Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: October 26


EDUCATION
·        State Board of Education approves recommendations to expand and diversify highly qualified teacher workforce.  The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has approved specific recommendations to expand and diversify the state’s highly qualified teacher workforce. The recommendations remove barriers and create new avenues of entry into the profession, while maintaining high standards. 

The recommendations stem from a year of study involving focus groups, data analysis, and a review of state and national research. The year of study culminated in the Teach Illinois report released on Sept. 7. ISBE received more than 150 public comments on the report over a three-week period and took each comment into consideration in developing the agency’s next steps and legislative recommendations. 

“Tremendous commitment has gone into the Teach Illinois project over the last year,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. “We now have a comprehensive set of actions that consider teacher recruitment, educator preparation, and licensure requirements. I look forward to putting infrastructure and energy behind what started as ideas. Now the next round of partnership and dialogue begins.” 

ISBE recommended specific legislative changes to the Illinois School Code to: 

o   Create three job-embedded routes to licensure for paraprofessionals, substitutes, transitional bilingual educators, and career changers.
o   Remove the requirement of a test of basic skills for individuals already possessing a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution in order to receive initial licensure or endorsements on licenses. 
o   Expand mentoring supports to experienced teachers and principals. 

The State Board also approved a set of actions for the agency to take in collaboration with the appropriate stakeholders, including:

o   Retain the use of the ACT or SAT and discontinue use of the Test of Academic Proficiency as tests of basic skills. 
o   Study the relationship between a test of basic skills and effectiveness in teaching.
o   Develop criteria for a portfolio assessment that may be used in place of a test of basic skills. 
o   Develop a multi-step process for approving teacher preparation programs that includes collecting and reviewing program data.
o   Identify a college and career pathway endorsement in education that high school students can earn.
o   Release grants for teacher leadership and for innovative approaches to teacher preparation fieldwork. 
o   Allow individuals to receive subsequent endorsements on a professional educator license after either 18 course hours or successful completion of the applicable content test.
o   Develop criteria for district-based programs leading to the bilingual endorsement.
o   Clarify in administrative rules that teacher candidates may be compensated during student teaching.
o   Develop standards and research-based guidance for teacher induction and mentoring.

ISBE will continue to engage lawmakers and stakeholders in the development and implementation of this work. View the full recommendations, statutory references, and timelines at www.isbe.net/teachillinois​

JOBS
·        Unemployment rate continues to fall in most Illinois metro areas.  Unemployment rates decreased over-the-year in September in twelve of Illinois’ metropolitan areas, increased in one, and was unchanged in one, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Data also show nonfarm jobs increased in ten of the metropolitan areas.

“The unemployment rate continues to decline in most metros” said IDES Director Jeff Mays. “At the same time, Illinois also saw its lowest number of unemployment claims filed in the month of September in forty-five years.”

Illinois businesses added jobs in ten metro areas, with the largest increases in: Kankakee (+6.2 percent, +2,900), Elgin (+1.7 percent, +4,300), and the Quad Cities (+1.2 percent, + 2,300). Total nonfarm jobs in the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights Metro Division increased (+0.7 percent or +25,200). Illinois businesses lost jobs in four metro areas: Carbondale-Marion (-0.9 percent, -500), Springfield (-0.5 percent, -600), Bloomington (-0.4 percent, -400), and Peoria (-0.1 percent, -200).

Not seasonally adjusted data compares September 2018 with September 2017. The not seasonally adjusted Illinois rate was 3.8 percent in September 2018 and stood at 12.2 percent at its peak in this economic cycle in January 2010. Nationally, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in September 2018 and 10.6 percent in January 2010 at its peak. The unemployment rate identifies those who are out of work and looking for work and is not tied to collecting unemployment insurance benefits.

NATURAL RESOURCES
·        Governor announces expansion of Starved Rock, Matthiessen state parks.  Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Thursday that the State has acquired 2,629 acres of property in LaSalle County to protect natural resources and expand recreation opportunities, tourism and economic development near Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks.

“More than 3 million people visit Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks each year. They are among the most beautiful destinations in our state,” Rauner said. “This expansion increases the amount of open space that will be managed and protected there by more than 50 percent and gives people even more reasons to enjoy the outdoors in LaSalle County.”

The State acquired the land from Lone Star Industries Inc., which, along with its predecessor companies, has owned much of the property since the early 1900s.  The land originally was mined for coal. It also has been mined for limestone and used as a site for cement manufacturing. 

Thanks to mined land reclamation, existing forested areas, lakes, and a stretch of the scenic Vermilion River, the site is ideally suited for development of outdoor recreational uses.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) will manage the property as part of the Starved Rock/Matthiessen state park complex. Planning is underway to restore forest, prairie and wildlife habitat, develop trails, a campground, picnic areas, and boat, canoe and kayak access, as well as foster horseback riding, cross country skiing, fishing and hunting opportunities.

The IDNR purchased the property for $11,050,000 through the state’s Open Land Trust, established to acquire property for conservation and recreation purposes.

TRANSPORTATION
·        New “Autonomous Illinois” initiative on connected and automated vehicles.  In an executive order signed on Thursday, October 25, Gov. Rauner created an initiative aimed at keeping Illinois at the forefront of research and development efforts intended to move towards connected and automated vehicle technology and safe driving.

Recent developments in software have led to movement towards motor vehicles that can partly drive themselves.  Many farmers are already familiar with variations on this technology that can be deployed on machinery that work in farm fields.  At the same time, many concerns remain about allowing this type of technology onto public roads and highways.  Other states are allowing self-driving technology test vehicles on their roads, and some incidents have taken place.

This week’s initiative is aimed at moving forward on automated vehicle technology while keeping these safety concerns in mind.  Approved technologies will include pathways to enable each vehicle to be connected to an overall controller.  Among other things, this feedback loop could enable moving vehicles to be coordinated with traffic operations so that a vehicle approaching an intersection will have a greater chance of getting a green light.  

VETERANS
·        Building at Quincy Veterans' Home named for local Medal of Honor recipient.  Gov. Bruce Rauner has announced that the old Sycamore nursing home in Quincy is being named in honor of Korean War veteran Lester Hammond, who was raised in Quincy. The Medal of Honor recipient was killed in action protecting his unit against heavy enemy fire. He was just 21 years old.

After North Korean communist forces invaded South Korea in 1950, Cpl. Lester Hammond was deployed to the Korean War zone as a field radio-telephone operator. While carrying out this duty he became a point spotter in enemy-held territory. This led to his comrades getting surrounded and to Cpl. Hammond’s death in action on August 14, 1952. As Cpl. Hammond took a series of wounds, he continued to coordinate and direct artillery fire against the enemy. Hammond’s point spotting made it possible to deploy a friendly platoon to rescue the other members of his company. Hammond was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for what his citation calls “unflinching courage and consummate devotion to duty.”  Cpl. Hammond is buried at Sunset Cemetery on the grounds of the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy (IVHQ).

"Cpl. Hammond was a true hero. His courage and fighting spirit will live on here in Quincy and across the state," Rauner said. "This building will serve as a reminder of a life that was lost in the cause of freedom and that his selfless courage under fire is a legacy of devotion to the care of his unit that we follow today for our veterans all across the state."

Cpl. Hammond's nephew, Brad Richmiller, was in Quincy as the new building was dedicated to his uncle. He said he and his family will be eternally thankful for the recognition.

"Our hearts are filled with pride today, knowing that our uncle's sacrifice was not in vain," Richmiller said. "We'd like to thank Gov. Rauner, the staff at the Quincy Veterans' Home, and everyone who worked to make this possible. I'd also like to personally thank the governor for his commitment to the future of the veterans' home. I believe it is a moral obligation for us to take care of those who have served us."

Representative Randy Frese led the drive to push the State to acquire the new facility and attended the renaming ceremony.

Lester Hammond Hall is the newest addition to the Quincy Veterans' Home. The State purchased the building in June as part of an expansion of the IVHQ campus. It will provide skilled nursing care for up to 150 veterans and is the next step in ensuring quality health care for our heroes.

There is also progress being made on building a new, world-class facility on the IVHQ grounds. Demolition crews knocked down the old Rowland Barracks building last week. It's one of several buildings that will be razed ahead of construction. The Rowland Barracks is an old residence hall and programming unit that has been unoccupied since 2006. It's the first building to come down since Rauner announced plans to rebuild the Quincy Veterans' Home and incorporate a new piping system that will bring cleaner water to the residents and staff.

The State has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other environmental experts since 2015 to enhance water quality and safety at the Quincy Veterans' Home. A new water treatment plant was brought online in 2016, point-of-use water filters have been installed on all sinks and showers, and new water heaters have been installed in all residential buildings to thermally treat the water against bacterial contamination.

ILLINOIS 200
·        Veterans honored by Bicentennial Commission.  The announcement marked the climax of the “Bicentennial HONOR 200” recognition process, in which Illinois residents were asked to submit the names of veterans of the U.S. armed services who are their neighbors and who are key leaders in their local communities.  Nominators were asked to describe how these veterans have continued their lives of service as members of their hometowns and neighborhoods. 

The process has concluded with the naming of 200 Illinois veterans of special honor.  The named guests will be invited to the state’s flagship birthday celebration on December 3, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago.  They will represent more than 50 of the 102 counties of Illinois, from Chicago in the north to Carbondale in the south.  The Bicentennial Commission unveiled the list of honor on Thursday, October 25.

FALL IN ILLINOIS
·        Harvest moves toward completion.  Relatively dry, cool conditions suitable for machine fieldwork mean that more than three-quarters of Illinois’ field crops are in the bins.  As of the week ending on Sunday, October 21, the Illinois corn harvest was estimated to be 82% complete, the bean harvest was 74% complete, and the sorghum harvest was 82% complete.  Corn was in the bin at a rate much in advance of the 2017 harvest; by this time one year ago, the corn harvest was only 60% completed.  

Illinois farmers are also running ahead of this year’s nationwide averages.  As of the same day nationwide, the U.S. soybean harvest was only 53% complete.  These figures were generated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and were released on Monday, October 22.

WEEK IN REVIEW
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