Monday, March 25, 2019
In 2013, an amendment to the Access to Justice Act created the Illinois Access to Civil Justice Council, with the mandate to create a pilot statewide legal assistance hotline and coordinated network of legal support services for military personnel, veterans, and their families. This effort is funded by a $2 filing fee on all civil filings until 2020. The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) was charged with the implementation of this network now called the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN).
Why is this important for the veteran community? Civil legal problems destabilize families and can be barriers to benefits, housing, and employment. The top civil legal needs fall into the broad categories of housing, family, and consumer law issues. In addition, veterans often need assistance with VA benefits and appeals and discharge upgrades.
IL-AFLAN provides free legal aid services across Illinois utilizing a network of 10 legal aid organizations and law school clinics. In its first year, IL-AFLAN has helped 2650 people, provided 3000 services, provided $1.28 million in benefits to clients, and prevented homelessness for 111 clients. The Veterans Program is proud to partner with IEJF and IL-AFLAN to help connect this vital service to the communities across Illinois.
“As far as I know, IL-AFLAN is the most comprehensive civil legal aid network for veterans and members of the military who cannot afford any attorney in the country. In some states there are programs that handle a few areas of law, or that cover a county or two, but IL-AFLAN handles any civil legal issue, including VA benefits appeals and discharge upgrades, across the entire state of. In fact, IL-AFLAN solves Illinois based problems even if the client isn’t currently in Illinois, when, for example, we are working with active duty military who are deployed.” – Zach Zarnow, Program Director of IL-AFLAN
To learn more about IL-AFLAN and its affiliated network partners visit: https://ilaflan.org/
If you or a veteran you know is need of civil legal aid services call the hotline directly at 855-452-3526
Fresh off successful implementation of a high school civics course requirement, the Illinois General Assembly is considering driving high quality civic learning down to the middle grades. House Bill (HB) 2265 would require a semester of civics within grades 6, 7, or 8, including instruction on government institutions, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes.
The dilemma: Middle school students are ill-prepared for informed and effective civic engagement in our democracy.
- According to the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Civics, only 23% of 8th graders demonstrate proficiency in civic knowledge and skills, with a stark civic achievement gap along racial and ethnic lines.
- 44% of school districts have reduced time for social studies since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2001.
The solution: High-quality civic learning opportunities in Illinois middle schools for ALL students can help reverse this trajectory, building civic knowledge and skills.
- The more knowledgeable and confident a person is in their own civic competencies and skills, the more likely they will vote regularly, participate in a range of civic engagement activities, and believe that government is a source for good.
- By requiring a semester of civics in middle school infused with proven civic learning practices, HB-2265 will build students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions, leading to lifelong, informed, and effective engagement in our democracy.
Why now? With the new high school civics requirement firmly in place, Illinois is well-positioned to strengthen civic learning in the middle grades.
- Since October 2015, the McCormick Foundation has provided more than 1,300 hours of professional development to more than 10,000 teachers statewide.
- These professional development opportunities have improved teachers’ feelings of competence in key instructional strategies, and a Spring 2018 survey shows strong civic outcomes among students as a result of course exposure, including enhanced knowledge and skills. Students are also more likely to report engagement in a range of civic behaviors (see graph below).
The plan: Like implementation of the high school course, the McCormick Foundation proposes a three-year, privately-funded $3 million plan ($1 million annually) to support middle school teachers, schools, and districts to incorporate a civics course in grades 6, 7, or 8.
- Ongoing teacher professional development opportunities, both in person and online, are central to our proposed effort. They will be offered in partnership with civic education nonprofits and institutional partners, including universities and regional offices of education.
- To ensure that expertise on best practices in civic education is embedded in Illinois middle schools, we intend to recruit and train instructional coaches in each school and/ or district serving students in grades 6-8.
- In addition to the McCormick Foundation’s ongoing investments in youth civic education and engagement in Illinois ($4.2 million in grants in 2018), our course implementation efforts have an annual operating budget of $1 million. We pledge to contribute an additional $400,000 to this effort each year and are working to raise the balance through local philanthropic partners.