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Most students still not reading, adding at grade level
Jacksonville Journal-Courier
Sunday, September 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Benjamin Yount
Education reform (38) Sosnowski, Joe--State House, 69

Most students still not reading, adding at grade level

And one state lawmaker says that’s a shame, because the latest test scores show Illinois schools are once again falling short.

Almost 70 percent of students in third through eighth grade in Illinois can’t read or write at grade level, according to the latest PARCC test scores released last week.

The Illinois State Board of Education said, on average, 37 percent of students passed the test’s reading portion and just over 31 percent of students passed the math skills portion of the test.

Sate Rep. Joe Sosnwoski, R-Rockford, said it’s a shame that Illinois’ new, massive education reform package didn’t include anything about better outcomes.

“Structurally, there’s no incentive for them to improve,” Sosnowski said. “We created a hold harmless in the budget. That basically says all schools will get exactly what they got last year. And there will be some additional monies [for schools in poorer districts] through a formula.”

Sosnowski said school choice may be the only option to get kids on track with reading and math.

“Unfortunately, the educational bureaucratic system has not changed a whole lot over the years,” he said. “And more money into that system doesn’t guarantee results. It just increases payroll and spending.”

The state board said the latest scores do show improvement. ISBE points to a half-a-point increase in average reading scores over last year as proof.

“The preliminary state-level data show that we have built a solid foundation,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement. “I am pleased with the work we are committed to doing together to serve Illinois children.”


: Let’s help Illinois get back on track with ‘College Changes Everything’ month
State Journal Register
Sunday, September 24, 2017  |   Column  |   Guest Column
Education--Higher (37)

The two-year budget impasse had a serious impact on the state, and college students and those planning to attend were among those who faced significant uncertainty. Challenged by closure of programs and delays in grant funding, some students were forced to go part time, drop out or choose not to attend in the first place — certainly a negative for students, but also for the long-term economic health of the state.

 

Now that the state has a budget in place, it’s time to get Illinois students on track — or back on track — for college. At this critical juncture, Gov. Bruce Rauner has proclaimed October College Changes Everything® Month (CCE Month). Now in its second year, CCE Month is a statewide effort by ISAC and partners to assist students who are simultaneously completing college applications and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the application for all federal financial aid and some state aid, including the MAP grant. Each year, there is more demand than funding for grants like MAP, so students will want to complete the 2018-19 FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 in order to have the best chance of getting the grant.

 

It’s important for students and families to know that they don’t have to pay to get help in navigating the path to college. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (isac.org) and partners will support over 1,000 workshops across the state in October alone, including college application workshops, financial aid presentations, and FAFSA completion workshops. Free help is also available during ISAC’s Facebook Live (facebook.com/ilstudentassistance) events in October, through online resources (isac.org/studentportal), by telephone (1-800-899-4722), and via text message (isac.org/collegeqa). Students and families can also get free one-on-one assistance from the ISACorps (studentportal.isac.org/isacorps) representative in their area. High schools that want to participate in CCE Month can download a toolkit and find support at collegechangeseverything.org/ccemonth.

 

Studies show that by 2020, 70 percent of all jobs are expected to require post-secondary education or other training beyond high school. We also know that education beyond high school helps improve individual health and lower crime rates, among many positive impacts. That’s why Illinois has a goal of ensuring that 60 percent of all working-age adults

have a two- or four-year college degree or workforce-relevant certificate by 2025; currently the percentage stands at 50.1 percent.

 

If we want to meet that goal, if we want a strong workforce and healthier communities, and if we want a brighter future for Illinois, we all need to work to make sure college is accessible and affordable to all Illinoisans. Let’s start by giving students the necessary resources, information and support to get there.

 

— Eric Zarnikow is the executive director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.


Abortion bill is hot potato for Gov. Rauner
State Journal Register
Sunday, September 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Abortion (1)

A bill that hasn’t even made it to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk yet could pose the biggest political problem for the governor so far.

The bill is House Bill 40, a measure that in part is intended to protect abortion rights in the state in the event the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

Proponents of the bill believe Rauner must sign the measure to live up to statements he made during his campaign for governor to uphold abortion rights in the state.

Opponents view it as a test of Rauner’s conservative credentials and living up to a statement he made after the bill passed, promising to veto it.

For his part, Rauner isn’t saying now what he plans to do with it.

“The bill has not been sent to my desk,” Rauner said last week. “I am meeting with advocates and legislators on both sides, both who support the bill and who are against the bill and we are assessing.”

Indeed, while the bill got final approval in the legislature in May, it has never been forwarded to Rauner’s desk. It is being held in the Senate on a procedural move. The reason given was that Rauner had threatened to veto the bill and proponents wanted to give him time to reconsider his position.

The bill has two major provisions. One removes “trigger” language in current state law that says if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Illinois abortion law will revert to what it was before the ruling. That means abortions would be illegal except to save the life of the mother. The ACLU of Illinois said there are no accurate figures for the number of states that have similar laws.

The other major component provides that Medicaid and state employee health insurance can be used for abortion services. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services estimated the annual cost of the bill to the state at $1.8 million, although proponents have disputed that. The ACLU said 15 other states provide the kind of Medicaid coverage that’s contained in the bill.

After the bill passed the House in April, Rauner’s office issued a statement saying the governor “is committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights under current Illinois law. However, recognizing the sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion, he does not support HB40.”

Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, said the public funding component is a crucial component of the bill. Medicaid should cover abortion, she said, and state employees should “have the right to have access to the health care they need regardless of their source of insurance.”

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, the lead sponsor of the bill, said she’s aware of the governor speaking with other proponents of the bill, but said the governor should already know what it entails.

“He should affix his signature to this,” she said. “He’s already had a lot of time to think about it.”

Moreover, Feigenholtz said, when Rauner was running for governor, he filled out a questionnaire from the pro-choice Personal PAC about abortion rights.

“It was my understanding all along that Bruce Rauner was a pro-choice candidate for governor,” Feigenholtz said. “He checked all of the right boxes. He led people to believe that he was pro-choice.”

Paul Caprio, director of the pro-life Family-PAC, said there is no middle ground for Rauner on the bill when it comes to support from pro-life, pro-family voters. There is also the matter that the governor said this spring that he would veto it.

“This is make or break for the governor,” Caprio said. “Ultimately, he will be evaluated on what he does. If he does not veto the legislation, in my opinion the governor’s chances of re-election are zero.”

That’s probably also the chances for the bill if Rauner does issue a veto. While it passed both the House and Senate, it did not pass with veto proof majorities in either chamber.

The bill presents something of a no-win situation for Rauner, said Kent Redfield, retired political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield. If he signs the bill, Rauner will alienate pro-life voters in the state. If he vetoes it, he will be doing the same with pro-choice voters. And the timing of when the bill is sent to Rauner becomes an issue, he said.

“Do you send it to the governor now, so he has a problem before the primary, or do you hold onto it until after the primary and closer to the general election, where it can have an impact,” he said.

Feigenholtz and Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, the Senate sponsor of the bill, both said they want the bill signed into law and discounted the idea of using it to gain a political advantage over Rauner.

“I am not playing that game,” Steans said. “We may ultimately just send, whether he vetoes it or not. I’d like to see it become law. It was truly my understanding he supported this.”

-- Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.


Sen. McCann takes on Cellini in tiff with Bruner
State Journal Register
Sunday, September 24, 2017  |   Column  |   Bernard Schoenburg
Candidates--Statewide (12)

A rift has formed between two former allies: JAMES P. BRUNER and state Sen. SAM McCANN.

This was illustrated last week when 50th Senate District candidate STEVE McCLURE announced his candidacy at the Springfield office of United Contractors Midwest.

It was the same place that McCann, R-Plainview, made a 2011 campaign announcement. McClure is running for McCann’s seat in the 2018 primary; McCann hasn’t divulged his political plans for 2018.

I asked Bruner — former president and CEO of the construction firm and now on its board — why he left McCann politically.

“Sam, I think, has lost his way,” Bruner told me, noting the talk of McCann running as an independent for governor back in 2014, with some petitions passed. Bruner said it was a sign of a problem with McCann’s judgment.

And he said various McCann positions added up.

“To me, he is a Democrat in Republican clothes,” Bruner said, noting that McCann voted for a state spending plan this year, although McCann also voted against the related tax increase.

“I wouldn’t have had a problem if they increased it more than what they did,” Bruner said of the income tax. “But they got nothing ... for the increased taxes.”

He also is bothered by questions about how much mileage McCann has claimed from his campaign. McCann says the mileage payments are justified.

McCann told me via email later that Bruner “is the one who has been best friends with BILL CELLINI ... who helped raise money for Gov. (ROD) BLAGOJEVICH.”

He also alleged that Bruner told him more than once that he was going to contribute more than $1 million to Rauner’s 2014 campaign — though Bruner’s business precluded him from directly contributing — by giving it to the Republican Governors Association.

“So I’m not surprised that the Cellini-connected Bruner has teamed up with the Cellini-run Sangamon County Republicans to slur my name and try to defeat me,” McCann said.

Bruner responded that McCann was being an “absolute liar,” and said the allegation of back-door giving to Rauner was “absolutely preposterous.”

Bruner said he’s given to Republican governors across the country, has donated directly to the RGA, but he doesn’t think more than $250,000 in a year. He questioned some entries on an OpenSecrets.org list of “James Bruner” donations to the RGA, but said the $250,000 combined listed for 2014 could be correct.

He also said he has “no involvement” on how the RGA spends that money.

As to McCann’s allegation about $1 million, Bruner said, “he had to totally dream that up.” McCann responded that Bruner had “bragged about” the end-around the ethics laws.

McCann also said Bruner offered him some $5,000 campaign contributions, but only if McCann gave $1,000 to the Sangamon County Republican Foundation. McCann got $5,000 from Bruner in 2014 and donated $1,000 to the foundation within days.

McCann called it a “shakedown” and said, “again, Cellini taught him well.”

Bruner said he did ask McCann to contribute to the foundation, “but never in conjunction with any contribution I made to him.”

Bruner is a former president of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, where Cellini — who served time in prison in 2013 for a corruption conviction — had been executive director. Bruner said he’s friends with Cellini, but is only in touch perhaps half a dozen times a year.

Cellini said he’s never met McCann and has been “retired now for the past five years.”

ROSEMARIE LONG, who chairs the Sangamon County GOP, said she talks with Cellini “from time to time” but said the decision to endorse McClure was “my decision totally.” She also it was also her decision two years ago when the Sangamon County party stuck with McCann over BRYCE BENTON, a Republican endorsed by Rauner in the 50th District that year.

McCann said Bruner disagreed with Rauner on some union issues and complained that Rauner wouldn’t take his calls.

“He told me that Rauner would be a one-term governor and advised me to stay as far away from Rauner as possible, as Rauner was a sinking ship,” McCann said.

Things changed when Rauner named Bruner chairman of what was the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, McCann said, adding that Bruner chaired Benton’s campaign committee.

Bruner didn’t recall a role with Benton’s campaign, but is still listed as chairman of the committee.

“He might have put my name down on some state form,” Bruner said.

Bruner took strong issue with McCann’s comments about phone calls to the governor.

“I’ve never tried to call Rauner,” he said. “What’s he talking about?” He said the only call he recalls from Rauner was after a very long Historic Preservation meeting, to express appreciation for a long day’s work. Bruner got no pay for that job — which McCann referred to as a “plum appointment” — and said he sometimes bought lunch for the board and staff and took no expenses.

Bruner also denied making the “sinking ship” statement. And he said that McCann’s insinuation of influence to get state work is wrong, as every job UCM gets is through low bid. The company was paid more than $170 million by the state in 2015, $147 million in 2016, and more than $84 million so far this year, comptroller’s records show.

Bruner said he’s impressed with McClure, who he thinks has “a lot of get-up-and-go.” He said McClure asked to use the UCM office for his announcement, but Bruner “didn’t have any clue” who was going to show up.

McCann called the crowd of perhaps 60 an “all-star cast of Sangamon County GOP officials.” It did include County Board Chairman ANDY VAN METER, and Circuit Clerk PAUL PALAZZOLO introduced the candidate. McCann said he has great Republican credentials and never voted for a tax increase.

Bruner and the Sangamon County GOP, McCann said, are “looking for a “Rauner rubber stamp.”

McClure, of Springfield, said he served the public as a prosecutor for nearly six years, could have taken jobs that pay much more, and will be no rubber stamp as he hopes to “help turn this state around.”

— Contact Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.


State employees, retirees have opportunity for giving
State Journal Register
Sunday, September 24, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

As the United Way of Central Illinois gears up for its critical annual campaign to support social services, I’d like to remind state employees of the opportunity to support charitable causes directly through SECA, the State and University Employees Combined Appeal Program.

 

Since its establishment in 1983, this annual giving campaign has generated over $78 million in charitable contributions to local, state, national and international causes. The contributions can be a one-time gift or a recurring deduction, with 100 percent of the contribution going to the designated charities of the employees.

 

The United Way, a longstanding SECA partner, is one of 12 federations and over 1,600 charities supported by the program.

 

The program is managed through a network of ambassadors that help promote and facilitate enrollment within each agency and university. These volunteer staff members go above and beyond their normal duties, each year providing information and guidance during the annual SECA campaign. These employees enable SECA to operate with absolutely zero organizational overhead, fueling the program’s ability to maximize contributions.

 

State retirees may also participate. Through a partnership with the State Retirement System, state retirees may make monthly contributions of any amount to SECA, and the deductions go directly to the charities of their choice.

 

This year, SECA ambassadors and payroll staff will accept enrollment paperwork from Sept. 13 through Nov. 8 for the 2017 campaign.

 

Employees interested in the program are encouraged to reach out to their payroll departments or visit secaillinois.org for more information. Once enrollment is open, employees and retirees may also participate online through the Giving Matters 365 link on the SECA homepage.

 

All donations to SECA are tax-deductible, and no contribution is too small. This is particularly true for monthly contributions to SECA. Small gifts from multiple donors add up and provide a broad base of support for any organization; SECA has the added benefit to recipient organizations of aggregating donations to help organizations fulfill their mission.

 

The United Way and 12 other SECA Charity Federations cover the minimal cost of printing and materials each year. This support keeps 100 percent of employee donations going to any of the 1,600 charities or 12 federations.

 

On behalf of the SECA volunteers, partner charities and thousands of state employees who have participated over the years, please join us in enrolling in SECA and supporting the charities of your choice.

 

— Michael Hoffman is the acting director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. To learn more about United Way visit www.springfieldunitedway.org.


Statehouse Insider: Illinois finances not the worst? Believe it or not.
State Journal Register
Sunday, September 24, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink

The results are in and, defying all odds, Illinois isn’t the worst.

And considering it involves state finances, it is even more amazing.

The non-partisan Truth in Accounting released its annual Financial State of the States report that reviews the finances of all 50 states. The good news is that Illinois was not the worst. That distinction belongs to New Jersey.

The bad news is that Illinois ranked 49th, which made it one of nine states to earn an “F” ranking from the organization. Worse, it was a notch lower than last year, which reflected further deterioration in state finances.

TIA ranks states by how much each taxpayer would have to pay to make the state debt-free. For Illinois, that amount was pegged at $50,400. For the worst state, New Jersey, it was $67,200. So by comparison, Illinois represents a bargain for taxpayers.

If misery loves company, Illinois has a lot of love going for it. Only nine states were in positive territory, in the sense they had surpluses. If your desire is to live in a state with really good government finances, your top three choices are Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming. They were the only three to receive an “A” grade. So the trade-off is living in the middle of nowhere to get a fiscally healthy state government.

* When the House voted in July to override Gov. BRUCE RAUNER’s veto of the state budget, it was the final step in ending the two-plus years of budget impasse.

Eleven Republicans voted in favor of the override motion.

With the announcement last week by Rep. REGGIE PHILLIPS of Charleston that he would not run for reelection, six of those Republicans have now said they aren’t running again.

Another Republican, Rep. BOB PRITCHARD of Hinckley, was absent for the override vote, but he voted in favor of the budget when it first passed the House. He also isn’t running again.

In fairness, Phillips said the vote had nothing to do with his decision and that he was confident he could have won if he’d chosen to run.

Still, that’s a lot of retirements from one small group of lawmakers.

* This column mostly shuns federal stuff because the state has more than enough problems to keep everyone occupied.

There are exceptions to every rule and this is one. U.S. Rep. RODNEY DAVIS, R-Taylorville, wanted to make a point last week that the federal tax code is out of date and needs to be revised. To illustrate his point, literally in this case, he tweeted his prom picture from the 1980s when he was sporting a rather extraordinary mullet. He also had a mustache that frankly gave him a rather sinister look.

Davis’ point was that the tax code is as outdated as his prom look.

Forgetting the political issues involved, several social media commentators gave Davis credit for having the courage to post the picture.

* Given that there are roughly 100 people who say they’re interested in running for attorney general, consider this for a moment.

How many candidates do you think would have lined up had Secretary of State JESSE WHITE decided he wouldn’t run for another term? Would all of the names have fit on a single page of a ballot?

* Under the heading of Things You Discover Looking for Other Things: A bill was introduced last week to add an amendment to the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act.

Sponsored by Rep. MARGO McDERMED, R-Mokena, it provides that “no legislator while serving as a member of the General Assembly shall concurrently serve as the chairperson for a statewide political party.”

Hmmm. Wonder who that might apply to?

Please note, this is likely the last time you will be reading about this bill.

— Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr