Take 5: Scholarships for the undocumented, pension pick-ups, education giving

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Loyola University students are asking that their fees help support scholarships for the undocumented.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Loyola University students are asking that their fees help support scholarships for the undocumented.

Students at Loyola University have voted to add $2.50 per semester to their student fees to fund scholarships for undocumented classmates, according to the Loyola Phoenix in a story that was later picked up in the Morning Education news roundup for Politico.com. The Magis Scholarship– ‘magis’ means ‘more’ in Latin– fund was officially opened last fall and the plan awaits final approval by the university’s Board of Trustees.

The idea was initially presented by members of the Latin American Student Organization, which was raising small amounts of money for peers through salsa lessons. It later expanded, writes a student in the Phoenix: “Being that Chicago is a city of immigrants, we knew an undocumented student could be Hispanic or Latino, but could also very well be African, Arab, Asian or European. So instead of attributing this effort to solely the Latino community, we decided to give it a name that was uniquely true to our identity at a Jesuit university.”

Students hope to raise at least $50,000 for the scholarship, which seven out of 10. The plan received 70 percent approval in a recent student government vote. Now that the student body has initiated the funding for the scholarship, the doors are open for faculty, staff, alumni and community leaders to continue contributing to this initiative,” former Student Government President Flavio Bravo told Morning Education.

2. Extra perk for superintendents … With school districts like Chicago’s struggling to make payments on their pension debt, the Better Government Association has found that many districts quietly agreed to pay the entire share of contributions for their top administrators, and in some cases, their teachers too. All 10 suburban districts surveyed by the BGA paid the employee pension share for superintendents, for an average of an extra $22,600 last year. “This benefit was not clearly spelled out in superintendent employment contracts, which noted salaries but not dollar figures associated with pension contributions, raising transparency questions,” according to the BGA story.

These so-called “pension pick-ups” were banned in Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial bill that limited public sector collective bargaining in 2011. Here in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner has signaled his intent to restrict collective bargaining but his administration declined to comment on the issue of pension pick-ups.

3. Giving to education…Residents of Chicago’s six-county metro area give to charitable causes at a higher rate than the national average, and education-related giving is one of the top giving categories. Those are some of the findings of the first-ever Giving in Chicago, a study of individual, corporate and foundation giving in 2013 commissioned by the Chicago Community Trust.

Overall, donors were most likely to give to charities that provide for basic needs, which is an interesting point given the current state cuts to human services; 72 percent of households surveyed did so.  26 percent of donor households gave to education and 15 percent to higher ed; the rate rose to 40 percent and 50 percent, respectively, for the wealthiest households. Education received about one in five, 21 percent, of the largest grants of $1 million or more, second to community development at 31 percent. The study was conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, which also prepares the annual Giving USA report on charitable giving nationally.

4. Early achievement gap … A recent study out of the University of California at Berkeley found that Mexican-American toddlers born in the U.S. don’t develop language and pre-literacy skills as fast as white toddlers. White mothers are more likely to work on pre-literacy skills earlier, at around age 2, while Mexican-American moms tend to wait until their children reach kindergarten age. The difference gives white children about a five-month edge on Mexican-American children by the time they’re toddlers. And it’s worse for children whose mothers are foreign-born. “Only 28 percent of these mothers said they read to their child daily, compared with 59 percent of white mothers,” according to a recent NPR story.

One of the most fascinating parts of the study is that Mexican-American toddlers show more growth if their mothers work outside the home, as those mothers are more likely to be exposed to more middle-class forms of parenting. “They’re talking with fellow workers about how they question their kids, how they introduce kids to educational TV and digital media,” says Bruce Fuller, a co-author of the study.

5. Bias in teacher test…Illinois isn’t the only place that is dealing with controversy and questions of racial bias in tests for prospective teachers. In New York, a federal judge is asking for more information about the development of a test that sparked a long-running lawsuit by black and Hispanic teachers, according to the New York Times. Aspiring teachers filed the suit after black and Hispanic applicants failed the exam at higher rates than white candidates. The judge ruled in 2012 that an older state-certification test was discriminatory; now, the same judge is asking for “extensive documentation on the development of the [new] test,” according to the Times. The test in question is intended to gauge applicants’ reading and writing skills and is considered the hardest of four tests introduced as part of an effort to raise the caliber of teachers and teacher training programs. Overall, the number of aspiring teachers passing the four required tests fell by 20 percent, the Times reported, compared to previous years.

In Illinois, similar controversy arose when the state raised the cut scores for the basic skills test required of prospective teachers, which sent pass rates plummeting for all applicants, but particularly for African Americans and Latinos. The state later put a limit of the number of times applicants could retake portions of the exam that they failed, but the limit was scrapped in 2014.

One last note … We never weighed in on the recent debate between Crain’s Greg Hinz and the Reader’s Ben Joravsky on whether tax-increment financing districts actually take away money from Chicago schools. But check out Chicago Magazine’s Whet Mosler’s nuanced look at the issue, which finds that it’s incredibly complicated due to tax law and needs more study. “Until then, the true cost of TIFs to schools and other government functions will remain something of a mystery.”

Photo: Graduation cap/Shutterstock