Connected schools; healthy revenue numbers

96% of Illinois K-12 schools connected to high-speed internet
The EducationSuperHighway; a national non-profit which monitors states’ progress in connecting K-12 schools across the United States to high-speed internet; reported some encouraging numbers for Illinois this month. In all, 96 percent of the K-12 school districts in Illinois are able to access the internet at speeds of 100 kbps per student. This figure is up from only 71 percent three years ago. The median bandwidths have also more than doubled since 2015.

These efforts are thanks in part to the Illinois Classroom Connectivity Initiative, which the state launched in 2016. The initiative was intended to help school districts get the support and funding they need to access the latest technology. Having high-speed connectivity gives students access to more digital resources, thus expanding learning opportunities. Connecting our schools through high-speed internet gives teachers and students the benefits of greater interactivity, engagement and personal instruction.

We still have some work to do in order to reach 100% connectivity. There is a $17 million fund for broadband expansion in this year’s education budget to help school districts cover the costs of fiber upgrades. The budget also includes provision for free technical assistance for schools which need it.

Revenue numbers were healthy in September
The September revenue report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the General Assembly’s non-partisan budget watchdog, found healthy revenue numbers for the state last month.

The September revenue numbers were helped along by the more than six million non-farm payroll jobs in the state. Weekly employee paycheck earnings were up by 2.3% statewide for the fiscal year, which led to more revenue being collected due to more jobs and higher wages. Overall, state revenue was up by $240 million this September compared to the same month last year.

Receipts from corporate and sales taxes came in higher for the month. Overall, these increases were enough to cancel out flat or reduced revenue from sources such as cigarette taxes, liquor taxes, lottery revenues, and riverboat receipts taxes, as well as a decline in overall federal aid compared to the same month last year. The main reason for the decline in federal funds was that last September saw a temporary spike in federal Medicaid reimbursements to Illinois which was not repeated this year.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,289,875,027 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.

Reminder about autumn fire safety
The Office of the State Fire Marshal is offering Illinoisans some tips to stay safe from fire as we enter the fall.

The tips include everything from remembering to remove leaves and debris such as sticks, branches and shrubs from the roofs and gutters, to avoiding burning leaves on windy days. When planning that cookout or bonfire, the Fire Marshal recommends that it be contained in a pit, with sidewalls, and that it not exceed 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall.

Local residents should always follow their local ordinances about burning and disposing of yard waste and should also keep in mind that embers from burning leaves can spread and start a larger fire. The Fire Marshal recommends that outdoor fires be a minimum of 15 feet from any structure. To keep a fire controlled and prevent it from spreading, combustible materials should never be left unattended.

We are also getting into that time of year when homeowners start thinking about using their fireplaces. But before lighting it for the first time, make sure the fireplace has been cleaned and inspected. Always use a fireplace screen to make sure sparks do not drift out of the fireplaces. And never go to bed or leave the house without putting the fire all the way out first.

The Fire Marshal is also warning about the use of space heaters. Be sure your space heater is placed at least three feet away from other objects, such as curtains. Always make sure that it is unplugged when not in use. According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters account for 43% of U.S. home heating fires each year.

A visit to Pontiac Junior High School
Thank you to Superintendent Brian Dukes, Principal Brian Hensley, Principal Brad Welch, teacher Christine Chiodo, and so many others for showing me several of the STEAM programs at Pontiac Junior High School last week. These programs are more focused on individual growth because students learn at different speeds and in different ways. There are some very neat things going on here. I appreciated the tour very much.

Did You Know?
Al Capone was convicted on federal tax evasion charges on October 17, 1931. The downfall of Illinois’ most famous criminal was brought about by another Illinoisan, Treasury Department agent Elliott Ness. Capone was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison. One of his prosecutors was Dwight Green, who became so well-known from the trial that he was elected Governor of Illinois in 1940 and again in 1944.