SPRINGFIELD – Illinois school districts that have not yet been able to afford the cost of installing reliable high-speed internet soon will be able to do so under a plan being advanced by a bipartisan group of state senators.

A proposal introduced by state senators Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Sam McCann (R-Plainview) and  sets aside $16.3 million in the upcoming state budget to help school districts foot the cost of installing fiberoptic cable for high-speed internet.

The $16.3 million would be matched nearly three to one by the federal government to cover the installation costs, which often are cost-prohibitive for school districts in hard-to-reach areas of the state. Costs can range from $75,000 more than $420,000 per school.

About 100 Illinois school districts with nearly 90,000 students currently do not have high-speed internet through fiberoptic infrastructure. Fiberoptic is faster, more reliable and more cost effective over the long term.

“Technology in school plays an impactful role in the inequalities we see in our schools. Students lack quality learning experiences simply because of their ZIP codes,” said Bertino-Tarrant, chairwoman of the Senate’s Education Committee. “We need to recognize that tech goes beyond a teaching tool, but allows training opportunities for teachers and expanded course selections for students.”

When schools lack high-speed internet, students are unable to take advantage of such routine modern classroom activities as streaming educational videos, participating in online testing, browsing the internet, playing educational games and engaging in remote learning.

“There’s federal money on the table that we can take advantage of, and we want to make sure we do that on behalf of school districts that can benefit from this state-federal partnership,” Manar said. “Rural schools need to be a priority in Illinois. The digital divide is another example of the inequities among school districts that we have to work to address.”

“Too many of our schools are unable to obtain reliable, high-speed internet access, leaving their schools on the wrong side of a digital education divide,” McCann said. “This legislation is a promise to students that we will do everything in our power to make sure they have access to the tools they need to succeed.”
The $16.3 million will come from the School Infrastructure Fund.

04252017CM1305rPLAINFIELD- In light of the most recent spate of chaos created by Gov. Bruce Rauner, State Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood) is calling for a pause on the award of tax credits to scholarship donors.

“If our schools are not receiving state funding, scholarship donors should not receive tax rebates on the taxpayer’s dime,” said Bertino-Tarrant, chairwoman of the Senate’s education committee.  “It is concerning that the tax program is up and running while our schools have not received funding or even been informed how many state dollars they can count on for the next school year.”

Funding clarity has been denied to public schools because Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 444, a technical piece of legislation previously requested by the governor’s administration to help clarify and quickly implement school funding reform. His veto of the measure will do just the opposite of that.

“The chaos and uncertainty created by the governor’s administration is mind-boggling,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “If there was an issue with this legislation, Governor Rauner should have made it known months ago instead of sitting on his hands until the last possible minute.”

In November, the House and Senate worked quickly to address the governor’s concerns regarding the education funding overhaul which passed with bipartisan support, and Rauner has been touting the legislation as his greatest gubernatorial accomplishment ever since.

But because of this veto, Rauner has once again plunged education funding into uncertainty, removing clarity as to how much funding Will County schools will receive and raising the possibility of yet another delay in the disbursement of those funds.

“The governor’s office may work on whims, but it is unacceptable that Will County schools are once again subject to the uncertainty that legislators from both parties worked so hard and so long to relieve,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “School administrators need time to calculate and implement sound financial decisions for the next school year, yet this veto strips them of their ability to make these decisions with any certainty.”

Bertino-Tarrant is working with staff and the Senator Andy Manar, the senate sponsor of the legislation, to make sense of the governor’s veto and take the necessary steps to expedite the release of school funding levels for the 2018-2019 school year.

“The lack of guidance from our governor is staggering,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “Now more than ever we need stability and certainty for Will County schools. Sadly, this veto threatens to take all of that away in favor of more in-fighting and political posturing.”

JBertino Tarrant2016cOLIET- State Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood) this week joined other legislators at a town hall meeting aiming to lower the number of fatalities and serious crashes on the I-80 corridor from New Lenox and Joliet to Shorewood and Minooka.

“My number one concern is that driving conditions are safe along the I-80 corridor,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “This meeting is another example of our communities working together to solve problems and institute a long-term plan to ensure safe traveling conditions.”

People who attended this community meeting heard from Mary Craighead, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, Secretary of Illinois Transportation Randy Blankenhorn and Chief Operating Officer of the Illinois Tollway, Kevin Artl.

Scott Slocum from Will County radio station WJOL moderated the event, and Bertino Tarrant said she was impressed with his professional and firm demeanor.

Key findings from the meeting include:

• A total of 37 fatal crashes occurred between 2001 and 2016.

• About 20 percent of the total traffic along the I-80 corridor consists of heavy trucks and semis.

• The Illinois State Police are currently short staffed. They are in the process of recruiting new troopers, and once the new hires are trained and stationed within a region, ISP hopes they will be able to further enforce and observe traffic among the corridor.

On top of those findings, a group of community leaders, stakeholders, and state and local transportation agencies formed a working group to produce a long-term infrastructure and safety plan to accommodate for the rapid population growth and added traffic within the region.

IDOT will continue to look into short-term solutions as the working group develops recommendations such as no-change lanes, barriers to high-risk areas near Richard Street and additional signage.

The report discussed during the meeting can be found here.

“The continuous population growth within our communities demands a long-term plan to upgrade and improve infrastructure along the I-80 corridor,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “We need to make sure our transportation infrastructure meets the needs of our region to encourage safe travel conditions, economic development and convenience for residents.”

Bertino-Tarrant looks forward to seeing a long-term transportation infrastructure strategy for the region.

“Investing in our roads, highways and bridges encourages economic development for our region,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “Every dollar we spend to improve our infrastructure is an investment in safety for area residents and another incentive for companies to grow and make our community their home.” 

03142017AM4965rPLAINFIELD- As the temperatures drop this winter season, State Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood) reminds Will County residents to check and change batteries in household smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

“The new year is a perfect opportunity for residents of the 49th State Senate District to test safety devices to reduce home fire fatalities,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “While changing calendars and organizing for the new year, please take a second to change and check batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.”

The National Fire Protection Association reports that heating is the second leading cause of home fires, deaths and injuries across the nation. December, January and February are the peak months for heating fires.

Residents should remember to consider home safety while using space heaters during the winter months. Space heaters are the type of equipment most often involved in home heating equipment fires, and account for two of every five fires. Keeping heating equipment away from flammable household items is essential.

“While we battle dangerously low temperatures this winter, it is important that we exercise proper safety precautions to keep our families safe,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “Please don’t forget to check on elderly neighbors or friends to ensure they have a warm place to stay. There are warming centers open throughout Will County to serve area residents and keep them safe and warm during these harsh winter months.”

Residents can click here for a list of warming centers in the area or reach out to her Plainfield Office at (815) 254-4211 for more information.

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