Researcher: Higher Wages, Student Loan Forgiveness Solves Shortages

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a slew of legislation this month intended to alleviate Illinois’s teacher shortage. But some teachers and union leaders doubt the measures are enough. Illinois Newsroom’s Lee Gaines spoke with Linda Darling-Hammond to find out what legislative fixes actually work.


Darling-Hammond is the president and CEO of the
Learning Policy Institute — a non-profit, non-partisan group that’s researched teacher shortages across the country.

 

Illinois Families, Kids With Disabilities Suffer Without Childcare

Michelle McAnarney said she realized her daughter Darby was different than other children soon after she was born.


“She was always a little delayed physically,” said McAnarney, a Springfield resident. Darby was well over a year old when she started walking, but “once she could walk, I’m not even joking the next day she was running,” she said.

If McAnarney and her husband took Darby, who is now four years old, to loud or chaotic places, she’d become overwhelmed — tip a plate over in a restaurant, throw a tantrum in a grocery store — in an attempt to exit the situation.

“And then impulses,” McAnarney said. “She doesn’t know how to stop herself from anything. Which can put her at risk at times. I mean there were some days where it was us protecting her from herself.

Darby was diagnosed about a year ago with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly called ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder. The latter condition is described as frequent and persistent anger and irritability toward authority figures.

While she’s found strategies for the family at home, McAnarney said she’s struggled to find a childcare facility with staff who understand and accommodate Darby’s special needs.

This is a common problem for families of children with special needs across Illinois.

According to a new study from the University of Nevada, nearly 70 percent of surveyed childcare professionals in the state indicated they have at least some difficulty caring for infants and toddlers with special needs.

Darby was asked to leave two childcare facilities within the last year because of her needs, McAnarney said. The last experience, she said, was the most traumatic for the family.

“They started calling us everyday to pick her up. (They) would just say she was being bad. It was truly just your kid is bad, she’s in my class and I don’t want her here,” McAnarney said. “We were only there for two and a half weeks, and one day we picked her up and there was just a note in her cubby that said Darby is not welcome to come back.”

“They didn’t want to deal with a kid that wasn’t ‘normal'” she added.

‘Terrible’ and common

Licensed home childcare providers and the directors of childcare facilities in Illinois are required to complete a minimum of six hours of training on caring for children with disabilities, according to state rules.

“I think it’s still possible a licensee might say I don’t have the skills to handle this particular special needs child because a lot of these are small operations,” said Neil Skene, special assistant to the director of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. “I think that’s something that has to be worked out with the parents and daycare center.”

Faye Manaster said what happened to Darby is “terrible” — and a common occurrence. Manaster is the project director for the Arc of Illinois‘s Family to Family Health Information Center. The Arc of Illinois is a statewide advocacy organization for children and adults with disabilities.

“I’ll tell you that all of us in our program hear frequently from families who say they enrolled their child in childcare and then they got expelled because of their behavior,” Manaster said.

That puts parents of children with special needs in a difficult position. Manaster said many parents work different shifts so that someone can be home with the child while the other works, and some parents take lower paying jobs that provide a more flexible schedule. Others, she said, stop working altogether.

‘An ever-changing journey’

That’s what happened to Brandy O’Connor. O’Connor lives in Decatur with her 10-year-old son, Mark. Mark was born prematurely and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. His medical condition has evolved over the years, O’Connor said. He can’t speak, requires a feeding tube, a wheelchair and wears diapers. Recently, O’Connor said, doctors placed him on oxygen while he sleeps. “It’s an ever-changing journey,” she said.

O’Connor is a single mom, and for years she’s provided Mark with the 24-hour care he needs. When he started kindergarten, O’Connor said, “that’s when I got to the point where I needed to do something else besides just being his mother. Like, I have to get my own life back. The years are taking a toll of just being a caregiver.”

She tried to find a center that could care for Mark, but O’Connor said no one was willing to accept him “because of his needs and because of his size. And diaper changing. He’s not toilet trained. He’s in a wheelchair.”

“You kind of give up,” O’Connor said.

Without anyone to watch Mark after school or during the summer, O’Connor said she was forced to stay home with him. She’s had to rely on family for financial assistance.

“I didn’t work. I wasn’t employed, I guess. My work has been him. You don’t have the opportunity. You just, you can’t,” O’Connor said.

Roughly two years ago, O’Connor said her and Mark’s life changed for the better. She discovered a grant-funded program called Kid’s Connection that provides afterschool and summer care for children with and without disabilities ages five to 18. The program is administered by a non-profit group in Decatur called Macon Resources, Inc.

O’Connor said the care is subsidized — it only costs her $25 per week — and she trusts the staff to take care of Mark. She also appreciates the exposure Mark gets to other children and adults and says he loves going to Kid’s Connection.

“But it also gives me a chance to have my own life again, which is huge,” O’Connor said. “I’ll be starting a new job. And I am super excited about it, and I’m going to be able to work 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and he’ll be going to school and he’ll be at Kid’s Connection. Two years ago that wouldn’t have happened.”

Manaster said the solution O’Connor found in Kid’s Connection is both “miraculous” and extremely rare. She said she wishes she could replicate it in every county in the state. To make such a program the norm and not the exception requires increased investment from the state and local municipalities, as well as a cultural shift that values the needs of children and families with disabilities as highly as those without them.

“People need to know not to be afraid of somebody who is different, not to be afraid of a child who can’t talk, not to be afraid of a child who uses a wheelchair, not to be afraid of a child who communicates through their behavior because that’s the only way they have to get their message across,” she said.

O’Connor spent most of the past 10 years of Mark’s life without access to a childcare facility willing to care for him.

“If I would have been able to enroll him in the program he is in now five or six years ago, I think my life at this point would be dramatically different,” she said.

High Court Ruling May Affect ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ In Illinois

A recent Supreme Court decision limiting regulations for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers in California could affect patients in Illinois.

In the California case — known as NIFLA v. Becerra — operators of self-described crisis pregnancy centers argued that requiring facilities to post information about services available through other healthcare providers, including abortion, violated their free speech.

Crisis pregnancy centers appear to operate much like any other women’s health center, advertising pregnancy testing and counseling. But they refuse to provide information on abortion services.

In Illinois, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a pro-life Christian charity, and four non-profit Illinois crisis pregnancy centers, filed a suit in 2016 similar to the California case. The Illinois suit challenges an amendment to a state healthcare law.

The Supreme Court agreed with NIFLA in the California suit. Now, the question is whether the same logic will apply to Illinois’ requirement that patients be given information about treatments that a facility refuses to provide for ethical or religious reasons.

The Law In Illinois

The Illinois Health Care Right of Conscious Act allows healthcare providers to opt out of providing services they object to on ethical or religious grounds. Those services may include performing abortions or providing birth control, along with other services like blood transfusions or discontinuing end-of-life care.

In 2016, Illinois legislators amended the act in an effort to ensure patients would receive information about treatments, even if their particular doctor or healthcare facility refused to provide them.

“Our law in Illinois is very different than the California law,” said Brigid Leahy, senior director of public policy at Planned Parenthood Illinois.

California’s law required crisis pregnancy centers without a medical license to state that fact. Additionally, licensed healthcare facilities that did not provide abortion or other reproductive health services were required to post signs stating they don’t provide a full range of reproductive services which can be received elsewhere. The law applied only to crisis pregnancy centers.

California’s regulations came, in part, as a response to allegations of deceptive practices by some centers, according to NPR reporting. An opinion piece in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics cited claims in testimony to Congress that crisis pregnancy centers have given women false information that suggests abortion is dangerous or deadly. An amicus brief filed in NIFLA v. Becerra by the National Women’s Law Center included testimony from women who say crisis pregnancy centers used ultrasound results to suggest they were too far along in pregnancy for an abortion, even when this was not true.

Unlike California, Illinois’ law does not focus on crisis pregnancy centers. It applies to any individual or institution providing healthcare of any sort. Centers that only provide non-health care services, like informal counseling and free diapers offered by a church, would not be subject to the law, Leahy noted.

And no provider would be obligated to provide services they opposed.

“The California law set up regulations targeting fake clinics. In Illinois, our law was so broad that you didn’t have to tell the patient you weren’t providing them something. It gave all of the rights to the provider and a patient would have no idea they were even being denied any information or care. This amendment is about balancing the needs of the patient.”

That distinction may end up being key to the Illinois case.

The National Institute of Family and Live Advocates (NIFLA) operates forty crisis pregnancy centers in Illinois. In court documents challenging the amendment, NIFLA claims the requirement to provide information on abortion-related services is a violation of free speech. We reached out to NIFLA multiple times for comment, but they declined to speak with us for this story.

Next Steps For Illinois

Lorie Chaiten with the ACLU of Illinois, which filed amicus briefs in support of the Illinois amendment, noted the legislation is particularly important given a 2016 ACLU survey showed 30 percent of hospital beds in the state are in Catholic facilities.

NIFLA and the other plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the  Illinois legislation until the California case (which was also brought by NIFLA) was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Last summer, the judge in the Illinois case, Frederick J. Kapala, granted the stay on the basis that NIFLA and the rest of the plaintiffs in the case had “demonstrated a better than negligible chance of succeeding” in their argument that the amendment violates their free speech.

Now that the Supreme Court’s ruling is out, the Illinois case will be headed back to the courts.

Update 8/17/18: A previous version of this story used the term “owned” to describe not-for-profit organizations. Non-profits do not have owners.

Copyright 2018 Illinois Newsroom.

Why Is ICE Arresting Undocumented Immigrants In A Sanctuary City

The answer lies within the Russian nesting doll structure of our government and law enforcement jurisdictions. The City of Urbana sits within Champaign County which sits within the State of Illinois which sits within the United States of America.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a federal agency that  enforces federal immigration laws, and its agents have jurisdiction throughout the country. This means they can arrest people who have entered the country illegally or do not currently have legal status, if they have the evidence to do so. ICE must follow the same constitutional requirements as other law enforcement agencies. They also have their own agency policies for “sensitive locations” and courthouses.  

According to University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle and reporting from NPR, to identify people in the country illegally, ICE agents rely on a variety of tactics: the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies, tips from everyday citizens, immigration status information from state, local, regional databases, and others.

Because of ICE’s federal jurisdiction, the City of Urbana’s reaffirmed Sanctuary City Resolution NO. 2016-12-070R does not protect residents in the country illegally from deportation by ICE. However, the resolution does say that:

No city employee or official or department or agency of the City of Urbana shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of the citizenship or immigration status of any person unless such inquiry or the investigation is required by a court order.

This means that while the City of Urbana cannot stop ICE agents from arresting and deporting those not legally authorized to be in the country, the city’s law enforcement and staff will not assist ICE agents in finding residents who have entered the country illegally unless they receive a court order to do so.

This question collected from multiple people at the Rally against ICE on June 23rd at the Drury Inn in Champaign, IL.

As Shootings Rise, Local Leaders Grapple With Gun Violence

In a community with as many resources as Champaign-Urbana, why does gun violence persist?

That’s the question Donte’ Lotts, a community liaison for CU Fresh Start — an initiative created in 2015 to mitigate gun violence — asked a group of about 50 Champaign-Urbana residents, social service providers, university employees and other community leaders on Thursday night. [click to continue…]

What’s Being Done To Stop The Spread of Hepatitis A In Indiana?

Kentucky has one of the worst outbreaks of Hepatitis A in the country, and the liver disease has spread to several other Midwest states including Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana.

 

Kentucky has one of the worst outbreaks of Hepatitis A in the country. The liver disease has spread to several other states including Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana. Side Effects Public Media’s Emily Forman introduces us to a nurse who’s on Indiana’s frontlines trying to stop the disease.

Since November, there have been more than 950 cases of hepatitis A in Kentucky, and six people have died. Indiana has had 148 cases in that same time, according to the most recent data from the Indiana State Department of Health. The Hoosier state typically sees 20 cases of the disease annually.

The cases have been found in seven Indiana counties and no one has died, but 63 people have been hospitalized because of the disease.

Hepatitis A spreads when a person ingests even a trace amount of fecal matter from someone who has the disease. There’s no treatment, but most people become immune after a few weeks.

Amelia Johns is a public health nurse for the Clark County Health Department. It’s her job to track down every person exposed to the virus in that county, which has had 56 documented cases, the most in Indiana.

Johns started paying attention to hepatitis A last November. She knew about the outbreak in Louisville, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River. A month later, a woman who was transferred from Louisville to the Clark County jail started to show symptoms: jaundice and vomiting. She had hepatitis A, and it soon spread to five others in the jail.

Clark County Health Department nurse Amelia Johns received an award from the Indiana State Health Commissioner for her work fighting a hepatitis A outbreak in the state. Credit Photo courtesy of Amelia Johns

“In the jail, we’ve made some rules where we quarantine anybody that’s become positive,” Johns said. “And if they’re symptomatic, we quarantine them.”

This hepatitis A outbreak appears to be the ripple effect of drug use and homelessness. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested Kentucky’s first cases, they found the virus’s genetic characteristics matched cases in San Diego. That city also has had a large outbreak amongst its homeless population.

“They’re out in the streets and we don’t know exactly where they are staying,” Johns said. “They may be staying in abandoned houses, they might be staying in camp locations across the county.”

When Johns finds these people, she gives them hand sanitizer and offers vaccines to anyone they’ve come in contact with.

According to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, 63.5 percent of the hepatitis A cases confirmed in Jefferson County, Kentucky were amoung people who use illicit drugs. Twenty-seven percent did not have stable housing and 3.3 percent were men who have sex with men.  

The Indiana State Department of Health recommends anyone who has been exposed to the disease, who is homeless, who uses drugs or who has been incarcerated receive two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.

Copyright 2018 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.

U.S. Senate Passes Farm Bill, Meaning It’s Time To Compromise With House

The Senate took a crucial step Thursday to making sure that, among other things, the hungry are fed, farmers have crop price protections and land is preserved beyond Sept. 30 — that is, the day the farm bill expires.

“How many times have we heard from back home … ‘Why on earth do you folks back there keep fussing at one another. Why don’t you work together to get something done,’” said Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Well, amen to that. And that’s the bill we have produced.”

But even though this is a big step, the next one may be steeper: working with the House.

The Senate vote was held up by some disagreements but the chamber largely pulled together, passing it with a bipartisan 86-11 vote.

The House version, which passed its own version June 21, is a different story. It took two floor votes, and barely squeaked by 213-211. No Democrats voted for it, and 20 Republicans voted against it.

That’s part of the reason why so many senators were espousing their bipartisan effort. But Roberts showed frustration Thursday on the Senate floor because it’s already taken this long, especially at a time when tariffs are negatively affecting corn, soybean and other markets..

“For goodness sakes, when agriculture is in almost a crisis, and we desperately need to provide the farmers the knowledge that we’re passing a bill in their benefit, and that it is a good bill, why can’t we get this done? It’s an imperative,” he said.

Many senators were especially supportive of the bill’s provision to legalize industrial hemp.

“Enough is enough” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said during farm bill discussion Wednesday. “Industrial hemp is a completely different plant than its illicit cousin. It’s time we get Washington out of the way and let American farmers meet the growing demand of American consumers.”

Hemp aside, the Senate version doesn’t have many large-scale changes to divided Democrats and Republicans. There was an amendment by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley to cap the amount of subsidies available through commodity programs; that nearly passed in the last farm bill.

The House version, however, has key changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. Those changes would require more strict work requirements on some people getting food assistance, something Democrats have railed against. Some Senate Republicans also support the work requirements, but said during floor debate that they didn’t want to hold up their own bill to make the changes.

The next step is conference, where the two chambers will try to work out the differences between their bills. When that’s complete, that version of the bill would go back through both chambers for a final vote before hitting the president’s desk.

Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

Illinois To Expand Number Of Physician Assistants Allowed By Law

Illinois is on track to expand the number of physician assistants allowed to treat patients, especially in many rural areas.

Senate Bill 2904 increases the number of physician assistants a doctor is allowed to collaborate with. The bill, which passed both houses of the state legislature, also removes the upper limit on physician assistants in areas facing a shortage of healthcare providers.

“Currently in Illinois, law is that a physician can only collaborate with 5 physician assistants,” said Don Diemer, Director of the Physician Assistant program at Southern Illinois University. “And in health profession shortage areas, that’s caused some difficulty with the PAs that want to stay and practice in Southern Illinois and other rural and underserved areas.”

Physician assistants perform many of the same duties as doctors and Diemer says that many patients in rural areas see physician assistants as their primary care provider.

“What this bill will do is increase the access to care and quality [of] care,” he explained. “Currently, you may have to travel long distances to even see a provider in some cases. So it will decrease wait times, eliminate the need to travel to other areas, and keep our providers here at home to take care of the communities.”

Diemer says that’s important for SIU graduates as well. Roughly 70% of the program’s graduates want to stay in the area, he says, a number much higher than the national average. He says some PA grads recently had to move away because they couldn’t find jobs.

If signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner, the new rules would take effect January 1.

House’s Version Of Farm Bill Passes By 2 Votes

Thursday had all the makings of deja vu for the U.S. House’s farm bill draft: immigration concerns, uncertain Republican votes and a wall of Democratic opposition to changes in the main federal food aid program.

In the end, the chamber avoided a repeat of May’s failure, when members of the conservative Freedom Caucus wanted to deal with immigration first. But the farm bill passed Thursday — narrowly, 213-211. Still, 20 Republicans voted against it, as did every Democrat in the chamber.

The passage was hailed by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who said in a statement that while “American producers have greatly benefited from the policies of the Trump Administration, including tax reforms and reductions in regulations,” a farm bill is necessary.

“No doubt, there is still much work to be done on this legislation,” Perdue added, a nod to the Senate still needing to pass their version, which is expected to come next week. After that, both chambers will have to find a compromise.

The House’s version is notable because it makes significant changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. It would expand the number of people who must follow work requirements or volunteer or join training programs for 20 hours a week.

Democrats have said the more strict requirements would be onerous for hungry families.

But Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, called the changes “historic improvements.”

“This bill promotes work and individual success while empowering those dependent on government assistance,” she said in a statement. Hartzler, who is on the House ag committee, also had language approved that allows grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands.

About every five years, Congress must pass a new farm bill. It includes programs for commodity supports, conservation, forestry and nutrition assistance. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

The Senate’s version, which is heralded as a bipartisan measure, does not make the contentious changes to SNAP but would legalize industrial hemp. Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, another member of the House ag committee, is putting her faith in the Senate.

“Our hope is that the Senate bill … which is actually a good bill, hopefully that will pass here in the next several days. And when we go to conference committee, we can come out with a good product that I will be able to support,” she said.

Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media

White House Plan Would Move Food Aid Out Of USDA, Combine Food Safety Efforts

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation’s largest program to reduce hunger. It’s also the biggest program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But under the White House’s plan to reorganize the federal government, released Thursday, SNAP would have a new home at a revamped Department of Health and Human Services.

The Trump administration also proposes to shift food safety entirely under the USDA instead of having duties split between the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA. It’s an idea that the Obama administration proposed in 2015, though under HHS, but it went nowhere.

On both accounts, Congress would have to agree to making such significant changes.

SNAP

SNAP takes up around three-quarters of USDA spending and is a large part of the farm bill. In March, the program distributed nearly $5 billion in benefits to 20 million households.

The White House argued in its proposal that states face an “administrative burden” to report SNAP details to the USDA because states then report cash-welfare program details to HHS.

Putting SNAP under the same roof as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) would cut down on paperwork and streamline the regulatory process when it comes to writing rules and approving waivers, the proposal suggested.

It also added that doing so will “ensure that policies are applied consistently across all programs, potentially reducing confusing, complex, and sometimes contradictory requirements across programs that can make it difficult for both States and participants to follow the rules.”

The school lunch program and commodity-purchasing programs that help supply food banks would stay at USDA.

The USDA didn’t immediately return a request for comment. But the suggestions received a mixed response from various groups. Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said “there’s room for improvement,” adding, “I don’t think it requires radical restructuring and the programs being moved across agencies.”

But Robert Rector, a research fellow at the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation, said it’s the right move to shift SNAP.

“It fits much better at HHS than it does at the agriculture department,” he said. “The agriculture department should be about agriculture, about growing crops and about farmers.”

Besides downsizing the USDA, moving SNAP also would shake up food and farm politics. For decades, the fate of farm support programs has been tied to SNAP in the farm bill.

“My concern is that this traditional and strong relationship between farmers and anti-hunger groups would be broken, to some extent, if it was moved over to HHS,” said Craig Gundersen, who studies SNAP at the University of Illinois.

Food safety

Another recommendation would merge the food safety responsibilities of the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) under a new USDA branch called the the Federal Food Safety Agency.

The plan highlighted some ways the current system is inconsistent.

“While FSIS has regulatory responsibility for the safety of liquid eggs, FDA has regulatory responsibility for the safety of eggs while they are inside of their shells; FDA regulates cheese pizza, but if there is pepperoni on top, it falls under the jurisdiction of FSIS; FDA regulates closed-faced meat sandwiches, while FSIS regulates open-faced meat sandwiches,” the document said.

The devil is in the details, according to Laura MacCleery, who’s the policy director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The FDA has been working on implementing the massive Food Safety Modernization Act signed in 2011, she said, and believes it would be hard to reconcile all of those rules with the USDA.

“You can see the different agencies would have a different expertise about the industries that they oversee,” MacCleery said.

And then there’s the fact that Congress would need to weigh in.

“Members of Congress with a long standing of expertise in some aspect of the Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration are loathe to give up that power to influence food safety,” MacCleery said.

Follow Grant on Twitter: @ggerlock

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

What Will It Take To Fix Illinois’s Teacher Shortage?

Chuck Bleyer is worried the southern Illinois school district he heads won’t be able to fill an open teacher position by the time classes start this fall.

Bleyer serves as superintendent of Pope County Community Unit District 1, a small school district with about 540 students on the edge of southeastern Illinois, right next to the Ohio River and in the middle of the Shawnee National Forest. (After four years as superintendent, Bleyer said he’s leaving his job this summer to serve as superintendent of Wabash Community Unit Schools District 348.)

Like many states across the country, Illinois is facing a teacher shortage. There were more than 2,000 teaching, administrative, support staff and other positions across the state that went unfilled during the 2016-17 school year, according to a report from the Illinois State Board of Education.

The shortage has hit larger urban districts, like Chicago, and smaller rural ones especially hard. The ISBE report cites a roughly seven percent decrease in the number of teachers in Illinois classrooms between the peak in 2008 and 2017. In a survey conducted last year by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, nearly 80 percent of district superintendents who responded reported some degree of problem with teacher shortages. Additionally, 65 percent reported receiving fewer applicants than compared to five years earlier.

Bleyer, the superintendent in Pope County, said the effects of the shortage directly affect the classroom. With fewer candidates applying for jobs, he said schools in the district end up hiring less qualified teachers.

“The (teacher) we are going to lose, we would have never hired,” he said. “That’s how bad the pool is right now.”

Stacie Tefft said she’s witnessed the effects of the shortage on her school district. Tefft is a history teacher at Murphysboro High School, another community in southern Illinois. Budget cuts led to attrition, she said, meaning many teacher jobs have gone unfilled over the years.

“So our classes have grown tremendously. I started out with 15 to 20 students in my classes, and I’m pushing 30 in every one of my classes now. We have a lot fewer resources,” Tefft said.

She said the district has created several new positions this year, but they’re struggling to attract applicants.

The shortage has harmed student learning, Tefft said.

“That’s scary because this is our next generation, this is the future of the state, the country,” she said.

In an effort to address the shortage in Illinois, state lawmakers have passed numerous measures to address the problem. These include bills that make it easier to work as a substitute teacher and to switch teaching specialties. Lawmakers want more reciprocity for teachers licensed outside of Illinois, to allow retired teachers to work short-term and a mandated $40,000 minimum wage for Illinois teachers by 2022.

Bleyer in southern Illinois, however, doesn’t believe these measures will make a significant dent in the shortage.

“That’s a band-aid,” he said.

Chris Roegge said the legislative fixes are a good solution for the short-term, but they don’t address long-term needs. Roegge serves as the director of the University of Illinois’s Council on Teacher Education, and he’s seen a decline in the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. A report from the non-profit Learning Policy Institute cites a 35 percent decrease nation-wide in teacher education enrollments between 2009 and 2014. Roegge attributes that in part to the narrative around the field.

“There’s been this swirl of negative press going back for more than five years around teaching, the conditions of teaching, the status of the job, the difficulty of the job – all of these things,” he said. “I think we’re starting to reap what’s been sown by that.”

Roegge points to the report from the Learning Policy Institute that identifies what attracts people to the field and what improves retention once they’re there. He said the four key ingredients are: compensation, preparation, induction and mentoring, and teaching conditions.

In many cases, improving these four areas requires more resources – whether that’s more money for teacher salaries and classroom materials or grants and scholarships for college students interested in the field.

The measures that have passed both chambers in the state’s General Assembly to specifically address the teacher shortage have revolved largely around decreasing bureaucratic hurdles instead of sending more money to local districts.

Republican State Representative Tom Bennett co-sponsored a package of teacher shortage legislation that passed the House and Senate this spring. He acknowledges it won’t solve the problem, but says it will help. He’s also hopeful the state’s new evidence-based funding formula will continue to send more state aid to the neediest districts.

“This is a step in the right direction. There’s a lot more to do,” he said.

Bennett said he believes teacher compensation should be increased, but that’s a choice he thinks should be left to local districts. That decision is complicated by the fact many districts are struggling to pay for curriculum, supplies and to maintain their infrastructure.

For example, Tefft, the teacher in Murphysboro, said she’s had to create her own history curriculum because of budgetary constraints.

She said it’s a challenge to make people outside the field understand exactly what teachers do.

“It’s hard to get that understanding of I work until 11 o’clock at night on lesson plans and grading papers. I know a lot of people do that in their careers, but they get paid to. And it’s not so much about money as feeling valued and respected,” she said.

In previous decades, teachers would trade higher salaries in other fields for a well-respected job with relatively low pay and good benefits, Roegge said.

The pay is still relatively low, but the demands of the job have increased “and the reputation of teaching has declined,” he said. “It’s not held in as high status as it once was.”

School administrators feel it, too, Bleyer said. Educators, generally, have to do more with less, he said.

“We’re blamed for everything that’s wrong and we’re never given any credit for anything that’s right,” Bleyer said. “That’s a negative for the field. It’s hard to get people to go into the field when you’re never really respected by the country itself.”

At present, the Illinois State Board of Education is well into a year of study on the state’s teacher shortage issue, according to agency spokesperson Jackie Matthews. ISBE plans to publish a report that includes its findings and recommendations about how the state can reverse the shortage in September, she said.

Tefft said educators understand the need to address the shortage. What’s frustrating, she said, is getting other people to share their sense of urgency.

Lee has more than six years of experience producing breaking news, magazine-length feature stories and investigative reports on subjects including education, the medical marijuana industry, criminal justice reform, social justice, local and regional politics, in addition to stories about Chicago’s thriving music and arts scene.

Community Works Towards Solutions For Traumatized Students

How many people would come to discuss the topic of students and trauma?

No guests had been confirmed, but social media activity suggested high turnout for Illinois Newsroom’s first event News & Brews: How Schools Can Better Help Kids Cope. Now it was a question of capacity. The tap room in Riggs Beer Company in Urbana can seat 99 at heavy, wood communal tables.

[click to continue…]

Shortage Of Rural Veterinarians Puts Farmers, Food Supply At Risk

Thirty-eight calves, between two and four months old, moo and kick at the dirt floor in a steel barn in Brush, Colorado. One by one, a handler leads them from the pen to a narrow shute, where their legs are restrained and they’re lifted onto a hydraulic table.

A team waits, ready to give each animal its first checkup as quickly as possible, because the longer a calf is away from its mother, the more stressed it becomes. A veterinary technician fills syringes with vaccinations against a host of deadly illnesses, like bovine respiratory disease. A seasoned cattleman wields a hot iron, branding a calf a brand helps prevent the the calf from being stolen.

Harvest Public Media’s Esther Honig spent time with a large-animal veterinarian in rural Colorado.

Then, veterinarian Karen Chandler carries out the most complicated task: castrating the young males. Chandler, wearing black surgical gloves, is swift, but gentle.

A calf is restrained before receiving his first checkup. He’ll be branded, vaccinated and castrated. Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

“They’ll be a little sore, but they’re going to be back with mom and nursing in 20 minutes and they’ll be fine,” she said.

This is preventive medicine for cattle, and it benefits more than just the animal and farmer. Chandler is the first line of defense against diseases that can spread from animals to humans, a role she describes as “to promote the health of cattle, but protect the public.”

Large-animal veterinarians like Chandler inspect livestock before they can legally be sold for slaughter. If an illness spreads among a herd or flock, it’s Chandler’s responsibility to diagnose them and report it to public health officials. And early-detection is key to preventing devastating outbreaks, like the 2015 bird flu in the Midwest that led to the deaths of 50 million turkeys and chickens.

Karen Chandler prepares for each castration with a new pair of surgical gloves. Her pickup truck doubles as her mobile clinic, allowing her to perform surgery out in the field. Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

But there’s been a shortage of large-animal vets in rural areas since 2003 due to a combination, experts say, of low wages, long hours and fewer new graduates wanting to live outside of a major city.

Without vets, farmers and the nation’s food supply are more vulnerable to those disease outbreaks. It also could mean sick and infected animals will increasingly go untested, said Mark Stetter, the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University.

“When we think about diseases that are foreign, that don’t exist within the United States, things like foot and mouth disease, or a list of other diseases that could really devastate our livestock industry … veterinarians perform that first line of defense,” he said.

Rural medicine’s wage problem

Because ear tags can be removed, a brand is the only sure way to indicate ownership. Chandler said it’s necessary for ranchers to help their cows from being stolen. Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

In 2017, the U.S Department of Agriculture identified 187 mostly rural areas (including eight Colorado counties) that lack sufficient access to a veterinarian. Stetter said he often consults with School of Medicine at the University of Colorado, because the scarcity of rural vets looks nearly identical to the country’s shortage of rural doctors.

For one, rural wages haven’t kept up with rising student debt. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinarians in rural areas earn between $61,470 and $73,540 a year — roughly half of what they could make in a city. And the vet-school loans are hefty: an average of $143,757, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medicine.

The shortage isn’t due to lack of interest, Stetter said. His department recently did a survey that showed 30 percent of students said at the beginning of the program they want to work in rural areas as food animal veterinarians. Once graduation rolls around, the number dropped, as fewer than 10 percent actually take a rural job.

Chandler’s path

Even when she was little, Chandler was passionate about working with cattle. But she admitted that she and her husband could not have come to Brush had she not been selected for a highly competitive USDA loan-forgiveness program; only about 50 people are selected each year. After three years of serving this high-needs area, her student loan debt will be $75,000 lighter.

Chandler has been a practicing large-animal veterinarian for the last four years, and the last eight months in Brush, Colorado. Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

There are sacrifices, big and small. Chandler, who grew up in Orlando, Florida, misses the selection of restaurants at her disposal, especially her favorite, Italian.

“I would say most of the time we can budget money well and we can figure out how to hand

le debt,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of things other people have, but I have a good life.”

There’s also the long days and odd hours that can burn an early-career veterinarian out.

“Horses colic in the middle of the night. Pigs get born at 6 a.m. and you can’t get your kids to school on time,” Chandler said.

The perks and pains

She said she may not have a nice car, but at least she gets to work with cattle. Her white pickup doubles as her mobile clinic. She’ll travel up to 90 miles away (sometimes farther) to answer housecalls for clients, like Kim Davis who drives hundreds of cattle across remote corners of the state’s eastern plains.

Davis can handle the less serious medical issues, but she said when something’s outside her scope — a heifer needs an emergency C-section or a horse has a broken leg — it’s vital a vet arrives within the hour.

In remote areas, a good vet can be hard to find.

Rancher Kim Davis brought her cattledog, Monk, to Chandler for a checkup. Davis said access to a veterinarian is vital, especially for preventing the spread of diseases. Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

“And then if you do find them they’re usually so busy, and they’re four hours away,” she said.

When Davis is several hours from the nearest vet, she says a phone call can be just as good, especially when it comes to preventing disease. If a nearby herd gets sick with an unknown illness, Davis can send Chandler photos and videos for help.

“We’ve got drugs on hand for everything so (Chandler) can trust us and say, ‘OK, this is what it is and this is what you need to treat it with,’” Davis said.

The death of a cow can set a rancher back thousands of dollars, but Chandler sees her work as more important than a bottom line.

She feels a strong sense of stewardship towards the welfare of animals and to society as a whole. For example, when she’s inspecting cattle before they can be sold for slaughter and made into lunch meat.

“Every day that I’m out here at the sale barn on Thursday mornings,” she said, “my thought is ‘Would I want my niece to eat this at school?’”

If the answer is “no,” Chandler won’t let that cow leave the sale ring.

Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

If It Ain’t Got That Zing: A Weekend At The International Horseradish Festival

Two counties in southwestern Illinois grow the majority of the nation’s — possibly the world’s — horseradish. The city of Collinsville, population 25,000, straddles both Madison and St. Clair, and celebrates the root annually, hosting the International Horseradish Festival.

Harvest Public Media decided it was time to check out the entertainment, games and horseradish-based dishes and drinks. Here’s a bite of the zesty gathering.

Harvest Public Media’s Madelyn Beck experienced the sights, sounds and tastes of the International Horseradish Festival.

Credit Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

The festival, held this year June 1 and 2, was on Main Street in uptown Collinsville, which is about 16 miles from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Follow Main Street (left) far west enough, and it dead-ends at a horseradish field (right).

Up to 80 percent of the world’s horseradish is grown here, according to festival organizers, though their past accounts have varied greatly: From 60 to 80 percent of the world’s horseradish to 60 percent of the nation’s horseradish.

Either way, most horseradish sauces and dishes found in the U.S. comes from this area, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You’ll find the ground-up root in mustards, shrimp cocktail sauce, even that green wasabi with your sushi.

Credit Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

The International Horseradish Festival is always the first weekend June, but it hasn’t always been in the same place.

The first year, 1987, was in an alleyway park, then moved to a bigger park far from Main Street.

But organizers moved it back to the shopping district this year, bringing more business to local shops.

Plus, it’s a bit more weather-proof. A brief, but intense rainstorm passed through the second day, soaking everything. “Had we been in the park right now, we’d be standing in mud,” Mayor John Miller said.

Credit Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Horseradish grower Dennis Heepke (above) and his brother Jeff had a booth at the festival. They’re fifth-generation growers, currently cultivating about 200 acres of the root.

They need more land than that because they cycle the crop every five to seven years, which deters pests and prevents nutrient loss in the soil. They grow soybeans and corn in those fields in the meantime.

They said the area is great for growing horseradish because of mild winters and the loamy soil of the Mississippi River bottoms, which make for easier harvesting.

Pretty much all wasabi in the U.S. is not from the actual wasabi root, the Washington Post reported in 2014 and Dennis Heepke pointed out: “A lot of wasabi, quote-unquote, is horseradish just dyed green, because wasabi is so incredibly expensive and hard to grow.” So next time you swirl that green paste into your soy sauce at the sushi restaurant, just know it’s probably from southern Illinois.

Credit Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Even in the 95-degree heat, people craved the signature spice.

Charlene Stunkard Anglin (left) won the popular Bloody Mary contest, which had enough free samples to make a happy crowd. She beat a previous champion who omitted a crucial ingredient: Bloody Mary mix.

A “root garden” at the festival supplied Bloody Marys for everyone else: 56 gallons’ worth. Eight of that was horseradish, according to Gateway Center Executive Chef Carl Vollmer.

Other horseradish-tinged dishes: Roast beef sliders with horseradish sauce, horseradish bratwurst to horseradish mustard samples. Charlie Adams (bottom right) showed up with Grandpa Spencer’s gourmet mustard.

One tip from Dennis Diekemper, general manager of J.R. Kelly Company (the largest horseradish supplier in the nation): “Heat will kill it. Add your horseradish after your recipe is made, cooked and everything.”

Credit Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Collinsville has lost nearly a thousand people from 2010 to 2016. The mayor, John Miller, was straightforward about it: “The state of Illinois unfortunately is shrinking.”

But Miller said the town is working to keep people around by fostering community activities like the horseradish festival, and noted that there are some new businesses that have just opened up and others considering moving here.

During the festival, Miller (left photo; fourth from left) cut the ribbon for a new shop, Monster Vinyl, with help from (left to right) T-Rex, Josh Wallace, John Miller, Bill Cherry, Sydney Mason, Scott Wallace and Frankenstein. Inside the shop, Mark London played songs for those popping in.

Credit Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media reporter Madelyn Beck and her recording device get in on the horseradish fun. Credit Harvest Public Media

 

There was plenty to do during the festival that had nothing to do with eating the zesty root, though it did figure into the name of the Little Miss Horseradish Pageant (bottom left) and in the horseradish root-throwing competition.

Otherwise, there was a ventriloquist (top left), live music of all genres, children’s games, washers tournaments and, of course, an Elvis impersonator (bottom right).

If you go next year, don’t forget water and sunscreen. And build up your tolerance for spicy food.

Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

An Opioid Prescription In Illinois Could Be A Ticket For Medical Marijuana

Across the country, states desperate to prevent opioid addiction are increasingly looking to medical cannabis as a solution. Lawmakers in several states, including New York, Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee, have taken action to initiate or expand their medical marijuana programs to try and address the opioid crisis.

Illinois is trying to do the same.

On May 31, the last day of the spring session, state lawmakers passed legislation that could open access to medical marijuana for millions of patients. The Alternatives to Opioids Act would allow more patients to apply for temporary access to the state’s existing medical cannabis pilot program.

To qualify, a person must be 21 or older and have a condition for which opioids might be prescribed. Patients would no longer be fingerprinted or need criminal background checks. Instead of waiting months for approval, patients could get near-immediate access to cannabis products at licensed dispensaries by presenting paperwork signed by their doctor.

The bill streamlines the program and reduces the backlog of applications, said lead sponsor Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park.

“As we see the horrible damage inflicted by opioid use and misuse, it seems like a very low-cost and low-risk alternative,” Harmon said.

More States Push For Medical Marijuana Access

Harmon joins a growing cohort of state politicians who’ve gone on the record lately in support of medical marijuana as a tool to prevent opioid addiction. When Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour proposed a medical marijuana bill last fall he mentioned “possible benefits of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids.”

Last week, New York Republican state Sen. George Amedore cited the opioid crisis when he spoke about legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis oil as an alternative to opioids for certain conditions, as WAMC reported.

Illinois is one of 29 states plus Washington, D.C., with a law that allows patients access to medical marijuana. Under the current program, a doctor must certify a patient has one of 41 qualifying conditions, which include HIV/AIDS, cancer, terminal illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. Chronic pain does not qualify a patient, although earlier this year, a judge ordered Illinois to expand the program to include intractable pain that can’t be effectively treated with other therapies. That move is on hold as the state’s Department of Public Health appeals that ruling.

Mixed Reaction

The new measure could increase the number of people in Illinois who can access marijuana for a medical condition. The medical cannabis program currently has about 38,000 licensed users. The number of prescription opioids filled in 2017 topped 5 million.

Credit Illinois Department of Public Health

Harmon said he hopes the measure will reduce the number of prescription opioids to new patients and help others taper off opioids. Now it will be up to the governor whether this legislation, which received wide bipartisan support from the House and Senate, becomes law.

Advocates for medical marijuana see the measure as a necessary step to combat the state’s opioid crisis. In 2017, more than 13,000 people in Illinois overdosed on opioids. About 2,000 of those were fatal.

“I think it will save a lot of people’s lives to be quite honest,” said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana.

The measure will be “both a lifeline to those patients who are being prescribed opioid-based painkillers, as well as the medical cannabis industry in Illinois,” Linn said.

The state’s 54 licensed cannabis dispensaries crafted their business models with the expectation they would have 100,000 qualifying patients in the program by now, he said. Linn anticipates the bill could almost double the patient count to 75,000 within a year of implementation.

Some who work on the frontlines of addiction treatment are concerned the policy is getting ahead of the science.

Aaron Weiner directs addiction services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health in Naperville. He said lawmakers are replacing one addictive substance with another. “People are prescribed opioids inappropriately all the time,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they should be smoking pot” instead.

Weiner said some scientific research supports the use of marijuana to treat chronic pain, referring to a 2017 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. But he said the industry, as it currently stands, puts patients at risk.

That’s because patients who receive a medical cannabis card must use trial-and-error to find what works among a plethora of marijuana products. Weiner is concerned that cannabis dispensary staff aren’t trained adequately and he said they’ve been found to make recommendations that can harm patients.

He’s also worried about how the products are sold under names such as Bio Jesus and OG 18. “This is not marketed to 50-year-old people in intractable pain,” Weiner said. “If we’re going to pass something like this, I think it’s our responsibility to protect patients while we do it. I really don’t see that right now.”

The Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, which represents more than 60 behavioral health organizations across the state, has taken a neutral stance on the bill. But the group’s chief operating officer, Eric Foster, said he supports efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions.

Where The Science Stands

The most recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find no evidence that opioids are effective for treating chronic pain. As many as one in four patients who take opioids long term struggle with addiction.

Whether medical marijuana is an effective alternative to opioids for pain is still an open question, said Ziva Cooper, a cannabis researcher and associate professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

“I think the public is unaware of how little data we have that’s rigorous… on the therapeutic effects of cannabis,” said Cooper, who is one of the authors of the 2017 NASEM report on medical marijuana.

Earlier this year, Cooper published a study in the journal Nature that found medical cannabis can work in conjunction with low doses of opioids to provide greater pain relief than opioids alone.

There are many anecdotal reports of patients using medical cannabis to reduce their reliance on opioids, but Cooper said more research is needed to know definitely whether that’s the case.

What The Future Holds

While the changes to Illinois’ medical cannabis program could increase access to the drug, Sandy Champion, an advocate for medical marijuana who helped draft legislation for the pilot program in 2015, remains cautious.

She said some patients with qualifying conditions can’t find a doctor who will complete the paperwork to apply to the program and she thinks that’s unlikely to change.

Sen. Harmon said doctors will not be compelled to participate. But he thinks the argument that the measure would replace one addictive drug with another is “ridiculous.”

“Opioids and heroin is killing scores of people. No one has died from overdose of cannabis,” said Harmon, who agrees more research on marijuana is needed. But he said the drug’s Schedule 1 classification, which means it’s considered highly addictive and has no medical use,presents challenges to scientists.

Champion said she does not expect Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the bill because his administration has been opposed to expanding the medical cannabis program in the past.

But Harmon is optimistic the governor will sign it because of how closely he worked with state agencies throughout the legislative process. “I think we were very tuned in to their concerns and tried to make it a better program for them to administer,” Harmon said.

Rauner’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The governor did tell the Kane County Chronicle Wednesday that his medical experts are looking at the measure and he will make a decision “in the not too distant future.”

This story was produced in partnership with Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman

Copyright 2018 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.

Partners