Education | Health Care | Immigration | Illinois Heritage
Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) adopts literacy plan advanced by the General Assembly. For decades, educators have debated the relative merits of whole-language instruction, and phonics-based instruction, as pathways to reading skill. Massive data sets show that some young children are reading-challenged. Despite various forms of enhanced instruction offered to children in these categories, and inspiring stories from some individual children, as a group many of these students continue to face challenges as they progress through educational grades. These challenges are tracked by the reading proficiency scores generated by standardized tests that are administered to almost all Illinois students. In response to lagging Illinois reading proficiency scores, House Republican Leader Tony McCombie formed the House Republican Literacy Working Group in 2023. The Working Group focused on overall General Assembly work on legislation aimed at improving the reading ability of Illinois children.
In the 2023 spring session, the General Assembly urged educators to move towards evidence-based reading standards. SB 2243, which received bipartisan support in the Illinois House, mandates the State Board to adopt guidelines, for evaluation and adoption by local school districts, of evidence-based core reading instruction programs. The new literacy law includes language that urges a focus on at-risk children who are sometimes left behind by current courses of instruction (including whole-language-based and compromise-based courses of instruction). The goal of this focus is to move closer to comprehensive Illinois literacy.
This week, the State Board adopted a comprehensive 190-page literacy plan to move Illinois school districts toward evidence-based reading instruction. News coverage of evidence-based reading instruction indicates that many such curricula are phonics-oriented, without being dogmatically phonics-exclusive. Although this plan adoption is a response to the General Assembly’s request, ISBE did not pass this request on to local school districts as a rigid mandate. Local school districts are expected to enjoy a certain level of choice between curricular modules.
The year-end Illinois unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in December 2023. The 4.8% jobless rate posted by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) in December 2023 was 0.1% higher than the 4.7% rate posted in November. Illinois’ December unemployment rate was 110 basis points higher than the 3.7% national unemployment rate for the same month, and was also higher than the jobless rates posted by our surrounding states. For example, neighboring states posted December 2023 unemployment rates of 3.6% (Indiana), 3.2% (Iowa), 3.3% (Missouri), and 3.3% (Wisconsin).
IDES stated that Illinois continued to slowly create net new jobs in December 2023. Nonfarm payrolls were up by 57,800 jobs from the comparable year-earlier month, and were up 1,200 jobs from the prior month of November. However, these overall positive numbers had to fight strong headwinds in specific sectors of Illinois’ economy that are showing weakness. Hard-hit by continuing changes in the retail economy was the largest single Illinois jobs sector, “Trade, Transportation and Utilities,” which yielded 4,900 jobs in December 2023. Major changes in the way we buy Christmas-related goods and services mean that fewer Illinoisans are getting jobs in “brick and mortar” stores. Approximately 310,200 Illinois residents were counted as “unemployed,” which means they were jobless and actively looking for a job in December 2023.
In a supplemental announcement, IDES reported on December 2023 Illinois jobs and unemployment by metropolitan area. The Illinois metro rate tabulations show a continued widening of the gap between Illinois cities and local areas that are traditionally oriented towards manufacturing and heavy industry, and metro areas such as Bloomington-Normal and Springfield that are more oriented towards finance and services. Comparatively high local unemployment rates for December 2023 were posted in metro Danville (5.4%), Decatur (5.7%), Kankakee (5.9%), and Rockford (5.9%).Nexamp announces headquarters creation in Chicago. The firm is a facilitator of community-scaled solar power developments. With what they see as a pipeline of $2 billion in future Illinois solar panels and arrays, Nexamp said this week they will expand their office in Chicago into headquarters status. The announcement will supervise the investment of more than $2 billion in Illinois solar arrays, and will increase the size of their Chicago office from its current size of 80 employees to approximately 130 men and women.
The Chicago office will supervise the installation and operation of approximately 75 power projects. These projects are expected to generate nearly 4,000 jobs; many of these positions will be trades installation that will end when the projects are completed. Nexamp says these project clusters will generate up to 300 megawatts (Mw) of power to add to Illinois high-tension power lines and support the Midwest’s electrical grid. While this is a significant power boost for Illinois, the electricity to be generated by these arrays will, collectively, be less than one-third of the 1,000 Mw. of power that can be generated by a large-scale nuclear reactor. Many Nexamp projects are ‘community-scaled,’ and are tied to local Illinois owners and their real estate-oriented developments.
Fourteen Illinois hospitals ranked among America’s best. The rankings, published by the data consolidator Healthgrades, lists “America’s 250 Best Hospitals” for 2024. The list gauges hospital quality, as measured by a wide variety of data sets including reported patient outcomes, throughout the more than 6,000 hospitals of the United States. Two health care complexes in Chicago, nine in Chicago’s suburbs and exurbs, and three in Downstate Illinois were honored by placement in this top-250 list.
Within the list of 250, Healthgrades set forth an honors list of 50 hospitals of the highest national rank. In Illinois, the three hospitals to get this Top-50 grade were Ascension Alexian Brothers (Elk Grove Village), Advocate Lutheran General (Park Ridge), and Carle Foundation (Urbana).
Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) distributes $400 million in capital grants to independent colleges and universities. These are schools, including private and Christian colleges and universities, that educate young adults in Illinois. A significant percentage of these student bodies come from outside Illinois, and their pursuit of quality higher education brings substantial resources and jobs into our state. The IBHE announced that 45 Illinois colleges and universities had made their way through the application process and had been awarded “vertical infrastructure” grants for the construction, repair, and renovation of campus infrastructure. Funding for Illinois vertical infrastructure comes from a variety of sources. These sources include taxes on Illinois casinos, video gaming, and sports wagering.
Institutions from Chicago, the suburbs, and Downstate Illinois were included within the list of grantees. In Chicago, DePaul University was the recipient of the largest city-bound grant, totaling more than $43.0 million. In Chicago’s suburbs, Northwestern University in Evanston was slated to take in more than $48.7 million, making the Wildcat campus the largest suburban recipient. Outside of the greater Chicago area, Peoria’s Bradley University (more than $14.8 million) topped the Downstate list of grant recipients.
Chicago plans to stop building migrant shelter space. As part of its overall drive against city of Chicago homelessness, in 2023 under Mayor Brandon Johnson the city had said it hoped to build housing spaces for all comers, including migrants. After thousands of migrants showed up in the middle and later months of 2023 – they are primarily persons who claim to be ‘refugees’ awaiting adjudication – the city fell back on a plan to erect “industrial tents.” On Monday, January 22, a spokesperson for the city told a reporter that the tents would no longer go up. The city’s residual efforts to find marginal new spaces for the net new inflow will, as of January 2024, be confined to working with the private sector and seeking owners willing to volunteer private spaces for the purpose. The city stated that it plans to continue working with migrants who had come to Chicago prior to January.
The news from Chicago created dismay in the office of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who worried that unhoused immigrants would become homeless in Illinois’ cold winter. In a statement published on Tuesday, January 23, a city of Chicago spokesman stated that if it is the desire of Illinois to continue to be a sanctuary state for asylum seekers, the state government should pay for the services required by migrants.
Major festivals set for February 2024. Many communities will be hosting Groundhog Day events, Winter Carnivals, and other celebrations in February. Recent years have seen a significant increase in populations of Illinois winter bald eagles, and the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion, Illinois will be one of the locations hosting birdwatching tours to see and honor America’s national bird. The Illinois Municipal League (IML), a nonpartisan organization that represents many of Illinois’ local governments, is one of the entities that posts an online calendar of Illinois events by month.