By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS
SPRINGFIELD – Early voting hours and locations greatly expanded across the state this week as the campaign season entered its final two-week stretch.
Polling places opened across the city of Chicago as well. Information on early voting for each local election authority can be found on the Illinois State Board of Elections website here, or by visiting elections.il.gov.
According to the state elections board, 265,937 of the 795,085 requested mail ballots had been returned as of Monday, while 66,934 early votes had been cast and 1,009 grace period votes cast.
The candidates for governor, meanwhile, continued their final pushes to get out the voters that have not yet cast a ballot.
For Gov. JB Pritzker, the recent public appearances included a stop Tuesday in Rock Island County, where he appeared with Democratic 17th Congressional District candidate Eric Sorensen to support that candidate over his GOP rival, Esther Joy King. Sorensen and Pritzker emphasized their support for abortion rights.
On Monday, Oct. 24, the governor rallied with teacher unions in Peoria, then in Urbana, speaking to some of the Democratic Party’s most important backers. That was the governor’s latest labor union stop, following a Sunday appearance before the International Union of Electric Engineers Local 150 in suburban Countryside.
He contended Bailey is too extreme for Illinois, a message Pritzker has emphasized throughout the campaign. He has remained on the attack against his conservative rival even as recent polls have shown the incumbent with a double-digit lead. As of Oct. 26, the political handicapping website FiveThirtyEight, which aggregates data from multiple polls, estimated Pritzker’s average lead at 13.5 percentage points, 51.6 percent to 38.1 percent. It had the Libertarian candidate, Scott Schluter, at about 4.8 percent.
Bailey’s campaign released its own sponsored poll, which was logged by FiveThirtyEight, that showed him trailing Pritzker by about two percentage points – a drastic outlier from multiple nonpartisan polls.
In his daily Facebook video Tuesday, Bailey contended he was in the lead.
The Republican spent Monday morning greeting voters at the Belmont train station in Chicago while his Twitter account spent the early part of the week retweeting stories about shootings in the city that he has repeatedly described as a “hellhole.”
He spent the previous week on a “get out the vote” bus tour, stopping in 16 cities and towns across the state, including Anna, Belleville, Springfield, Champaign, Arthur, Joliet, Aurora and Naperville.
At the Springfield stop last week, Bailey once again mentioned a “zero based budget” as his plan for balancing state finances, although he has persistently refused to name any state spending cuts he would look to implement if elected. He has said that will be determined by the agency heads he hires to replace the current agency directors he plans to fire. He has said he will plan to name the replacement candidates after the election.
Pritzker, meanwhile, touted his first-term legislative wins to the union members in Urbana, highlighting the increased minimum wage to $15 hourly by 2025, protections for women seeking abortions in Illinois, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act that increases investment in renewable energy, and the requirement that LGBTQ and Asian American history be taught in Illinois schools.
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NEW CHIEF JUSTICE: Justice Mary Jane Theis was sworn in Wednesday as chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, the fourth woman in the state’s history to hold the position.
She’ll serve a three-year term replacing Justice Anne M. Burke, whose term as chief justice concluded Tuesday ahead of her planned retirement effective Nov. 30.
Theis is a Democrat from the court’s 1st District which encompasses Cook County and elects three of the court’s seven justices. She was chosen for the post through the court’s standard process of naming chief justice, which gives the position to the most tenured justice who has not yet held it.
“I look forward to working with the bench, bar and community at large to further the Court’s mission of providing access to equal justice, ensuring judicial integrity and upholding the rule of law,” Theis said in a news release. “Our goal continues to be increasing public trust and confidence in the courts.”
Theis, born in 1949 in Chicago, graduated from Loyola University in 1971 and earned her law degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1974. She was appointed to the court in 2010 and she won election to her seat in 2012.
She’ll be on Cook County ballots this election cycle facing a retention vote, which requires 60 percent approval from the electorate for her to receive another 10-year term.
Her duties as chief justice will include serving as the court’s chief administrative officer, which oversees more than 900 judges in the statewide judicial system. The chief justice also selects Supreme Court agenda items, supervises all Supreme Court committee appointments, chairs the executive committee of the Illinois Judicial Conference and presents the court’s budget request to lawmakers.
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COURT MAKE-UP: Chief Justice Theis takes over the court that, beginning in December, could consist of a majority of justices who have less than one year of experience on the high court. Republican Justice Lisa Holder White was sworn in on July 7, replacing retired Justice Rita Garman in the 4th District. In December, Democrat Joy Cunningham will replace Burke in District 1.
Depending on the Nov. 8 election results, Theis also may preside over the court’s first female majority in its history.
Two Supreme Court seats in the Chicago suburbs and surrounding counties are up for vote this year, and the partisan makeup of the court could flip from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 4-3 Republican one. If both Democrats win, the party would hold a 5-2 advantage.
Incumbent Justice Michael Burke, a 2nd District Republican who is not related to Anne Burke, is running for election in the 3rd District. He has served on the court since being appointed to replace retired Justice Robert Thomas in 2020, but he’s running in the 3rd District after lawmakers redrew the state’s judicial maps in 2021.
He’s running against Democrat Mary Kay O’Brien, an appellate court justice since 2004 who was previously a member of the state House of Representatives from 1997 until 2003.
Michael Burke was rated “strongly recommended” by the Illinois State Bar Association, while O’Brien was rated “recommended.” Capitol News Illinois recapped that race and interviewed each candidate here.
The 2nd District is up for grabs Nov. 8 as well. Experienced Judge Elizabeth Rochford is running as a Democrat against judicial newcomer Mark Curran, a former Lake County sheriff and unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020.
While Rochford is rated “strongly recommended” by the Illinois State Bar Association, Curran has been rated “not recommended.” Capitol News Illinois covered that race here.
The other justices on the high court are David K. Overstreet, a Republican from Southern Illinois’ 5th District who was seated in 2020, and Justice P. Scott Neville, a 1st District Democrat who was appointed to the court in 2018 and elected to it in 2020.
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SCHOOL REPORT CARD: Student test scores continued to fall last year but new data shows Illinois’ students are on the path to recovering from the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.
Numbers from standardized tests administered last spring show steep declines in the percentage of students who met or exceeded state standards in English language arts and math compared to 2019, the last year tests were administered before the pandemic.
Those numbers were reported in the latest state report card, which the Illinois State Board of Education released Thursday. In addition to test results, the report card includes information on a wide range of education metrics such as graduation rates, class sizes and teacher qualifications. It offers statewide data as well as data on each district and school building.
But while proficiency rates were down across the board, State Superintendent Carmen Ayala said the amount of growth students are showing from one year to the next is improving, suggesting that strategies being used help students catch up in their academics are working.
ISBE devised a new metric this year to track growth rates. It involves measuring a student’s year-over-year change in scores in a particular subject and comparing that growth to a student in a prior year – in this case, 2019 – who started off with the same score. This year’s report card suggests students in 2022 showed greater growth than their academic peers in 2019.
Overall, only 27.4 percent of third graders in Illinois met or exceeded state standards in reading, down from 36.4 percent in 2019.
A 2010 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who are not proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are proficient.
Likewise, eighth grade math proficiency is considered crucial to future success in what are called the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.
Last year, only 23.1 percent of Illinois eighth graders scored proficient in math, down from 32.6 percent in 2019.
One positive sign in math performance was an increase in the percentage of eighth graders who completed Algebra I – 29.9 percent, compared to 28.8 percent the prior year – although it was still lower than the 30.6 percent reported in 2019.
The report card also noted that the four-year graduation rate in 2022 was 87.3 percent, the highest rate in 12 years, and that 64 percent of Illinois’ 2020 graduates enrolled in a post-secondary program within 12 months of graduating.
The college enrollment rate was down significantly from the 75 percent recorded for the class of 2016. State officials said that has been a nationwide trend that was exacerbated by the pandemic.
The standardized tests are required by state and federal law. Like most states, however, Illinois received a federal waiver from the requirement in 2020, when school buildings were closed due to the pandemic, and the participation rate in 2021 was far below normal. State officials cautioned against using either of those two years as a point of comparison on most metrics.
ACHIEVEMENT GAPS: The report card showed academic declines across all racial and ethnic groups in both English language arts and math, but there were still large gaps between those groups.
For example, across all grades, preliminary data showed 39.4 percent of white students scored proficient in English language arts compared to 12.1 percent of Black students and 18.4 percent of Hispanic students. Asian students had the highest proficiency rate by far, at 58.6 percent.
In math, 35.6 percent of white students scored proficient compared to 6.8 percent of Black students, 13.5 percent of Hispanic students and 60.2 percent of Asian students.
One area where achievement gaps appeared to be closing, however, was high school graduation rates. The four-year graduation rate among Black students rose more than 1.5 percentage points, to 79.5 percent, while the graduation rate for Hispanic students rose 1.4 points, to 85 percent.
That was a major factor in the state’s overall growth in graduation rates because the rate for white students dropped half a point, to 90.4 percent.
There were also increases across the board in the percentage of ninth graders who were on track to graduate, and for Black and Hispanic students, those rates were above pre-pandemic levels.
NATIONAL TRENDS: The Illinois report card came out the same week the U.S. Department of Education released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exams, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” and many of the trends seen in Illinois were consistent with national trends.
NAEP is administered to a representative sample of fourth and eighth grade students across the nation. In 2022, the majority of states saw average scores decline in both reading and math compared to 2019. There was also an increase in the percentage of students scoring below the NAEP “basic” level.
Illinois fared better than many states on the NAEP exam in that there was no significant difference between average scores in 2019 and 2022 for both subjects and grade levels, with scores above the national average.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.