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Thomas Clatterbuck

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The GI Bill has been one of the most successful government benefit programs in history. By providing veterans an opportunity to attend college at low cost, generations of veterans have been able to successfully transition back into the civilian workforce. The recently passed Forever GI Bill helped expand how veterans and their families can take advantage of their benefits.

But like any government bureaucracy, the rollout of the new GI Bill has had some hiccups. To learn more about how the program is working in the real world, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-13) hosted an education roundtable in the new UIS Student Union with representatives from universities and community colleges in the 13th. Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who chairs the House’s CA Committee, was a special guest.

Compliance costs were one of the main issues colleges face when dealing with the VA. Chairman Roe referenced a Vanderbilt study that says ensuring compliance for just one student can cost $10,000 per year. The variety of systems being used to process student data is part of the problem. The VA does not use the National Student Clearinghouse, one of the main reporting tools used for other functions. This adds to the regulatory burden. A lack of clear rules is sometimes an issue as well. Often, the VA will issue policy advisories, rather than rules. Some participants felt these advisories were created without sufficient input from those who will be affected by them.

Unfunded mandates also pose their own problems. Fighting suicide in the veteran population is a worthy cause, and colleges can be on the front lines of that. However, as one participant noted, it everything costs money. When the state fails to provide funding for good programs, those cost gets passed on to students.

But despite the issues the schools brought up, there was also good news. In pervious GI Bills, the service time requirements did not account for early discharge due to injury. Now, individuals who receive a Purple Heart will be eligible for education benefits regardless of how long they served. Additionally, rumors that some veterans would be unable to transfer their benefits to their children due to service length were dispelled. Both Davis and Roe indicated they gained useful policy insights from the meeting, especially on expediting the work-study funding process.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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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Education

District 186 unveils Phase One of “Our Schools, Our Future” master plan

Thomas Clatterbuck

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proposed improvements to SHS

The “Our Schools, Our Future” plan took another step forward with the release of the Master Plan document. “Our Schools, Our Future” is the comprehensive facilities plan for District 186. Complied over years of research and nine community engagement events, this plan lays out a long-range vision for the district’s buildings and campuses.

After reviewing the feedback from last’s years community engagement events, the district has released the Phase 1 for implementing their vision. The plan lists proposed improvements at 33 district facilities over the next ten to twelve years. Some of the changes are small. Enos Elementary was allocated just $41,000 for security upgrades. But most of the improvements are quite substantial. Schools like Fairview Elementary and Washington Middle School are being expanded to replace the modular classrooms that they currently rely on. Springfield High and Lanphier High Schools are both slated for “comprehensive reconstruction.” The high school projects will cost over $40 million each. In total, there are more than $190 million in planned improvements around the district.

How will it be paid for?

The district is looking at a number of ways of paying for these projects. Some of it can be covered by “Health Life Safety” (HLS) funding. HLS funds can only be used for specific projects; typically those necessary for the safety of students and faculty. But the district is really pinning their hopes on the proposed sales tax increase. Districts in Sangamon County have called for a one percent sales tax increase to be used for facilities improvements. Money raised from the tax will be distributed to districts in the county on a per capita basis. That question will be on the November ballot.

You can learn more about the “Our Schools, Our Future” plan and leave feedback on the district’s website, or click here to read the Phase One plan.

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