SQUEEZING OUR SCHOOLS, RISKING OUR FUTURE
Today in our Daily Tip-Off section, you'll find a link to a Daily Herald story on the suburban Grayslake elementary school district's decision to lay off 15 teachers in the coming school year. Yesterday we had news from the Metro East that the Collinsville and Belleville school districts were sending pink slips to teachers. Springfield plans to shut down a college preparatory academy program. Chicago, of course, is making national headlines as it plans to close a reported 50 elementary schools next year. And we also featured an article yesterday about the ratings agency Moody's downgrading the credit ratings of four public universities in Illinois because of their reliance on very unreliable state funding.
In every part of Illinois and at all education levels, the story is the same: The state's horrific financial condition, driven by a failing pension system that consumes ever-greater chunks of the state budget (an additional $1 billion in fiscal 2014), is eroding the quality of schools in Illinois. Education funding has fallen for five straight years, and another $300 million is likely to come off in the next state budget. What does that say about this state? We give our opinion in today's editorial. Read it here and let us know what you think. (In case you missed it, we offered former Gov. Jim Thompson's opinion on this -- "Crazy. Just crazy" -- in a transcript of a speech he delivered last week. It's posted here and well worth reading.)
FOLLOW THE JOBS
Illinois didn't lose population in the last decade, but its 3.3 percent growth was dwarfed by its neighbors. Missouri, for example, gained 7 percent. Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Doug Whitley says the reason comes down to one word: jobs. While our neighbors invest in their schools, have predictable income tax structures and pay their bills on time, Illinois has done the opposite. Whitley elaborates in his op-ed piece today. (For a snapshot of how our neighbors are taking advantage, take a look at our infographic.)
AVOIDING ANOTHER DIXON
Former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell will go down in history as Illinois' Queen of Corruption (apologies to Betty Loren Maltese of Cicero). Stealing more than $50 million over 20 years from a town with an annual budget of only $8 million is quite a feat. How did she manage it? Lack of transparency, says State Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove. He writes today about a package of bills that comprise the Taxpayer Accountability Transparency Act, which would give taxpayers a better way to see where their tax dollars go. Read it here.
On Wednesday the Illinois Senate passed a pension bill that we believe risks putting Illinois in even greater financial peril should it become law. Click here and help us send a message to our leaders that we demand pension reform and an end to the financial instability that has given Illinois the lowest credit rating in the country.
Want to learn more about Reboot Illinois and its mission? Come hear from editor Matt Dietrich, Chief Operating Officer Madeleine Doubek and Director of Digital Strategy Anthony Knierem at 7 p.m. April 4 in Meeting Room A of the Batavia Public Library, 10 S. Batavia Ave. (Route 31 and Wilson Street) in Batavia. We want to hear your thoughts on improving Illinois' government, state finances, schools and business climate.
The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times editorial pages don't often agree with one another, but both are sounding the same message today. They believe the Illinois Senate did the wrong thing yesterday by passing a two-in-one pension reform bill that potentially could net the state very little savings over a much stronger bill that promises to trim $167 billion from pension costs over the next 30 years. The Tribune, whose editorial dudgeon knows no setting below "super high," is especially emphatic: "They failed you," says its headline.
Actually, we agree with both those papers. The Senate chose an option that, should it become law, could allow public employees to continue collecting the 3 percent compounded annual raises for life that have turned our public pension system into a budget-devouring, credit-wrecking, $100 billion nightmare. Whoa. Our dudgeon meter is nearing "high."
As mentioned above, the biggest news in Chicago is word that Chicago Public Schools likely will soon announce that about 50 elementary schools (the Sun-Times says possibly more) will close next year as it struggles with a budget deficit of $1 billion. The schools are in poor, African-American neighborhoods, and tempers are flaring.
We still don't know if Attorney General Lisa Madigan will run for governor, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who will seek a fourth Senate term in 2014, says he thinks Madigan will decide soon on a possible challenge to Gov. Pat Quinn for the Democratic nomination. But if Madigan does run, Durbin believes former White House Chief of Staff and Commerce Secretary Bill Daley will not. (Keep in mind that the last time the Democrats challenged a Democratic incumbent -- Dan Walker in 1976 -- they lost the governor's office for 26 years.)
Find links to these and other Illinois news stories in our Daily Tip-Off section.
WANT TO TAKE ACTION? LOOK HERE
As Illinois continues to meander in addressing its dire financial problems, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is concerned that his home state and others might eventually give up and turn to the federal government for a lifeline. No way, says Kirk. He's introduced a resolution to prohibit bailouts of states that created their own financial problems. We've created a petition where you can show your support for Kirk's effort. Click here and sign on.
While you're at it, why not let Cook County government know that it's time to downsize and remove some of the temptation that comes with unnecessary elected offices? Last week, Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association wrote about some fairly crazy personnel dealings in the office of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough. It was a reminder to him, and us, of the need to combine offices to improve efficiency and discourage the bad behavior that comes with the political clout of an elected office. (Be sure to read it if you missed it last week. It's an egregious example of "only in Illinois" political culture.) Sign our petition here.
WE'RE HIRING! We are looking for a director of outreach to work with our partners both on social media platforms and in the communities. See the job description here. Know anyone who would be a great fit? Pass on this post!
We're tired of Illinois government being a national laughingstock. Aren't you? Visit our website and make a difference.
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