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COFFEEN – State Senator Andy Manar toured the Coffeen power station Friday to reaffirm his commitment to the plant’s operations, its role in the energy market and the workers it employs.

Participating in the tour and discussion were: Manar; plant manager John Cooley; production manager Kevin Ziegler; maintenance manager Scott Bell; administration manager Joyce Lipe; safety specialist Joe Luckett; Jeff Ferry government affairs director for Vistra Energy, which operates the Coffeen plant; Jerad Volkmar, business manager for Laborers’ Local 1084; and Luke Lyerla, union steward for the Operating Engineers Local 148.

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Manar (D-Bunker Hill) reiterated that he is ready to take whatever steps necessary to work with Vistra Energy to keep the plant part of its fleet of production facilities across multiple states.

“Not only is the Coffeen Power Station critical to energy production in Illinois, it is a major employer in this part of the state and a vital piece of the local economy,” he said.

Volkmar, whose grandfather and father also worked at the Coffeen plant, said the power station provides the kind of well-paying jobs that are needed to support families, local schools and smaller, locally owned businesses.

“Since the coal mines closed down, Montgomery County doesn’t have as many of the kinds of job opportunities it takes to attract families to the area,” he said. “The Coffeen power station keeps families here and pumps money into the local economy. Without it, the county and our schools would be devastated.”

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Manar, whose Senate district includes the Coffeen plant, voted against the so-called “Exelon bill” in 2016, which prioritized Chicago-area energy jobs over downstate energy jobs.

He also has decried the lack of downstate representation on the Illinois Commerce Commission, the powerful board that approves utility rates and monitors railroad crossing safety. He filed Senate Bill 3626, which require geographic balance on the five-member panel. Manar was the only member of the Senate to vote against the governor’s latest appointment to the commerce commission. Since taking office in 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner has appointed five members to the commission; none live outside of Cook and DuPage counties. It’s the first time in a century that no downstate member sits on the ICC.

Manar said the spring legislative session will be a critical time for potential legislation related to energy production in Illinois.

“I will continue to have an open line of communication to Vistra, and I will continue to fight to protect jobs in Montgomery County,” he said.

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TAYLORVILLE – Taylorville students are going places – on an architectural tour of the Golden Gate Bridge, to explore a tomb deep inside an Egyptian pyramid, to experience action on a Civil War battlefield, to a virtual automotive shop to learn how to take apart an engine and to a biology lab to see what’s inside humans and animals.

Students are able to do all of this because of the investment the Taylorville school district is making in 21st-century technology, made possible because of Illinois’ revamped school funding formula.

“This is about stability. Yes, we were able to pick up additional money through the formula. That’s good and we’re able to capitalize on that,” Taylorville CUSD 3 Superintendent Gregg Fuerstenau said. “But the financial stability the new funding formula offers is what really allows us to make investments like these and enhance our ability to do more things with local resources.”

State Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and the driving force behind Illinois’ new school funding formula, toured Taylorville schools Tuesday to observe how the new formula is making a difference.

“I’m elated to see the Taylorville school district leveraging school funding reform to expand students’ exposure to new places, new ideas, new ways of learning and career opportunities they may have never considered before,” Manar said.

“That’s what school funding reform was all about – ensuring students in rural and downstate school districts have the same educational opportunities as students elsewhere in Illinois.”

More than $401,000 in additional money has been pumped into Taylorville schools during the new formula’s first two years on the books. Fuerstenau was a strong proponent of school funding reform.

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At Memorial Elementary School, 101 E. Adams St., new reading textbooks have replaced textbooks that third- and fourth-graders have been using for 20 years. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) carts – introduced this year – enable teachers to bring technology and outside-the-box learning into the classroom.

In Dana Montes’ third-grade classroom Tuesday, students got their first opportunity to use Google Expeditions for a geography lesson and went on a tour of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. As part of its technology plan, the district has purchased sets of the virtual reality educational tool for use by third- through sixth-graders. Students can take virtual field trips of national landmarks, museums, universities, planets and more.

At Taylorville High School, 815 Springfield Road, technology is being integrated into learning largely through the addition of a STEM lab. Community support and a significant donation to the school district from Bill and Marilyn Hopper have made much of the lab and its contents possible. That private support has freed the district to use state school funding dollars for additional tech-related resources and other needs.

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Inside the lab, students have access to:

  • Z space stations, which are all-in-one computers with augmented- and virtual-reality capabilities for STEM learning, automotive training, welding simulator, and language and literature instruction;
  • Oculus Rift technology that enables students to use virtual reality to explore places and events that no longer exist or otherwise would be available to them only through textbooks and imagination;
  • 3D printers for use with Tinkercad and other programs; and
  • the Anatomage, a 3D medical imaging machine and virtual dissection table that allows students to explore systems of the human body, as well as those of various animals, to complement classroom instruction. Using a touch interface, students can view interactive dissections; learn about cells, tissue and bones; study forensic science; see what’s inside mummies; and more. Only two school districts in Illinois have an Anatomage table, Fuerstenau said.

“These tools help students make connections they wouldn’t be able to make wish a book and a lecture,” Fuerstenau said. “Visualization is so important for students, and these tools help bring their lessons to life.”
Manar agreed.

“These are tremendous educational resources for these students. The sky’s the limit in terms of what they and their teachers will be able to explore and learn,” Manar said.

PharmacyShelves

SPRINGFIELD – A new program designed to help sustain rural, independent pharmacies appears to be stalled by the governor’s administration, and three state lawmakers want to know why.

In a letter to Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Patricia Bellock dated Sept. 10, State Senators Andy Manar and Heather Steans and State Representative Greg Harris requested a timeline for implementing the critical access pharmacy program.

“Independent pharmacies all over Illinois are being forced out of business because of state policies and unfair competition,” said State Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who has called for more transparency in the relationship among pharmacy benefit managers, managed care organizations and the state of Illinois. He helped ensure money for the critical access pharmacy program was included in the FY19 state budget.

“Rural residents in particular are being put at a disadvantage,” he continued. “Not only are independent pharmacies a local health care resource in rural and remote locations, they’re also employers that are now being stamped out with the use of state tax dollars. I don’t know anyone who wants their tax money used in that way.”

Money for the program – $10 million – was included in the bipartisan FY19 state budget, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in early June. The money is for payments to independent pharmacies that are struggling because of the state’s Medicaid managed care rollout and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.

Read more: Lawmakers: When will state throw lifeline to pharmacies?

Nearly $4M in new money funneled to Decatur classrooms in just two years

Manar 05252017DECATUR – Decatur public school families will continue to benefit from Illinois’ new school funding formula, which guarantees an additional $1.7 million for the academic year that is getting underway, State Senator Andy Manar said today.

That means the new formula will have pumped nearly $4 million in additional money into Decatur Public Schools during its first two years on the books.

“Long underfunded school districts like Decatur are finally getting the attention and the state support they’ve been starved of for too many years,” said Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and the driving force behind passage of the new school funding formula.

“I am delighted the evidence-based model is working as we expected it would. It’s exciting to learn about the growth and innovation happening in our classrooms because of this new, equitable approach to funding education.”

Read more: Decatur schools capture additional $1.7M in Year 2 of new formula

 

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