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Lawmakers in the House have now spent a total of about $330,000 in taxpayer money to rent the center for less than two weeks during the pandemic because officials decided the House chamber does not allow sufficient distance between legislators to avoid transmission of the virus.

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“The message this sends to me is that somebody has decided that two years of a foreign language class are more important than art, more important than music, more important than career and technical education courses, in a school day that is already so full and so very limited with time,” said ISBE member Susie Morrison, of Carlinville.

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With a perfect storm of aging residents, low birth rates, COVID-19 deaths and immigration cutbacks, 16 states saw population decreases last year as the United States experienced the slowest national population growth since the Great Depression.