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Thousands of Illinois students get private school aid in new program’s first year

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Illinois’ program offering state tax credits for donations to help students go to private schools have given tuition assistance to thousands of students, but officials say the new program still faces challenges and opposition.

In its first year, the Invest in Kids program is going to help nearly 5,600 students with tuition assistance that will send them to a private school of their choosing. The program offers donors a 75 percent state tax credit. The money is then distributed to students who apply. Demand for tuition aid has outpaced donations. Empower Illinois, one of the organizations that distribute the money, said more than 30,000 students still are waiting for tuition assistance.

Empower Illinois Executive Director Anthony Holter said the students applying are saying that their local public school isn’t their ideal choice.

“Those are not best fits for their child and they want to seek another option, but can’t make that happen, or it’s very difficult to make that happen,” he said.

The program was passed as part of the sweeping school funding reform legislation that was signed into law last fall. At the time, Democrats cried foul on the addition of the program just before it was finalized.

Since January, the program brought in $44 million in donations, far short of the $100 million limit.

The money is split by regions of the state. Cook County, its own region, has secured $35 million in pledged donations. The rest of the state’s regions combined received less than $10 million.

“We are truly grateful to the donors of this program,” said Larry Daly, principal of St. Teresa High School in Decatur. “This program allows families in the Decatur area the option to choose the education that best fits their needs. For this, we are truly thankful.”

Even if supporters did hit the limit set by lawmakers, $100 million wouldn’t be enough to help every student who applied for a grant.

“We have demand that would far exceed the $100 million cap,” Holter said.

Empower has hired additional fundraisers in an effort to meet the demand. Money being donated up to the end of this year would go to a student for this school year.

Democrats have criticized the program, saying it uses state money that should go to public schools. If Democrat J.B. Pritzker is elected governor, he’s said he would end the program.

“It’s a top-of-mind thing for a lot of folks on the donor side as well as the parent side,” Holter said. “The fundraising can be a challenge when people are concerned whether or not they’ll get the deduction that was maybe a motivation for them in the first place.”

The program is otherwise set to expire in 2024.

The donations would not be fully deductible on federal filings, Holter said, because the 75 percent credit would have to be subtracted.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Illinois News Network, publisher of ILNews.org, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in the state of Illinois. INN is Illinois’ pioneering non-profit news brand, offering content from the statehouse and beyond to Illinoisans through their local media of choice and from their digital hub at ILNews.org. Springfield Daily was granted republishing permission by INN.

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Education

Illinois educators wary of bill to require metal detectors in every school

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image from the Sentinel-Echo

A group of Illinois lawmakers are promoting legislation that would use a combination of state, local and federal funds to put metal detectors in every school in the state, but some school leaders say it’s simply not feasible.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said students in schools should feel safe from gun violence when they’re learning. For that reason, the former teacher filed a bill that would require all public schools, K-12, have students walk through metal detectors everyday to get to class.

“Why is it that no one gets shot inside of Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 at O’Hare Airport?” he asked.

The bill would tap into federal funds made available this summer to partially pay for the walk-through detectors, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Regional Superintendent Mark Jontry, who oversees schools in DeWitt, Livingston, Logan and McLean Counties, said the idea is well-intentioned, but would result in a unfunded expenses for school districts and create logistical problems.

“Who’s going to be responsible for doing those screenings? Are districts going to be responsible for the cost of hiring additional personnel?” he said. “The concept, on the surface may seem like a good idea, but it presents a number of challenges once you dig into it.”

The detectors would have to be run by a trained professional and need regular servicing and calibration to ensure they work properly. Jontry said such costs would likely fall to local taxpayers.

Ben Schwarm, deputy director with the Illinois Association of School Boards, served on a working group with the Illinois Terrorism Task Force. The law enforcement contingent of the group had a hierarchy of actions that could be taken to “harden” schools from unwanted entry. Schwarm said metal detectors were last on that list.

“It’s just not that effective,” he said. “There’s a thousand things school districts should be doing before they get to that point.”

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Education

Illinois unveiling a new model of accountability to divvy up federal money for schools

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Illinois’ education officials are set to unveil new metrics that will decide how much local school districts could receive in federal school improvement funds.

Using the new support and accountability model that’s planned to be released at the end of the month, schools that are struggling could receive $150,000 in Title I federal funds for school improvement, plus additional funds based on enrollment and state and local funding levels in the current school year. Some of those funds would have already been distributed earlier this year, officials said.

Rae Clementz, ISBE’s Director of Assessment and Accountability, said the new accountability and support metrics will provide insight for school officials and the public.

“It helps us depict a better, richer picture of the many ways in which schools are doing wonderful things,” she said.

Much of the new accountability and support model will be based on student data gleaned from PARCC, the acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Officials said that, while the test was not going to be conducted, the content would still be delivered and used to measure growth via an Illinois assessment of readiness.

PARCC received criticism from parents and administrators alike for long periods of testing.

One statistic that’s going to be factored in is chronic absenteeism, which measures students missing class for any reason, not just truancy.

“Chronic absenteeism highlights students that may otherwise go unnoticed in average attendance,” Clementz said.

Absenteeism figures will be higher than chronic truancy, which only measures unexcused absences. In the 2015 school year, the most recent year for which data was available, 335,094 Illinois students missed at least 10 percent of their school days. This is what advocacy group Attendance Works classifies as “chronically absent.”

Patrick Payne, director of Data Strategies and Analytics with ISBE said there will also be new information on teacher quality released, measuring certain credentials and “the number of inexperienced teachers.”

The new measurements will not affect the state’s school funding formula that went into effect this year.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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UIS to hold Bicentennial “History Harvest”

Thomas Clatterbuck

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What connects you or your family to Illinois? If you have photographs, letters, documents, or objects that connect you to Illinois, you can bring them to the History Harvest to be digitized. Students from UIS will scan, photograph, and otherwise digitize your items to become part of their bicentennial collection. After the harvest is complete, there will be an online collection of the items brought in. You get to keep your items. Once the digitization is done, you can go home with your items.

The event is free and open to the public. If you have an item you consider historic in relation to Illinois, bring it in. The History Harvest will take place at Innovate Springfield, at the corner of 5th and Adam on the Old State Capitol Plaza. Doors open at 10 AM and will go until 2 PM.

To see the results of the 2016 History Harvest, check out the online collection. For more information, visit www.uis.edu/history/historyharvest/ or contact Devin Hunter at 217/206-7432 (dhunte2@uis.edu) or Kenneth Owen at 217/206-7439 (kowen8@uis.edu).

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