First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Campaign to Help Students Go to College

bettermakeroomImproving student success depends on a lot of different variables—poverty, accountability, school climate, teachers, curriculum, and more. One piece of the puzzle that doesn’t get much attention is access to college advising.

The Economic Mobility Project notes that in schools serving predominately low-income students there are more than one thousand students per counselor. Those counselors are responsible for walking each student through high school to graduation and onto college or career, and the lack of access to student counseling is a contributing factor in the gap between students’ goals after high school and their attainment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59% of students from the lowest quarter of household income expect to graduate from college, but eight years later, only 14% have done so.

First Lady Michelle Obama, herself a first-generation college graduate, has launched the Better Make Room initiative to help families navigate the path from high school to college. One important part of the Better Make Room initiative is Up Next, a national mobile messaging tool that provides assistance with college searches, applying to college, federal student aid, and student loan repayment. This advising is designed to supplement school counselors and to provide extra support for students who may not have any access to counseling in their schools or communities.

To sign up, students or parents simply text COLLEGE to 44044. Better Make Room takes it from there.

The initiative also provides families with tools and resources to help make informed decisions about college and adulthood, including:

  • Napkin Finance: A financial education and resource site to help students with all of life’s major decisions.
  • Financial Aid Shopping Sheet: A document that students can fill out to break down the costs of going to college.
  • Net Price Calculator Center: A tool that links to each college or university’s online calculator. This calculator lets students enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the college after taking grants and scholarship aid (aid that students receive that they do not have to pay back) into consideration.
  • Federal Student Aid (FSA): An information site to help students learn what types of aid are available, how to become eligible for aid, and how to apply and manage loans once they’ve been accepted.
  • College Navigator: A tool to help students locate colleges and universities that meet their needs and career goals, including distance from home, type of college, degrees offered, and more.
  • College Scorecard: A tool covered previously on One Voice Illinois that provides information on college costs, graduation, student debt, and post-college earnings.

Any family trying to help their child go to college will find these tools and resources from Better Make Room useful in navigating what can often be a confusing process.

New Guide Helps Hispanic Families Navigate the College Application Process

graduate-2-0-cover-spanishLatino students are graduating high school and enrolling in college at the highest rates in our history, and they are now the largest minority group in our nation’s colleges and universities. However, only 23% of Hispanic adults 25 and older have an associate degree or higher, and only 12% have a masters or doctorate.

In order to better support Hispanic students in completing high school and enrolling in college, the US Department of Education released ¡Gradúate! 2.0: A College Planning Guide to Success on October 11th. The guide is a follow-up to ¡Gradúate!: A Financial Aid Guide to Success. Both guides are available in English and Spanish and are useful to all families. The new guide outlines the steps that students should take through high school up through heading off to college, including:

  • Preparing for College
  • The Process of Applying and Enrolling
  • Paying for College
  • Preparing for the First Semester of College

Students who are the first in their family to go to college face challenges that those whose parents went to college don’t deal with and may need extra support, whether it is taking the classes needed to be accepted into college, understanding the application process, or applying for financial aid. This new guide will provide these students and their families with information and resources to navigate the process of going to college.

College Changes Everything Month and the New FAFSA

The free and easy way to apply for financial aidThe US Department of Education has changed when students heading to or already in college can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can be filed as of October 1, 2016, three months earlier than in years past, and will use 2015 income and tax information. In conjunction with this change, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is launching College Changes Everything Month, combining the activities of College Application Month and Financial Aid Awareness Month from years past.

The new earlier FAFSA availability means that families need to submit their FAFSA forms as soon as possible, as assistance in Illinois is generally provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Remember that the FAFSA needs to be filled out annually, so freshman in college this year will need a new FAFSA form for their sophomore year (and similarly for higher grades). Be aware that colleges and universities may be moving their deadlines earlier as well. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a November 30, 2016 deadline for Fall 2017, Spring 2018, and Summer 2018 financial aid. Check college and university websites for their specific deadlines.

To help families fill out the FAFSA, the Department of Education has created a list of 12 common FAFSA mistakes. The list, complete with interactive buttons to take you to appropriate resources, helps families avoid these mistakes:

  1. Not completing the FAFSA
  2. Not using the correct website (gov)
  3. Not getting an FSA ID ahead of time
  4. Waiting to fill out the FAFSA
  5. Not filing by the deadline
  6. Not using your FSA ID to start the FAFSA
  7. Not reading definitions carefully
  8. Inputting incorrect information
  9. Not reporting parent information
  10. Listing only one college
  11. Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
  12. Not signing the FAFSA

Be sure to check out the list of common FAFSA mistakes to find out more information on how to avoid each one.

Another Year of Legislative Success for the Children of Illinois!

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2From youth safety issues to juvenile justice, from children’s health to readiness for college and the work-force, from childhood hunger to an interim budget in a year of fiscal deadlock, the Illinois PTA has advocated successfully for all our children. The highlights are below. Illinois PTA will continue to advocate for every child, and urges you to join us this fall for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15, 2016.

Children’s Health and Safety

We have had successes in responses to children’s allergies and asthma, concussions, and childhood hunger.

Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: With as much as 25% of first time anaphylactic reactions occurring in a school setting, we cannot stress the need enough for the availability of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors. House Bill 4462, Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, now Public Act 99-0711, expands the protections currently in place to include additional circumstances in which a school district, public, or nonpublic school may have a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors available in a secure location so that they are accessible before, during, and after school, including while being transported on a school bus. The statue also provides for the training of state police in the administration of epinephrine auto-injectors. The expansions provided in PA 99-0711 will help prevent injury from a severe allergic reaction by Illinois children.

Asthma: On a related issue, students with asthma will now have additional safety measures in place. House Bill 6333, School Code–Asthma Action Plan, now Public Act 99-0843, provides for additional safety protocols with the requirements that:

  • the State Board of Education work with statewide professional organizations that have asthma management expertise to develop a model asthma episode emergency response protocol;
  • each school district, charter school, and nonpublic school adopt an asthma episode emergency response protocol before 1/1/2017 that includes the components of the State Board’s model;
  • all school personnel who work with pupils to complete a program every two years concerning asthma management, prevention, and emergency response; and that,
  • each school district, public, charter, or nonpublic school request an asthma action plan from the parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma each year.

Concussions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 3.9 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the US annually. They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. House Bill 4365, IHSA Concussion Reporting, now Public Act 99-0831, amends the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act to provide for the enhanced reporting of student-athletes who have sustained a concussion. Beginning with the current school year, all member schools that have certified athletic trainers are required to complete a monthly report on student athletes at that school who sustained a concussion during a school-sponsored activity that is either overseen by the athletic trainer or when the athletic director is made aware of a concussion sustained by a student during a school-sponsored (with student names removed). Beginning in 2017-2018, the data is to be compiled from the prior school year into annual report to the Illinois General Assembly. Is the legislature considering further protections for our children once they receive these reports? We will continue to monitor this topic for future legislation.

Childhood Hunger: Children don’t do well in school if they’re hungry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence. Approximately 1 in 5 Illinois children are affected by hunger. Senate Bill 2393, Childhood Hunger–Breakfast, now Public Act 99-0850, is intended to help with this ongoing issue. PA 99-0850, amends the Childhood Hunger Relief Act to provide for “breakfast after the bell” program beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, according to a model that best suits its students. This Act also provides that the Illinois State Board of Education is to:

  • collaborate with school districts and nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about equity, the opportunity gap, hunger and food security issues, and best practices for improving student access to school breakfast;
  • distribute guidelines for the program’s implementation; and,
  • post a list of opportunities for philanthropic support of school breakfast programs on its website.

The statute also allows schools and school districts to opt out under certain circumstances.

Education

Two new statutes have been enacted to address student achievement in Illinois.

College and Workforce Readiness: The lack of readiness for college and/or the workforce is a concern for parents, students, and employers across Illinois. Approximately one-half of Illinois high school graduates entering as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education. House Bill 5729, creates the Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Act (Public Act 99-0674). The statute is a plan to address these student achievement concerns by creating:

  • a postsecondary career expectations model to be adopted for public school students in grades 8 through 12, defining activities where school districts, parents, and community-based organizations should support students, and the related knowledge students should have;
  • a pilot program for competency-based high school graduation requirements;
  • transitional mathematics courses from high school to college level;
  • a statewide panel that will include ISBE to recommend competencies for reading, and communication and strategies for achieving this in high school coursework; and,
  • College and Career Pathway Endorsements and State Distinction programs to provide student incentives and encourage their exploration and development.

After-School Program Grants: Senate Bill 2407, Department of Human Services–Teen REACH Grant Program, now Public Act 99-0700, amends the Department of Human Services Act to provide that, subject to appropriation, DHS will establish a establish a competitive state grant program—Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope (Teen REACH)—to support local communities in providing after-school opportunities for youth 6 to 17 years old that will improve their likelihood for future success, provide positive choices, reduce at-risk behaviors, and develop career goals. These grants are to be awarded to community-based agencies, in which successful grantees are to plan and implement activities to address outcomes in 6 core areas: improvement of educational performance; life skills education; parent education; recreation, sports, cultural, and artistic activities; the development of positive adult mentors; and service learning opportunities. 

Juvenile Justice

We have been successful in advocating for justice-involved youth in relation to the reporting of serious incidents impacting their health and well-being, legal representation, and expungement of records.

Critical Incidents While in the Juvenile Justice System: With the passage of House Bill 114, Juvenile Court–Critical Incident Report, now Public Act 99-0664, provides additional protections to a minor who is committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. These protections include the Department notifying the court in writing of a critical incident which involves a serious risk to the life health or well-being of the youth within 10 days of the incident. The report is to include the actions the Department took in response to the incident.

Legal Representation for Youth: Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning,” do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police, and are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Senate Bill 2370, Juvenile Court–Counsel Representation, now Public Act 99-0882, requires that:

  • children under 15 be represented by legal counsel during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses,
  • all interrogations of youths under age 18 for any felony and misdemeanor sex offenses be videotaped, and
  • police read children the new Miranda-type warning detailed in the statute.

While Illinois PTA does not believe this bill went far enough in protecting the rights of children in police custody, it is a move in the right direction.

Expungement of Juvenile Records: House Bill 5017, Juvenile Court–Expungement, now Public Act 99-0835, amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 to provide that whenever a person has been arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for an incident that occurred before she or he turned 18 that would be an offense if committed by an adult, that person may petition the court for the expungement of related law enforcement and juvenile court proceedings. Once the related juvenile court proceedings have ended, the court is to order the expungement of all related records in the possession of the Department of State Police, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and law enforcement agencies for those circumstance specified under the act.

State Budget

Thank you to those of you who helped seek the passage of an adequate and sustainable budget in Illinois in a year of grid-lock and finger-pointing. Over 2,000 messages were sent by Illinois PTA supporters to legislators, the governor, and local newspapers regarding the need to support education, after school programs, and services for families and children with an adequate and sustainable budget. This created an atmosphere where there was at least some movement in a difficult year: the passage of a stop-gap budget with Senate Bill 2047 which provided funding through December, including for school funding, the Illinois State Board of Education, and state colleges. Is this enough? Absolutely not. We need an adequate and sustainable fully-funded budget to ensure that our children and Illinois families thrive and that schools, colleges and universities, and public service providers can plan for the future.

How can you help? Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues and plan to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.