Lester: Cursive could be headed for a comeback

Cursive handwriting lessons - which in recent years have become almost as obsolete as chalkboards - might be headed for a comeback in Illinois schools as a result of one suburban lawmaker's quest.

State Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, a Westchester Democrat, tells me his legislation that would require Illinois schools to teach cursive handwriting came out of a dinner-table conversation with his wife, Shawnte.

"You know, schools don't require cursive to be taught anymore," he recalls her telling him. Welch said he was startled to learn only a dozen or so states have cursive requirements. The change is due, in part, to the nationally recognized Common Core Standards, which no longer require handwriting instruction.

Illinois has never required cursive as a statewide learning standard, and the State Board of Education is neutral on the bill.

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Democratic state Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch is sponsoring legislation that would make cursive handwriting a required subject in elementary and high schools in Illinois. Associated Press File Photo, 2016

From Constitution to bar exam

Welch, a 46-year-old lawyer, says good handwriting came in handy when he took the bar exam (though it now can be typed on a laptop) and notes students who learn cursive will be able to read historical documents like the Declaration of Independence more easily.

The measure passed the House last week 67-48 and heads to the Senate, with some suburban lawmakers speaking out in opposition. Among them, West Chicago Republican Rep. Mike Fortner says a requirement would move "the state backward in time."

Despite questions about added costs and training for teachers, Jean Weiler of Batavia, who taught primary school for 36 years, most recently at Immanuel Lutheran in Batavia, says cursive is "really not that hard to teach."

Weiler notes a "value in teaching how to do something neatly so it's attractive and legible. I don't think it's a big investment, not like science or social studies," she said.

<h3 class="leadin">'Nothing's getting done'

That was the message I received from Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig, who was among local mayors who traveled to the state capitol in Springfield last week to push for an end to a two-year standoff blocking a state budget. There's "no sense of optimism with anyone we speak with on either side of the aisle," Craig said, adding "it's pretty clear we won't see a budget" before the 2018 gubernatorial election.

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Illinois state Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat, wants presidential candidates to release their tax returns to get on the Illinois ballot. Associated Press File Photo, 2013

Not all millionaires

The race for Illinois governor in 2018 includes at least three millionaires, but Daniel Biss isn't one of them. Biss, a state senator from Evanston who is running for the Democratic nomination, and his wife, Karen, had an adjusted gross income of $32,568 in 2016.

It's about half what he reported in earlier years, the result of lawmakers' pay being withheld by the Illinois comptroller until a court intervened.

Biss recently released five years of returns while pushing a measure requiring presidential candidates to release five years of income tax returns to get on the ballot in Illinois. It passed the Senate 32-19 vote and is headed to the House.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has released his tax returns every year, and other Democratic primary bidders - J.B. Pritzker of Chicago, Chris Kennedy of Kenilworth, and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar all say they're planning to release their returns, too.

<h3 class="leadin">'Pancake bot'

The new Steve and Jamie Chen Center at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora has plenty of innovations, but the one that caught my eye is a pancake bot - a machine that pours pancake batter in the shape of an image uploaded to it.

Along with a spot to make pancake sports logos or superheroes, the 6,000-square-foot space named after the YouTube co-founder and his wife has nine 3-D printers and an "idea bar" where students can snack and plan projects.

Chen, 38, gave $1 million to his alma mater to help fund the center.

<h3 class="leadin">Young scientists

IMSA students on Friday presented their research to an audience of peers, teachers and guests. Dozens of them - some as young as 14 - have published work in scholarly journals and scientific magazines.

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Erin Merryn of Elgin is the namesake of Erin's law, which requires students be taught about combating sexual abuse and assault. The legislation is now in place in 30 states. Daily Herald File Photo, 2014

Erin's law now in 30 states

Erin's Law, legislation requiring elementary and middle schools to teach age-appropriate lessons on child sexual abuse and assault, has become law in 30 states, namesake Erin Merryn tells me.

Merryn, a mother of two who lives in Elgin, notes that North Dakota became the 29th state to pass the law, followed by Montana last week. Merryn, 32, was sexually abused by a neighbor and a teenage cousin when she was a child.

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