Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A new day in Illinois and a new chance for children in poor schools

[Cross-posted at]

The first day of veto session feels like the first day of school -- a lot of excitement to see old friends and a feeling of anticipation of something big around the corner.

The big news is that the freshman class (to continue the analogy) will be a supermajority for Democrats in the Senate. That's exciting.

It's particularly exciting because it means the 37 men and women of the Senate Democratic Caucus are now just as important as the Blagojevich Administration when it comes to setting budgets and policies. When a consensus is reached by the Senate Democratic Caucus, it is the public will and can override a veto by the Governor. That's a very big deal and represents a tremedous shift in power over to the 37 Senate Democrats. Particularly because President Jones is said to be very open to representing the consensus of his caucus, that means the sparkling opportunity and heavy responsibility of implementing progressive policies lies on the shoulders of the 37.

The biggest opportunity for social and economic progress is raising the state's 3% income tax and with the extra three billion or so buying better educations for the hundreds of thousands of children in poor neighborhoods who suffer from poorer schools and worse teachers.

There has been no significant progress on this front in at least a decade in the state, and the predictable result of kids dropping out from poor school districts and robbing them of the American promise of equal opportunity has blighted another generation.

For the last four years, Governor Blagojevich's clear opposition to any increase in the state's income tax has stymied efforts to raise the 3% income tax and buy better educations with the money (as well as provide some property tax relief -- a secondary concern in the scope of problems in my opinion).

Unfortunately, Governor Blagojevich decided to reiterate his pledge not to raise the state's 3% income tax.

Fortunately, the 37 Senate Democrats need not consider the Governor's veto as relevant to their consensus.

And very fortunately, some of the bright freshmen Senators campaigned on raising the income tax (and providing property tax relief).

(As a quick digression, the freshman class of Democratic Senators will likely be considered a major 'impact' class. Michael Frerichs, Michael Bond, Dan Kotowski and Michael Noland will be policy-oriented legislators who will have an immediate impact on crafting progressive policy. I haven't met Linda Holmes, but I've heard very good things about her too. And on another digression, Michael Bond and his campaign staff should be giving lessons on how to run a field operation -- it was the most sophisticated campaign I've ever seen).

Of course, many Republican Senators have long understood the need to raise the state income tax and (more importantly to their constituents) cut the local property tax. The potential defection of a handful of Democratic Senators who might calculate their districts won't support a 5% state income tax can and should be made up by Republican Senators, particularly representing poorer rural districts, to withstand an expected veto.

And keep in mind: 10% of voters last week cast their votes for a candidate who explicitly called for a 5% income tax. That's extraordinary. That's about as close to a mandate as a tax increase can ever get. And that means that the potential blowback is likely rather low (at least in those districts, like Senator Syverson's and Senator Luechtefeld's where Rich Whitney earned around 25% of the vote. 25%!).

Put another way, 60% of voters supported a left or center-left candidate.

If there was ever a time for a 5% state income tax, 2007 is it.

And while the dynamics of the House may not have changed significantly, the Speaker and I'd venture a majority of the House Democratic caucus have expressed support for a tax swap. The House did pass a tax swap bill out in the late 90s only to suffocate from Pate Philip's Senate opposition.

There's still quite a bit of consensus-building to do: what accountability reforms need to be included with the billions in new spending, what tax cuts (either property or low-income) need to be included and what group of legislators can take the lead on crafting this consensus are all unanswered questions. But the future for poor Illinois children has not been brighter in a long time -- so long as our legislators decide that they have the opportunity and responsibility to craft a legislative consensus around a 5% income tax. The Governor's leadership on progressive policy (such as with the indexed minimum wage hike) will be in different arenas.


Bill Baar 6:08 AM  

Why don't we let the poor kids pick their schools by vouchering the proceeds from this income tax hike to them?

It's power, not money, that's the issue, and I think Illinois Democrats don't want to hand power to the poor kids and their parents.

Pat Hickey 6:16 AM  

Amen, Brother Bill; until school choice becomes a serious consideration public schools New Trier to Artful Dodger Elementary in Toothpick, Illinois will continue to be dollar sink-holes and 'untested mandates.'

Only school choice will make public schools competative - they do not needt to try harder so they will not.

cermak_rd 2:45 PM  

I'm not rabidly against vouchers. But I don't like the loss of citizen control of the curriculum that vouchers creates. Will the vouchered school teach Creationism? Will it teach that the highest office a woman should reach for is being a homemaker? Will it teach that because God made Adam first, men should lead? Will it teach that just being oriented as a homosexual is gravely disordered?

Now, vouchers that go toward private schools that teach a publicly accessible and acceptable curriculum, I'd not have a problem with. I'm a big fan of Charter schools and am inordinately fond of Chicago's selective enrollment schools. I believe more choice is good. But if you want to have your kids taught a religious curriculum, you ought to pay for it yourself or have your Church subsidize it.

Bill Baar 3:00 PM  

Not much faith in we the people there Cermak.

If you devolve power, administrators lose control... it's a risk I'd take.

Jeff Trigg 3:43 PM  

HB750/SB750 does nothing to get rid of and/or replace "worse teachers" as Dan puts it. That fact alone proves an income tax increase will never "buy a better education" for anyone.

The poorest school in 2005 had well above average test scores that were even better than the richest school in a couple grade areas. More money does nothing to improve the delivery of education when there are absolutely no reforms on how education is delivered. We need to up the tuition tax credit from $500 to $1500 so more of the poor can get a real education that the controlling teachers unions will never allow from government schools.

Why was the poorest school able to outperform the richest school? It was one of the few districts without a collective bargaining agreement, so they could pay teachers based on performance and results instead of based on time served. Imagine that.

Extreme Wisdom 10:27 PM  

Cermak rasies the issue of citizen control. What citizen control?

What citizen or group of citizens chose experimental and unproven curricula over proven effective curricula? (see )

What citizen control opted for actuarilly unsustainable pension benefits? What citizen control created as system where the district can keep coming back over and over and over for referenda while there is not even a way for a citizen initiative to reduce taxation?

There isn't a lick of citizen control in public education. The unions have purchased the legislature and the legislature does what they are told.

The questions about "creationism" are distractions.

1. Pass HB750 increases ONLY in exchange for a complete zeroing out of the STATE AUTHORIZED property tax for schools. ($2.5-3.5 billion tax cut)

2. Fund every IL child directly with a scholarship of EQUAL amount of around $7,000 indexed for inflation and redeemable at any school that submits to the testing regime (see below).

3. Dissolve the educationally worthless construct called a "District" and make every public school in IL an independent 501(C)3 charter managed by Principal & board elected by the parents who choose it.

4. Replace all the ridiculous mandates with an INDEPENDENT testing regime that is sequenced, rational, and content (not process) rich. (this corrects for most every "creationist" distractionist questions)

5. Develop the transition plan to cover existing contracts, attendence issues, and a simple school inspection process.


You can fund Childrens' education, or you can fund a decrepit education bureaucracy. You can't do both.

cermak_rd 10:44 PM  

extreme wisdom,

Just because people don't run for LSCs and don't hold the mayor's and council's feet to the fire does not mean there is not citizen control of the curriculum. If you don't think there is no citizen control of the curriculum, have the schools teach social studies touting the Bolivaran revolution as a model of social progress and see how fast the media catch on and bring it up and how long until an outcry arises and the kabosh is put on it.

The teachers did away with phonics and within 20 years the people were up in arms about it (it took them a while to catch on that newer models weren't working as well). Now if they tried to do away with phonics, they'd have a protest on their hands.

Now, I'm not sure that more $$ is going to help CPS. There are schools downstate in Effingham, Neoga, the colas (Tuscola, Arcola) that manage to make AYP while spending less per student even accounting for the cost of living differences.

The bureaucracy in CPS is huge and needs to be razed for one thing. Another is run-away special ed rates. Some schools have 20% special ed placement rates. Now even accounting for the fact that these same schools tend to have half of the neighborhood kids attending other schools (charters, selective enrollment, private) that's still seems too high.

steve schnorf 11:08 PM  

Extreme, you just seem to continue to deny that every school didtrict in this state is controlled by a school board elected by the citizens interested enough to register and vote.

Bill Baar 7:28 AM  


What we have, sure doesn't seem to work well.

Something should change and it takes more then throwing bucks without accountability DJW is proposing.

I'd like to try letting people, especially poor people, vote with their vouchers.

And that's the strange thing about left and right; conservative and liberal these days... the conservatives suggesting the radical ideas.

If Hugo Chavez / Citgo were real radicals, they would have vouchered that $400,000 to the students at Little Village HS instead of giving it to the administration to advance their struggle.

Power (vouchers) to the people.

cermak_rd 3:02 PM  


What we have now actually is working most of the time. What it doesn't work well with is kids with a lot of transience in their lives, with kids who live in violent neighborhoods, and with kids whose parent(s) place a low value on education. And if kids have involved parents who do place a high value on education, then they seem to overcome the other problems too.

Extreme Wisdom 7:40 PM  


While I understand why so many believe this, and why others promote the myth, the fact is that the School District isn't "controlled by the board," nor the people who elect them.

The board has just enough power to provide the appearance of control, but not enough to really change a district.

The first part of the scheme is to place most board elections on off year spring elections, when the organized have all the advantages, and the less engaged stay home.

The 2nd part of the scheme is to use the 7 member board and staggered elections to eliminate any real chance of reformers from ever taking control of a board.

There are some good people on boards. They are nearly always outvoted 6-1 or 5-2. This is by design.

(look at the make up of most boards and their relatives, and you'll see incestuous relationships that would make Enron's Fastow blush)

Should a consciencious board ever get in place, the rest of the scheme kicks in. You will find that all sorts of mandates, model contracts, and other intentionally gamed pieces of legislation rob you of any real control.

Ram any real reforms through, and you generate a strike or a full blown campaign where uniserve thugs and outright lies quickly remove any chance for a district to be a "laboratory of democracy."

Go to to see what happens when a member fo the blob starts to think of the children over the bureaucracy. These people eat their own.

See Steve, I've been interested in education all my life. I've considered getting certified, getting elected to a board, and I may yet do both.

I've also listened to the experience of many others who have gotten onto boards. They invariably say that it isn't worth it. There is too little opportunity for real impact for too high an investment in time and energy.

This system isn't designed to improve a child's education. It's designed to grow, feed, protect a powerful special interest. Anyone with any experience with the system (you, DJW) knows this.

The system is unreformable, and more funds to the same awful system isn't going to make things better.

You know this to be true. Switch sides Steve. Do it for the Children.


I disagree. It's failing most of the time.

I don't pretend that my idea is a panacea. There are none. The DJWs of the world view unlimited $$ to the same failed system as a panacea, and I argue that they have lost the right to ask for more.

My idea will provide a better education for more people more equitably, and for less money. It allows for more freedom and more accountability.

I'm certain the votes don't exist in this environment for it to have any chance of passing. I take solace in the fact that I'm right, and that no one can debate me straight up on the facts.

Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

BTW, Milton Friedman RIP.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger 4:49 PM  

Well, nothing like setting up straw men and then knocking them down. Of course unlimited money is an incoherent concept. But we are simply not spending enough money in poor districts to buy an adequate education, particularly since (if we believe in equal opportunity) kids in poor areas need *more* investment than kids in rich districts since the rich kids benefit from a social structure and social norms that encourage and reward academic work and tend to come from more wealthy and stable families, while poor kids tend to come from less stable families and social norms that do not reward academic work as much. That's the big picture and that takes more money to invest in poor kids. A small part of the picture is more efficient methods of spending the money. There isn't enough money in poor districts for a good education, no matter how you spend it.

Bill Baar 7:36 AM  

It's about power Dan. Whether to empower the poor with vouchers, or further entrench the current elites at our schools with more money.

It's about as simple as that...

Extreme Wisdom 1:55 PM  


Chicago spends over $10K/kid/year. To say that isn't enough money to educate someone is just plain wrong.

Take the 10K out of the hands of the bureaucrats and give it to the kids.

Look, you guys have everything. House, Senate, State House & Senate, every office. What more do you need? Why not use all the political power to do something good instead of just shoveling more money at the same failed system that caused the problem.

Look at what this system is doing to the nation?

That is the legacy of the system you are supporting.

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