Community Colleges Offer Options
By Shanita Bigelow
Illinois’ budgetary woes, stagnant incomes, unemployment and the increasing costs of college could put a higher education just out of reach for those looking to continue their education.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), necessary to determine eligibility for federal and state financial aid, has a deadline of June 30, but states have their own deadlines. Illinois suggests that students complete the FAFSA as quickly after it is available on January 1, as state funds are allotted on a first come, first served basis.
More than 180,000 Illinois students filed for financial aid in January and February, a 21 percent increase from the little more than 150,000 students who applied during the same period last year, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC).
The Center for Economic Progress’ Financial Aid U, a nationwide endeavor designed to help low-income families with the financial aid process, is determined to shorten that reach, despite increasing demand for state scholarships and grants.
Fredericka Dejean, a senior at the School of the Arts at South Shore, isn’t worried, she’s hopeful and open to attending any of the schools on her list, she indicated at Saturday’s session held at the AKAram Foundation Community Service Center. Having applied to five schools, including Columbia College, before completing her FAFSA Saturday, Dejean isn’t done yet. She will apply to two more: Lincoln and Joliet, community colleges.
Spring 2010 saw record levels of enrollment at Illinois’ community colleges, according to the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB).
“The demand we are seeing are from those who need to enhance their skills…and from traditional students who are finding accessibility and affordability make community colleges an attractive option,” Geoffrey Obrzut, president and chief executive officer of the ICCB, said in a press release.
Financial Aid U, sponsored by Citi Group, offers parents and students free assistance with tax preparation, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and all that follows, which includes comparing financial aid award letters and searching for other sources of financial assistance.
Dejean was joined by her mother, grandmother and a friend (also completing the FAFSA), all supporting her goal to become a teacher. She hopes to earn a degree in special education and work specifically with deaf and hard of hearing kids. Her grandmother brought them down “on her day off because…[she] know[s] how vital it is for these kids to finish school.”
With five brothers and sisters, Dejean will be the first to attend college, “the first one…to set the mark,” according to her grandmother.
Filling out the FAFSA and college applications is just the beginning, according to Erika Schafer, Center for Economic Progress, Director of Financial Services.
Researching and budgeting are what follows. M.C. Williams, a financial coach for the Center for Economic Progress, believes searching for further funding is vital for making college a reality. As Williams spoke with a mother and son who’d already completed the FAFSA prior to Saturday’s event, he stressed the importance of visiting schools’ websites and/or calling their financial aid offices to find out more about internal scholarships.
“Everything’s completed,” she (the mother) said, adding that her biggest concern was “making sure everything is covered,” including tuition, fees, and books. Her son, interested in business, has applied to two community colleges.
“FAFSA catches all [federal and state funds],” said Williams, who normally does programs in high schools. “It’s tough…[but] it’s a relief when we get to that final page.”
by Lesley R. Chinn
Hundreds joined Eighth Ward Ald. Michelle Harris and Mayor Richard M. Daley recently in the official grand opening of a new senior development in the Avalon Park community.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the celebration of the newly constructed Montclare Senior Apartments of Avalon Park located on 1200 E. 78th St.
The seven-story facility, which houses a total of 102 affordable units, includes amenities such as a laundry room, a beauty salon, and a doctor’s office. The 430-plus square feet apartments are available to senior citizens earning at or below 60 percent of area median income. Thirteen of the units are reserved for senior citizens earning no more than 30 percent of the area median income. The rents range from $168 to $700 a month.
“Chicago’s senior population is growing and we are continuing to make important investments to provide safe, affordable housing for them. Developments like these offer another option for seniors who want to remain a vibrant part of their community surrounded by the support and services necessary to lead healthy and active lives,” Daley stated.
The city donated the vacant land valued at $1.5 million, invested $6 million in loans, $1 million in tax credits that generated over $9.3 million in equity and $650,000 from the Chicago Low Income Housing’s Trust Fund. The project also received $1.9 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Assistance and $1 million from the Illinois Housing Development Authority’s Trust Fund.
The developer for the 90,000 square foot building is Avalon Park Phase I LLC. MR Properties manages the facility. Phase Two, which begins next year, will include the construction of more than 120 units. For leasing information, call Montclare Senior Residences at (773) 933-9000 or visit: www.TheMontclare. com.
By Shanita Bigelow
Governor Pat Quinn will make his annual budget announcement today, highlighting his plans to fill Illinois’ woeful deficit. The minimum FY2011 starting deficit, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), is $13 billion. These growing economic concerns will likely result in more spending cuts, more borrowing and wider searchers to find more sources of revenue.
“This is the reality budget. This is what’s really happening,” David Vaught, Director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB), said to the Associated Press (AP). This reality is likely to include spending cuts of about $2 billion—cuts to education, public safety and human services, according to AP.
In an effort to provide Illinois residents with an in depth look into these realities, GOMB launched budget. illinois.gov. Residents have the opportunity to track government spending and provide feedback.
“We’ve received over 6,000 suggestions,” Kelly Kraft, Director of Communications for GOMB. “I sat down with the governor and he circled few…there are a lot of…sound solutions…We are excited about the feedback.”
Suggestions range from raising the cigarette tax to legalizing marijuana. But the overwhelming response has denounced further spending cuts, particularly in education, and has supported the possibility of a tax increase.
“More than 30 states have raised taxes to keep pace in this recession. Illinois has the nation’s lowest income-tax rate and a narrow sales-tax base. We’re out of step and falling further behind,” Rachel Williams of Chicago wrote.
House Bill 174 is a popular solution for many of the respondents. HB 174 would augment state revenue by increasing the rate of state income taxes from three to five percent, expanding the sales tax base, etc., according to CTBA. One third of all new revenue generated by tax increases would go into the Common School Fund, CTBA reports.
“The State of Illinois is sinking into a quagmire due to irresponsible spending without progressive taxation… There can be no excuse for failing to raise revenue while cutting services to those who have nowhere else to turn,” Rev. Lloyd A. and Ms. Doris Jean Heroff of Mount Prospect wrote on the site.
by Lesley R. Chinn
If the Supreme Court decides to overturn a 28-year-old gun ban in Chicago after hearing McDonald v. Chicago, Morgan Park resident Otis McDonald said he thinks it would lead to a decrease in homicides because people would think before they act.
McDonald, whose life was previously threatened with violence, is the lead plaintiff in the McDonald case. According to him, the hand gun ban is not working. “If law-abiding citizens could have handguns, a robber in the streets will have something to think about when he gets ready to [kill someone],” McDonald stated.
Petitioners in this case want the Supreme Court to extend federal protections of the Bill of Rights—including the Second Amendment—to all 50 states. McDonald v. Chicago is a follow-up to the 2008 Supreme Court ruling of District of Columbia v. Heller, which reversed a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., which allowed individuals to “keep and bear” arms. Before the Supreme Court heard the gun rights case McDonald v. last Tuesday, the city recorded 458 murders last year, in which 81 percent involved firearms, according to the Chicago Police Department Research and Development Division.
The city included stats from the 4th Police District, which includes Calumet Heights with a total of 41 murders. The 6th District Police, which includes Auburn Gresham, reported 35 murders while the 7th Police District, which includes Englewood and West Englewood, had 45 murders. Twenty-one murders were reported in the 5th Police District, which includes Roseland, Pullman, West Pullman and a Chicago suburb of Riverdale. Nineteen murders were reported in the 22nd Police District, which includes Morgan Park and Washington Heights.
The South side has already experienced its fair share of gun violence cutting short the lives of 18-year-old Terrell Bosley; 16-year-old Blair Holt, and two Englewood youth Starkesia Reed and Siretha White.
Mayor Richard M. Daley warned that overturning the city’s gun ban could result in jeopardizing the public’s safety. “How many more of our children, our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers must needlessly die because guns are too easily available in our society today?” he stated.
When asked about the impact of McDonald v. City of Chicago on crime-ridden communities in the Chicagoland area, Atty. Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel to the Washington, D.C.-based Constitutional Accountability Center, said that would be an answer for the courts to decide. Right now, she said she doesn’t believe the case gives a definite answer to which gun regulations would be permissible if the Second Amendment is enacted against the states. Wydra noted that after the D.C. ruling, the D.C. Council replaced its ban with regulations that require gun owners to receive five hours of safety training, register their firearms every three years and face criminal background checks every six years. “Cities would have to go through a process of enacting permissible regulations that will still be constitutional,” she contends.
Although a decision is not expected until June, Adam Samaha, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, predicted the possibility of the courts using the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment. “Any rights used in the privileges and immunities clause will only apply to U.S. citizens and not immigrants,” he explained. “Opening up the privileges and immunities clause would open up a host of additional issues and lead to fundamental changes in constitutional law.”
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois Rifle Association, said the courts are mostly likely to favor overturning the ban. “Chicago’s gun ban has been illegal for years. It discriminates against law-abiding citizens and lets criminals run free,” he stated. “Law abiding citizens can’t defend themselves in their own home.”
Jennifer Hoyle, a spokesman for the city’s law department, disagreed. “Individuals can still legally possess long-barreled rifles and shotguns as long as those guns are properly registered with the Chicago Police Department. For that reason, it’s not impossible for law-abiding citizens to own guns to protect their families. It’s simply illegal for them to own handguns,” Hoyle said.
By Shanita Bigelow
The Chicago Board of Education’s decision to close, consolidate or turnaround eight of Chicago’s public schools (CPS) comes at a time of dire budget constraints and heightened expecatations from the Obama administration.
“[W]e know that about 12 percent of America’s schools produce 50 percent of America’s dropouts, we’re going to focus on helping states and school districts turn around their 5,000 lowest-performing schools in the next five years,” Obama said at the America’s Promise Alliance Education Event.
The decision to turnaround Charles S. Deneen and Myra Bradwell elementary schools due to low performance came amid protests from school faculty and staff, students, parents and other community members.
CPS’s “Performance Policy” scores schools based on a variety of factors. Schools that score less than 33.3 percentage points based on the policy for two consecutive years are considered for reconstitution or turnaround.
Deneen and Bradwell’s consistently low standardized test scores and attendance when compared to comparable students district-wide slated them for reconstitution, according to CPS.
Deneen’s reading and math scores improved by 5.3 and 2 percentage points between the 2005-06 and 2008-09 school years while CPS averages increased by 8.7 and 9.6 percentage points, Ryan Crosby, CPS Director of Performance Policy, testified.
Bradwell has been on probation for the past three years and five out of the last six years, Crosby stated at the Feb 10 hearing.
“I’m asking for one year…in August…I presented them [staff] with a challenge… we knew our backs were against the wall and the status quo was unacceptable…In July, I established a partnership with the Black United Fund and the Safe Passage Program. Every day we have up to 14 volunteers who are securing safe passage routes for our students. We…had zero fights on our school grounds up…until we got that letter…Once the students got the letter, they felt abandoned again. Then we had to start putting out a million fires,” Bradwell Principal Justin Moore testified. The turnaround of Bradwell and Deneen will likely be managed by the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which has managed eight CPS turnaround schools since 2006 and seen much success.
Donald Feinstein, AUSL Executive Director, acknowledges the challenges inherent in the turnaround process and is dedicated to improved student achievement and more community involvement.
“I think it takes longer than the current time frame [of CPS policy] in order for others to have a voice,” he said. Schools should also receive information regarding the health of their school a lot sooner, he continued. But, “when all else fails… through a transparent process…there may be times when [reconstitution] is justified.”
The Chicago School Board unanimously decided to approve a proposal last Wednesday that will include changes at eight schools. Despite objections from parents, staff, faculty, students, elected officials and community activists, the changes will involve closing some schools, creating more turnaround schools, and consolidating others.
Chicago Public Schools Chief Ron Huberman said closing a school is not an easy task nor is it a popular one. “Our primary obligation is to assess the performance of schools and provide the best possible educational opportunity for students,” he stated.
Typically, when a school is put on a turnaround list, new staff and faculty are replaced. If a school shuts down or is consolidated, students generally transfer over to the receiving school. In a phase out, new students will not be enrolled.
Before the Board voted on the changes, Huberman removed the following six schools from the original list of 14 that were initially targeted for turnarounds, phase outs, consolidations, or closures: Gillespie Elementary School, 7257 S. State; Prescott Elementary School, 1632 W. Wrightwood; Marconi Elementary School, 230 N. Kolmar; Mollison Elementary School, 4415 S. King Dr.; Guggenheim Elementary School, 7141 S. Morgan and Paderewski Elementary School, 2221 S. Lawndale.
“Other schools did not come up with very specific, supported proposals or plans of action,” Huberman explained. “They didn’t offer any alternative to suggest to us how they plan to improve at educating children.”
Huberman said the approved changes for the following schools were made to help improve the quality of education. These changes were based on under enrollment, low academic performance or underutilized facilities. They will be effective next school year.
Consolidated Schools: McCorkle Elementary School, 4421 S. State will merge with Beethoven School, 25 W. 47th St.
Turnaround Schools: Deneen Elementary School, 7257 S. State; Bradwell Elementary School, 7736 S. Burnham; Curtis Elementary School, 32 E. 115th St.; and Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams.
Phase Out: Scheinder Elementary School, 2957 N. Hoyne.
Closures: De Las Casas Occupational High School, 8401 S. Saginaw.
More than 500 people packed the chambers at the Board’s headquarters downtown to learn about the changes. Guggenheim reading teacher Cassandra Love-Vaughn, said the Board’s decision to keep the school open will allow staff and faculty to make continued improvements for success for its students. She stated that the school, “has much work to do,” and hopes that Guggenheim does not end up in this situation ever again.
After hearing the decision, Michael E. Johnson, a teacher at Marshall High School, will be among hundreds of impacted teachers that will have the option of retirement, reapplying for their jobs at their current school or transferring to another school. “I don’t want to retire because I’m too young and I want to keep on teaching,” he stated.
Covette Hamilton, a Deneen teacher, described the board’s decision as unfair because she believes the school is doing well but “lacked resources” to make continued improvements.
Chicago Teachers Union president Merilyn Stewart said the criteria for closures, turnarounds, consolidations, and phase-outs should be re-examined. “Schools are on the list. They’re off the list. Obviously, the system is flawed,” she said. “I think instead of trying to turnaround our schools, they need to turnaround CPS.”
By Shanita Bigelow
“[W]e need to find common ground…We know it’s possible to do this,” Obama stated in his weekly address, Saturday evening. “[N]o final bill will include everything that everyone wants. That’s what compromise is…I am eager and willing to move forward with members of both parties on health care…But I also believe that we cannot lose the opportunity to meet this challenge. The tens of millions of men and women who cannot afford their health insurance cannot wait another generation for us to act. Small businesses…Americans with preexisting conditions cannot wait. State and federal budgets cannot sustain these rising costs.”
Thursday’s bipartisan meeting, a seven hour, televised debate, further solidified Republican and Democratic differences; chief among them, cost and implementation. And what little ground they found provided few solutions and left many, even those in attendance, with more than a few questions, most prevalent: What’s next?
“I think it was a good forum,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I hope that it could be the basis for us to have some serious negotiations. But we still have the fundamental problem: Do we go on the partisan plan that…ran through the Senate and the House or do we start over from the beginning?”
But starting over to some is tantamount to doing nothing. The “Republican mantra” of starting over “means do nothing,” according to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) also on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” That’s simply not the case, according to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WS), who said “we want to fix this…but this is not the solution,” at Thursday’s meeting.
Republicans fear a government takeover and suggest starting over and addressing the problem step by step. “Coverage doesn’t equal care,” said Sen. John Barrasso (RWY), as Republicans tout a bill that would expand coverage to only three of the more 30 million Americans currently uninsured.
“[We] can’t get from one point to the next incrementally unless we deal with it holistically,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT).
Aside from opposing solutions to the health care quandary, the parties also differ in their definition of the problem itself, said Ronald Brownstein, Political Director for Atlantic Media, on “Meet the Press.”
“[T]he Senate bill reallocates resources in the health care system effectively enough that the independent Medicare actuary has estimated that the measure would cover 33 million more people by 2019 while increasing total health care spending by less than a penny on the dollar. It’s not perfect, but…does provide a solid foundation for a more equitable and efficient health system,” Brownstein wrote in the National Journal Magazine. Democrats hope to build upon the common ground and muster enough votesto move the legislation through to the American people. Should Democrats find themselves stymied by their fellow congressmen and women, they may opt for congressional r e c o n c i l i a t i o n . Reconciliation would allow for passage with a majority of 51 votes as opposed to 60, a risky move for such sweeping legislation. Today, President Obama will address “what’s next.” He “will talk about the merits of the legislation, mainly about the costs of doing nothing versus the cost of doing something and what this will accomplish,” said Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, to the New York Times.
End-stage renal disease will become the main cause of death over the next two decades, according to the World Health Organization while racial minorities, particularly Blacks, are disproportionately affected by kidney disease, accounting for 32 percent of patients with the illness in America. Raising awareness among high-risk populations affected by chronic kidney disease with information on transplantation, in particular through living donors, is a consortium of doctors, community-based health providers, transplant and communications professionals. Recently, they made a stop on Chicago’s South side to talk about reducing wait times for a healthy kidney, getting an organ from a healthy live donor and what donors can generally expect.
Enhancing Life through Transplantation
by Lesley R. Chinn
If a dialysis patient is suffering from chronic kidney disease, organ transplantation may be another lifesaving option.
During a kickoff awareness campaign at Chicago State University last week, the Kidney Informational Consortium (KIC) armed the audience with information about how dialysis patients can enhance their lives through transplantation from living donors.
Dr. Paul Crawford, a partner at Associates in Nephrology in Chicago and KIC spokesman, said “far too many people impacted by chronic kidney disease in communities of color are spending excessive periods receiving kidney dialysis treatment.”
A U.S. Renal Data System report found that 37 percent of Blacks nationwide are on dialysis while 19 percent only make up organ transplants.
Dr. Amy Waterman, a Washington University medical school professor, noted that in five years, only 35 percent of patients who begin dialysis are still alive but added that with a transplant, the chances of survival increases from about 70 to 80 percent. Waterman is also creator of the St. Louis-based Explore Transplant program, which is designed to educate patients and providers about the medical option of transplantation. She pointed out that minorities on dialysis are less likely to receive information about organ transplants. “Everyone needs to make an informed choice early while having the life-saving option of dialysis… so that no one is left out,” Waterman stated.
As part of the KIC’s initiative to raise awareness, the group also plans to document the lives of individuals like Citizen Newspapers publisher William Garth, who has been on dialysis for three years and just recently received news about being placed on a kidney transplant list.
“Transplantation is a better viable option as opposed to being hooked up to a machine [because] dialysis patients spend so much time being devoted to a machine that they often have barriers that prevent them from living their lives like they want to,” said Paul Davis, president of First Trace Communications.