan.

In highly politicized times such as these, teachers are often warned to remain neutral in the classroom. But at a public primary school in Kewanee, Illinois, one art teacher is showing kids it’s their duty to speak out about injustices.

Perry Cline’s story is a remarkable one. He’s a formerly incarcerated 51-year-old man who overcame the odds to graduate from the University of Illinois last month.

New Illinois Laws in 2019

Jan 2, 2019

State lawmakers approved hundreds of changes that are now Illinois law.

Guns, hemp, and stalking are among the themes of the more than 250 new Illinois laws signed by Governor Bruce Rauner that took effect on New Year’s Day.

We took a look at some of the biggest changes to come out of Springfield in the past year, and how they'll affect life in the Prairie State in 2019.

A national survey this past year showed how in the dark many people are when it comes to understanding who runs their state government and what they’re up to.

A new report says Illinois lacks comprehensive guidelines when it comes to dealing with sexual misconduct cases in elementary and high schools.

Rich Egger

After years of studies and planning, the Macomb School District officially announced it will build a new middle school. The school will be built on a nearly nine-acre site just south of the high school. The district is buying the land from Maple Avenue Christian Church for $160,000.

The Illinois State Board of Education has unveiled a new labeling system for schools, with roughly 550 Illinois schools now being tagged "under-performing," and another 200 called "lowest performing."

Preschool is a key part of building a solid foundation for lifelong learning, some experts even say it’s 

Access to high-speed internet stops about seven miles east of both Nippersink School District 2 and Richmond-Burton Community High School District 157, according to Tom Lind. He’s the superintendent of both districts, located near the border of Wisconsin —  about 70 miles northwest of Chicago.

Severe Teacher Shortage in Western Illinois

Sep 13, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

Even though the new school year is underway, many school districts in the region are still trying to hire teachers. Regional Superintendent of Education John Meixner said almost every district downstate has struggled to fill vacant teaching positions.

Rauner Vetoes Teacher $40K Minimum Salary Bill

Aug 28, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill last weekend that would have raised the minimum salary for Illinois public school teachers to $40,000 by 2022. In his veto message, Rauner wrote that legislation isn’t the best way to raise teacher pay.

Online Learning Can Open Doors For Kids In Juvenile Jails

Aug 13, 2018

But the quality of online coursework is one of many concerns for advocates.

In the Farrington school district, near Mount Vernon, a new teacher makes less than $29,000 — even with a master’s degree. Farrington is one of the lowest-paying districts, but state officials say some 7,000 teachers statewide makes less than $40,000.

A new state law just approved by the legislature would change that.

One of the biggest changes Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed in today's budget address is making local school districts bear the costs of teacher pensions.

Illinois State Board of Education / Facebook

Last August, when Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the historic school funding reform plan, the celebration was like the political version of a wedding. Lawmakers from both parties got dressed up, made lovely speeches, and posed for pictures next to that one cousin they never really liked.

Rich Egger

The West Prairie School District’s latest Impact 103 community engagement forum focused on the district's finances and facilities.  Earlier sessions focused on the community's concerns about the school district and the condition of the district's buildings.

Brian Mackey

If you have seen Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s campaign commercials, you might think the school funding issue was settled last summer. But as often happens with complex legislation, it was followed by a "trailer" bill cleaning up some technical language.

Rich Egger

The West Prairie School District hired Farnsworth Group, which is a national design firm, to assess the condition of its four school buildings plus the district office and bus garage.  The review was done as part of the Impact 103 Community Engagement Program in which district leaders are asking residents to help them create a long-range vision for the school system.

The debate over school funding dominated much of the legislative session, and concluded with a compromise plan designed to send more state funds to the neediest districts. But so far, those districts haven't gotten any extra funds.

Rich Egger

The West Prairie District 103 Board of Education is working to address challenges and create a vision for the coming years, and it is asking for help from the public.

Illinois’ new school funding plan — approved in August and hailed as a historic change — relies on the legislature to give every school the same state aid it got last year, plus push another $350 million through a new formula. That $350 million is crucial because it’s the part designed to address the inequity that has plagued Illinois schools for decades.

 

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, a Democrat from Shorewood, wants to make sure lawmakers don't skip that step.

Teacher Shortage Felt in Western Illinois

Sep 5, 2017
NPR Illinois

Many students and teachers across Illinois are settling into their new routines as the school year gets underway. But some classrooms remain in flux due to a shortage of teachers.

Rich Egger

The superintendent of the Macomb School District told Tri States Public Radio that a new middle school will be built with or without the Community First project.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been drumming up opposition to the Democrats' new school funding plan, known as Senate Bill 1, by touting how much more money each district would receive under his plan. He points to Elgin U-46, the state’s second largest school district, as the biggest winner: That northwest suburban district would gain about $15 million if lawmakers approve Rauner’s amendatory veto.

So that district's CEO, Tony Sanders, must be rooting for Rauner's plan, right?

 

Wrong.

Carter Staley/NPR Illinois

Between a new state pension plan and Governor Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of the Democrats' school funding plan, some school districts would be in for a big hit in July 2020. The two changes would have a particularly significant impact on districts with high rates of teacher turnover and declining enrollment.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Illinois school districts are due to receive state funds Aug. 10, but that can't happen until lawmakers either override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of Senate Bill 1 or come up with some other plan he will sign.

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