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Senate Week in Review: October 31 – November 4, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, IL. -- Halloween brought more than just candy and costumes to schools across the state when the Illinois State Board of Education released their annual Illinois Report Card, which assessed a number of factors to determine Illinois schools’ performance.

Also during the week, the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission met yet again, this time to discuss special and early childhood education.

In other news, Washington County native Lloyd Karmeier was sworn in as the 120th chief justice to the Illinois Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that Illinois farmers are well on their way to wrapping up harvest. Finally, November ushers in the end of Daylight Saving.

Illinois schools receive annual report card
Illinois schools were on the receiving end of academic scrutiny this week as the Illinois State Board of Education released their yearly Illinois Report Card.  

State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said that though, “Report Card indicators mostly held steady….we must make major changes to the way we fund our public schools and fundamentally shift our approach to education.” That is a challenge state lawmakers are currently tackling as the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission continues to meet and discuss school funding in Illinois.

The annual report is an assessment of Illinois schools’ performance, including data on academic progress in areas such as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam performance, graduation rates and college readiness, school finances, dropout rates, class sizes, student and teacher demographics and principal turnover.

Findings showed a stable four-year graduation rate of 86 percent, a dropout rate of 2 percent and an average class size of 21. The report also determined that approximately 46 percent of students were “college ready,” scoring an ACT score of 21 or higher. Meanwhile, only 33 percent of students met or exceeded performance level on the PARCC. To view your school or district snapshot, visit http://www.illinoisreportcard.com/.

School Funding Reform Commission focuses on special populations
The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission met for the seventh time this week, this time to address special populations, including special and early childhood education.  

On November 2, members of the commission, which includes four Senate Republican representatives, heard testimony on school district spending towards special education services and input on how the current education formula impacts special education funding.

Other points addressed included the disproportionate funds awarded to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for special education services, which more than triples the statewide average. At the same time, CPS is also raking in approximately 37 percent of the funding awarded by the Early Childhood Block Grant.  

The Commission meeting concluded before being able to discuss bilingual education, but is expected to take up the topic at the next meeting.

Washington County Native is the New Chief Justice for the Illinois Supreme Court
Long-time Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier was sworn in as the 120th chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court on Monday, October 31. Having served on the state’s highest court since 2004, Justice Karemeir was unanimously chosen by his colleagues to replace former Chief Justice Rita Garman.

The newly-installed chief justice was reported by the Illinois State Bar Association as saying, “Since joining the court in 2004, I have had the privilege of serving under five different chief justices, all of whom have done an outstanding job. I will do my very best to live up to the high standard they have set.”

Chief Justice Karmeier received his J.D. degree in 1964 from the University of Illinois. He is a 1958 graduate of Okawville Community High School.

Reminder to turn back the clock, Daylight Saving Time ends
With the leaves falling and weather changing, autumn is in full swing and that means the official end of Daylight Saving Time. This Sunday, November 6 at 2:00 a.m., Daylight Saving Time comes to end. Remember to adjust to Standard Time by setting your clocks back an hour before going to bed. The yearly time change also serves as a good reminder to test and replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Illinois farmers finishing up with harvest

Thanks to continued dry weather in many parts of the state, the Illinois corn and soybean harvest is nearing completion.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 91% of Illinois corn acres have now been harvested, with 89% of soybeans finished. Harvest progress for both crops is ahead of the 5 year average for this time of year, though farmers in 2015 had made slightly more progress by the end of October, with both crops at 95% complete then. The most recent USDA crop forecast predicts a statewide corn yield average of 202 bushels per acre, 27 bushels higher than 2015. Soybeans are forecast to hit a statewide average of 62 bushels per acre, 6 bushels more than 2015. Illinois wheat acres are now 85% planted, with 63% of the plants having already emerged from the soil.

Much of the farmers’ progress this far owes to continued mild weather through the harvest season. Outside of the most Northeastern part of the state, temperatures last week averaged from 2 to nearly 6 degrees warmer than usual.

Soil conditions look good as farmers begin to look forward to the spring planting season. 80% of topsoil is rated as having adequate moisture, with 87% of subsoil receiving the same mark.

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