|Senate Republicans and advocates for the Developmentally Disabled community are celebrating a victory as they have convinced the Pritzker administration to halt funding cuts for Illinois’ most vulnerable. Following the discontinuation of a popular scholarship program for low-income students, multiple private schools have announced they are planning to shut their doors for good. A statewide task force is offering its suggestions for saving the struggling local news industry, while another panel is working to make sure the Underground Railroad’s rich history in Illinois is being brought to the light. The Illinois Department of Agriculture is spreading the word about new grants to help local food systems.
|Senate Republicans Help Convince Gov. Pritzker to Pause Budget Cuts for the Developmentally Disabled Senate Republicans are applauding a decision from Illinois Department of Human Services to halt proposed budget cuts to the Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled (I/DD) community. The Pritzker administration’s proposed cuts would have amounted to 2.5 million fewer hours that Direct Support Professionals (DSP) could provide services in group homes, where approximately 10,000 adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities reside. The proposed reduction would have totaled nearly $90 million dollars, affecting 90% of all group home residents. The proposal generated strong bipartisan pushback from lawmakers who are concerned about the I/DD community. Every member of the Senate Republican caucus signed their name to a recent letter pleading with the Pritzker administration to call off the cuts. This is in addition to other letters and petitions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. During the week, the Pritzker administration confirmed that the cuts will not happen until at least the end of the fiscal year. Senator Plummer said that pausing these cuts is a good step in the right direction, adding that he is committed to continuing to advocate to get the administration to put a permanent stop on the proposed cuts.
|Discontinuation of Scholarship Program Pushing Private Schools to Close Democratic leadership’s refusal to extend the popular Invest in Kids scholarship program is beginning to reverberate across the state. Recently, four private schools announced they would be closing their doors due in part to the loss of the Invest in Kids Scholarship program. The four schools include Notre Dame Academy in Belleville, St. Odilo in Berwyn, St. Frances of Rome in Cicero, and St. Ann in Nashville. The Invest in Kids scholarship fund was created as part of a bipartisan compromise that was part of a larger education funding reform law signed into law in 2017. The program was designed to help provide a choice to low-income families in struggling school districts by offering them a chance to find schools that better fit their children’s needs. The program encouraged donations to K-12 scholarships by offering a 75% Illinois income tax credit on the donations. Since the inception of the program in 2017, more than $308 million in private donations were made, providing more than 38,000 scholarships to help low-income K-12 students. The original program was set to expire without legislative action at the end of 2023. Thousands of students and their families visited the Capitol throughout the year, pleading with legislators to extend the program so that they could continue the successes they were experiencing in their new schools. Despite the bipartisan outpouring of support for the program, Democratic leadership refused to allow a vote on legislation to extend the program. Senator Plummer supported legislation to save the program. He will continue to advocate for new legislation to restart the program to help students across the state receive the best possible education that fits their unique needs.
|Illinois Journalism Task Force Seeks to Reverse Decline of Local News News deserts are a growing issue throughout much of the state. More than a third of Illinois’ 102 counties rely on a single source for their news. This was part of the findings from a state task force created to study the decline of local news in Illinois. The Illinois Local Journalism Task Force, a panel made up of current and former journalists, along with legislators and other appointees, recently presented lawmakers with policy recommendations to prevent news deserts from further covering the state. Since 2005, Illinois has lost 232 newspapers and 85% of its newspaper journalists (highest loss percentage in the country). The state task force also found that five Illinois Counties don’t have a local news source at all while four other counties are at risk of losing their single news source in the next five years. The report included potential ideas to fix this issue such as: using subscription, advertising and payroll tax credits, along with the possibility of state-funded journalism scholarships. The full report is available at https://dceo.illinois.gov/content/dam/soi/en/web/dceo/events/local-journalism-task-force/local-journalism-task-force-final-report-january-2024.pdf
|Task Force Looks to Highlight Underground Railroad History in Illinois Senate Bill 1623 established the Illinois Underground Railroad Task Force last year to create a cohesive history of the Illinois portion of the Underground Railroad. This task force includes members from the Illinois State Historical Society, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and several lawmakers. The group was created to develop a statewide plan to connect existing local projects and new projects to create a cohesive statewide history of the Underground Railroad in Illinois, while developing new educational and tourism opportunities for this State. A report on task force progress will be delivered to the Governor and General Assembly by July 1.
|Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Grants Available The Illinois Department of Agriculture is working to give the middle sections of the food supply chain a boost, designating $6.4 million to go to Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) grants. This allocation will go toward the post-harvest, pre-retail sale level of the food supply chain. Examples of the mid-level food supply chain are the processing, manufacturing, storing, and transporting of all non-meat food. The grants fund the cost of equipment or the expansion of capacity and infrastructure. These grants will help the future of farming by giving assistance to smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, underserved producers, veteran producers, and underserved communities. These grants are the product of listening sessions with more than 300 distributors, growers, and producers on how to create a better food system for Illinois. Applications for these grants will be available from January 22 to March 15. For more information, visit https://agr.illinois.gov/assistance/illinoisfarmprograms/resilient-food-systems-infrastructure-program.html.