Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Catholic Charities organizations are appealing a court ruling that said the state has the right to end contracts with the organization for foster care and adoption services.
Kendall Marlowe, spokesperson for the Department of Children and Family Services, said the state did not renew contracts with the group because representatives of Catholic Charities voiced the organization’s intention not to comply with the state’s new civil unions law. The organization planned to refer couples in civil unions seeking to be foster or adoptive parents to another provider. The contracts are renewed on an annual basis. “We were unable to enter into contracts with them for Fiscal Year 2012,” Marlowe said.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois pushed for a bill during the spring legislative session that would have allowed them to refer couples in civil unions to other providers, but the measure was shot down in a Senate committee. When the state informed the organization that it would not renew the contracts, the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization, launched a lawsuit against Illinois. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled that the organization was not entitled to a renewed contract. “No citizen has a recognized legal right to contract with the government,” the opinion said.
The Thomas More Society today asked the court to stay the ruling and plans to file an appeal based on the fact that the ruling did not touch on the religious rights of Catholic Charities. “Catholic Charities is one of the lead providers of foster care services in the state. They have been valued partners for decades. Clearly the intent of the civil union law was not to force the state to end these contracts and force the transfer of thousands of children’s cases,” Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria said in a written statement.
Human rights organizations say Schmidt made the right decision. “The court correctly concluded on procedural grounds that the state could decline to renew its contracts with four dioceses of Catholic Charities. The state chose not to renew their contracts because they insisted on violating state and federal law by refusing to place children in the homes of couples in civil unions. Illinois correctly determined that this practice was bad for kids, could deny many of them their best opportunity for a better life, and that the state's obligation was to make the transition to other providers as seamless as possible,” Camilla Taylor, director of Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project, said in a written statement.
DCFS has been working on a plan to shift all of the approximately 2,000 foster care and adoption cases administered by Catholic Charities to other social services providers. The department already moved 300 children to a new agency in June after Catholic Charities of Rockford announced it would no longer handle the cases. Marlowe said that ideally, children and families aren’t even aware of the shift because caseworkers move to a new agency as well. “The only change that the child and foster family may perceive is a different logo at the top of the letterhead. All that has to change is the agency supervising the case.” Marlowe said that the department is moving forward with its work and plans to have all cases moved to new agencies by the fall “We would obviously respect any court orders that come down. But in the meantime, our orderly process goes forward.”
Monday, August 29, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Regional superintendents are mulling an appeal to a ruling today denying their request for pay.
Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt issued an order today saying that he did not have the power to force Gov. Pat Quinn to pay the superintendents. Quinn had vetoed the funding for the administrators' salaries, and they have not been paid since the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. "The association is reviewing the results of the court's ruling and its legal options, including an appeal. We will thoughtfully consider our next steps and make the appropriate decision at the right time, understanding the time frame allotted to us under court rules," Bob Daiber, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said in a written statement. The group would have to file for an immediate appeal by early next week or would have up to 30 days to file a traditional appeal.
Daiber said the association will also turn to lobbying lawmakers for pay checks. Legislators could override Quinn's veto and restore the funding or approve legislation being crafted by Quinn that would shift the cost to local governments.
By Jamey Dunn
A circuit judge ruled today that he does not have the power to force Gov. Pat Quinn to pay regional school administrators who have not seen a paycheck since the start of the fiscal year.
Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the pay for regional superintendents and their assistants in June, saying they should be paid from local revenues. As a result the elected administrators have not been paid since the fiscal year began on July 1. The group was working with the governor on a plan that could appear before the legislature in the fall veto session, scheduled for October. They were also lobbying lawmakers to override the governor’s veto if the plan fell through. In the meantime, they took the state to court asking to be paid until a solution can be found.
Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt sympathized with the superintendents in a hearing yesterday, saying he knew the lack of pay was causing them hardship, but he voiced concerns that ordering Quinn to pay would blur the separation of powers between the branches of government. He ruled today that he does not have the authority to essentially override the governor’s veto and force the state to cut the checks. “The Illinois Constitution states very plainly that the governor may veto an item of appropriation. To hold otherwise would thrust the court into the appropriation process. Such would be contrary to the Illinois Constitution.”
One of the superintendents’ lawyers, Charles Schmadeke, argued at the hearing yesterday that the group was asking Schmidt to enforce the statute that creates their positions and sets requirements for their pay. “While we respect Judge Schmidt and the difficultly of this decision, we are clearly disappointed in the ruling,” Raylene DeWitte Grischow, another lawyer working on the case, said in a prepared statement. “If the judiciary cannot compel the executive branch to follow the law, the result is that there are 80 Illinois families who are doing the state's important and critical work in education without payment and struggling each day to make ends meet. It is our view that the state is making the superintendents fund the operations of their offices out of their own pockets,”
Bob Daiber, president Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said the group plans to meet this afternoon to sort out what it plans to do next. “We respect the court's decision but are disappointed that the judge did not agree with us,” Daiber said in a prepared statement. “State law clearly calls for us to be paid for the good work we continue to do, but our fight continues. Today's outcome doesn't change that we believe this situation is totally unfair and against what this state stands for. We continue to work hard for the students, parents, educators and taxpayers of Illinois. And we will find a way through discussions with state lawmakers for a long-term funding solution. Clearly, the pain continues for many superintendents and their families during this very difficult time, and hardships are growing every day. They will have to make difficult decisions as this crisis continues, as we work through the inconsiderate decision to end our funding with no other plan in place to pay us for doing our jobs,”
Quinn's administration says it is still working with the superintendents to find a way to get them paid in the near future. "We feel the court adopted the correct legal conclusion,” Kelly Kraft, Quinn's budget spokesperson, said in a written statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with representatives of the Regional Offices of Education on a short-term solution to ensure payment through the veto session."
Thursday, August 25, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Regional superintendents will have to wait at least one more day to find out if they can expect pay checks in the near future.
In June, Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto pen to slash the funding for their salaries from the budget lawmakers sent him, saying he believes the administrators should be paid at the local level. As a result, the superintendents have yet to receive a pay check since the new fiscal year started on July 1. Quinn’s administration is working on legislation to draw the salaries from a local tax, and lawmakers could vote to override the veto. But neither of those things would likely take place until the legislature's veto session, scheduled for October. The superintendents have asked a Sangamon County judge to force the state to pay them until a solution can be found. They are not seeking back pay through their request.
“They provide a very important cog in the machine of public education,” Charles Schmadeke, who is representing the superintendents, argued in court today. He said that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) could pay the administrators from a fund used to pay board personnel, which he said is described in the law as money to ”pay the people who do the job for the Illinois State Board of Education, and that’s what these [superintendents] are doing.”
He acknowledged that it was Quinn’s right as governor to veto the funding for the salaries. “We are not suggesting that the governor doesn’t have the power he engaged here; he clearly does.” However, he said, because the General Assembly created the positions and wrote the regional supeintendents' pay scale into law, Quinn's action of taking away the funds does not mean he can simply not pay them. Schmadeke said that the law allows the state to pay them, even from the original funds that Quinn vetoed, regardless of the governor’s budget action. He said a change to the law would be needed to stop paying the administrators with state dollars.
Assistant Attorney General Terence Corrigan said that while lawmakers may have wanted the superintendents to be paid through state funds, the governor used his veto pen to remove the line item. He argued that without an appropriation, there is simple no authority to spend the money. “The fact that the legislature intended that they be paid doesn’t mean that the court can pay them with no appropriation.” Corrigan said that using personnel funds from ISBE would throw the agency into chaos because it could potentially run out of money to pay its staff. “In 60 days, the state board would basically cease to function.” Schmadeke countered that going to ISBE would only be a temporary fix and would not sink ISBE’s staffing budget. “Let’s have a hearing on the merits, but get these people paid in the meantime.”
Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt said he is concerned that his ruling could have a profound impact on the separation of the powers among the branches of government. He questioned whether the state’s argument could lead to a scenario where “basically the governor could do away with a statutorily created office” by vetoing the pay for the job. However, he questioned whether he had the authority to order the executive branch to spend funds. “There are no easy answers here,” Schmidt said. He said he was “aghast” that the state downplayed the hardship faced by the superintendents, who have gone months without pay. But he questioned what he could do to force Quinn to pay the administrators if he ruled in their favor and Quinn refused to comply. “I don’t issue orders I can’t enforce.” Schmidt said. “The lack of hardship is not my holdup here.”
He said he expects to issue an order by noon tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn has grown impatient with efforts to work out a compromise over the massive gaming expansion passed in the closing days of the spring legislative session. Today, he called on lawmakers to send him the bill.
Senate President John Cullerton said last week that lawmakers are working on a follow-up bill that would tighten regulation on Senate Bill 744, which calls for creating five new casinos as well as allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks. Quinn has said that he supports a casino owned by the city of Chicago but called the bill top-heavy. He has complained this summer that the plan does not do enough to regulate the proposed expansion. “There are parts of that bill that are very important when it comes to ethics in government and ethics in business,” Quinn told reporters in Chicago today. “There are bad guys out there criminal elements — organized crime — that want to infiltrate. And we’re not going to let them do it.”
Knowing Quinn was not happy with the legislation as is, Cullerton put a parliamentary hold on the bill in the hopes of working out a deal. He said last week that he did not intend to release the bill until another measure was passed to tweak it. “That way, we have both bills on the governor’s desk at the same time. … We expect to do this all by the [end of] the [October] veto session.”
But today, Quinn said lawmakers should release the bill and let him take action. “I think they ought to send the bill to the governor the way it should be done all the time. They’ve had plenty of time, all summer long … to look at their handy work. When they send me the bill, they’ll get a prompt response. OK. And that’s how it works.”
When asked if the “prompt response” would be a veto, Quinn said: “I’ve had to veto bad bills, and sometimes in the veto message I lay out how they can improve their bill.”
However, the governor would not make a definitive statement on his plans for the legislation. “It’s a little hard to sign a bill when it’s not there.”
Quinn said that lawmakers’ reluctance to follow the standard legislative procedure and send him the bill for executive action might be an indication of its flaws. “If they think so little of the handiwork they did on May 31 that they don’t want to send it to the governor, shouldn’t that alert everyone that maybe there are some defects in that bill that need to be looked at?”
John Patterson, a spokesperson for Cullerton, said legislative leaders are still open to suggestions from Quinn. “The Senate president has met with the governor to explain the legislation and listen to his concerns. He’s all ears.”
By Jamey Dunn
Prosecutors say former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has no grounds to fight his conviction on corruption charges.
A federal jury convicted Blagojevich on 17 out of 20 counts in June. Blagojevich’s lawyers filed a complaint earlier this month seeking to have the convictions tossed out based on several claims, including judicial bias and a tainted jury pool. The complaint said U.S. District Judge James Zagel favored the prosecution, and some members of the jury had heard of Blagojevich’s case and said they thought he might be guilty. The motion also reiterated the defense's longstanding complaint that not all the audio recordings the government had of the former governor’s telephone calls were played during the trial.
The prosecution countered that Blagojevich was convicted after a fair trial, and the defense’s claims do not meet the “high burden” set for overturning a jury’s ruling. “In making these arguments [the] defendant disregards what the evidence at trial established and what the jury concluded — that the defendant knowingly engaged in a scheme to abuse his power as governor in exchange for personal financial gain. In reality, there was no bias, manipulation or unfairness on the part of the prosecution judge or jury. [The] defendant was fairly convicted by a jury of his peers based on overwhelming evidence, and his post-trial motion therefore should be denied,” said the prosecution’s response, which was filed today.
Blagojevich’s lawyers argued that jurors should have been allowed to hear all of the former governor’s telephone calls from the time period when the government was gathering evidence against him. The complaint accuses prosecutors of “cherry picking” conversations. However, the response said the other calls were irrelevant and some of the calls the defense wanted to submit were never recorded. “This court properly rejected the defendant’s request for discovery of evidence that either did not exist or that was completely irrelevant to any issue in the case,” the response stated.
As for the claims that Blagojevich faced a tainted jury, the prosecution said the former governor dragged his own case into the limelight with the intent of reaching possible jurors. The response said that jurors who knew about the case said they could put their opinions aside to give Blagojevich a fair shake. “[The] defendant engaged in an unprecedented national media campaign executed with the help of [a] retained public relations firm for the purpose of influencing public opinion, and that campaign was bound to have some impact, even if it was not the impact [the] defendant had hoped for.” However, the defense complained that a news conference held on the day of Blagojevich’s arrest — where U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the former governor’s behavior "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave” — also colored public opinion.
Zagel has yet to rule on the defense's request for a new trial. The former governor’s sentencing date is scheduled for October 6. Blagojevich also faces sentencing for a previous conviction of lying to federal officers.
Monday, August 22, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Education administrators who have not been compensated for three months are suing the state for their pay checks, but Gov. Pat Quinn says the issue can be resolved outside of court.
Quinn used his veto pen to cut the more than $11 million that was set aside for the salaries for regional superintendents and their assistants in the budget lawmakers sent to him. Many superintendents stayed on the job for free. Bob Daiber, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said schools across the state would have had difficulties opening if the administrators had left work.
Diaber, who is a regional superintendent in Madison County, said regional superintendents inspect buildings and license newly constructed facilities for occupancy. He added that he gave out six such permits on one day in early August in Madison County. Without those licenses, he said any new schools or additions could not house students. “Without those occupancy permits, those schools cannot have children in those new addition and wings, legally.” He said regional superintendents also provided training to bus drivers in the weeks leading up to the new school year. “Schools are opening, their kids are getting on buses. … It is only happening because the regional superintendent continued to work without pay.”
Before the lawsuit was filed, Daiber said that the association was working “in good faith” with the governor’s office, as well as pursuing the possibility of a legislative override of the veto. “We have been working on an override. That’s a natural course of action that we have been encouraged to take by some legislators,” he said earlier this month. However, Daiber noted that administrators were willing to go to court if a clear plan to pay them did not surface. “It can be resolved by the legislative branch, the executive branch and if can’t be resolved then, it could go to the judicial branch. … That’s why we have three branches of government, right?”
The association now says the 44 superintendents across the state can wait no longer for compensation. "The injunction our members filed [on Friday] in Sangamon County Circuit Court seeking to immediately restore our pay is something we do not do lightly, but we simply had no other choice. We have exhausted all options in working with the governor's office to this date, and we have no other recourse. We have asked legislators for help in resolving this matter immediately. They cannot resolve the issue until they're back for the fall veto session,” said a written statement from Daiber about the complaint. The suit alleges that the state is bound by law to pay the superintendents’ salaries. The complaint says that by cutting off their pay, the governor is acting in “excess” of his power.
Despite the lawsuit, Quinn seems optimistic that a solution can be reached. “I think we can work this out,” the governor told reporters in Chicago today. Quinn also reiterated his opinion that the state funding, which has been used to pay the superintendents, instead be spent in schools. “We want to put the money for education in the classroom for students and teachers, not for bureaucrat.” Quinn is working on a plan to pay the superintendents through the local Personal Property Replacement Tax, which he says he hopes to pass during the veto session, scheduled in October. Such a plan would meet opposition from many local governments, as well as the Illinois Municipal League.
Quinn budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the superintendents, who oversee Regional Offices of Education, would get paid “soon.” She did not elaborate on a timeline or any plan to pay the administrators before legislation that would be needed to shift the cost to local governments could potentially be called for a vote. “We are continuing to work with representatives of the [Regional Offices of Education] to examine mechanisms to provide payment as quickly as possible. In addition to providing payment soon, we have developed draft legislation to restore the payroll appropriation [for Regional Offices of Education], and shift the obligation to Personal Property Replacement Tax. [The tax] funds local elected official stipends, and we feel [Regional Offices of Education], which are locally elected, should be funded in the same manner to relieve pressure from the general revenue fund,” Kraft said in a written statement.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
A court ruled today that Illinois does not have to continue contracts with Catholic Charities organizations across the state because the group said it would not place children with couples in civil unions.
The state ended contracts with Catholic Charities in Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Belleville after the organization said it would not provide adoption or foster care services to couples in civil unions. The organization, which is paid by the state to provide social services, said it would instead refer such couples to other providers. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled today that the state was within its rights to break a contract with a provider that is not abiding by the law. “No citizen has a recognized legal right to contract with the government,” the opinion said.
“Today, Illinois Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt ruled against Illinois Catholic Charities in their pursuit to continue their 100 years of service to Illinois families and children with foster care and adoption services,” said a prepared statement from the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization that was representing Catholic Charities in the lawsuit. “The ruling does not address Catholic Charities' contention that the state of Illinois cannot refuse to contract with someone based on that person’s exercise of religion. Thomas More Society attorneys are reviewing the ruling and considering next actions with the charities.”
Those who advocated for civil unions, which went into effect in June, can take some solace in the fact that the new law survived its first legal challenge, though most felt the issue was clear from the start of the dispute. “When a private organization — even a private religiously affiliated organization — performs what is really quintessentially a government function, such as screening foster homes for licensure or caring for the wards of the state, it must abide by the laws that bind the government. If the religiously affiliated organization does not want to abide by these laws, it should exercise its choice not to accept those government duties,” said Mary Dixon, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
|State Treasurer Dan Rutherford takes the podium at the fair.|
Illinois Republicans are optimistic about their party’s chances in the 2012 elections, if they can get their message across to voters.
“I think that America’s going to be looking at who is going to help lead us during an economically stressful time. Who’s going to help us with regards to jobs?” state Treasurer Dan Rutherford said at today’s Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair. He said Illinois Republicans need to reach outside of their traditional voting base and cannot count solely on the wave of popularity the Tea Party has found in other parts of the country. “The Tea Party brings a portion of the electorate, and more power to them in doing that. I just say that there is much more to wining a race in Illinois than just one specific segment. The traditional base of hard-core Republicans is not as large as the traditional base of hard-core Democrats. And for that reason, a candidate like me, who wins statewide races, has to understand that you need to reach into the independents and, to be very blunt with you, into the Democrats.”
Rutherford would not say if he plans to run for governor in the future. “I’m going to be a good state treasurer for the next few years, and we’ll make a decision later.”
Republicans believe their message of reduced spending and smaller government resonates in the down economy. “Incrementally, we continue to be the voice of reason,” said Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican. Brady said Illinois voters need to get to know some Republican candidates better. “I think the people of Illinois are on a learning curve.” He says that “learning curve” is what made the difference in his failed run for governor last year. “At the end of the day, the undecideds didn’t get to know me as well as they felt they knew Gov. [Pat] Quinn, a career politician,” he said. Brady, who has served in the General Assembly for more than for 15 years, would not say whether he plans a third shot at the governor’s office.
The message Republicans were pushing today was opposition to borrowing. Quinn has renewed his call for the state to borrow to pay some or all of the estimated $4 billion backlog of overdue bills that Illinois owes to schools, social services providers, local governments and others. State Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka said the state has a stack of more than 190,000 bills, the oldest of which dates April 19, 2011.
“I’m just thrilled to death that we’re paying bills from 2011. We finally got out of 2010. We don’t have the money to pay it. It’s just that simple,” she said. Topinka joined Rutherford and the Republican legislative leaders to oppose borrowing to pay late bills, which they say will only dig the state into a deeper hole. Republicans also warn that with the recent Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the country’s credit rating and a specific warning to Illinois from the bond rating agency Moody’s, the cost of borrowing for the state may soon increase. “We actually do have a plan. … It’s not rocket science,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. “It simply says you spend less money than you have coming in, and you start paying more bills down.” The Senate Republicans' plan called for $5 billion to $6 billion in budget cuts. Radogno said the plan would result in a budget surplus in five years.
Democrats criticized Republicans for not drafting their plan into legislation, saying such massive cuts to the state’s major spending areas of education, health care and human services are not so simple. They say some of the Republican plan would violate court orders and cause the state to miss out on substantial amounts of federal funding. “If there was an easy way out of this, we’d have figured it out a long time ago,” said Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat. Sullivan sponsored several proposals to borrow to pay down the state’s backlog. He only called one of the bills, a proposal to borrow about $6.2 billion, for a vote, and it received a meager 19 “yes” votes. Sullivan said he is trying to sell lawmakers as well as voters on the idea, and he plans to push some version of the plan again. “I’m just trying to build a case,” he said.
|Party chair Pat Brady address the crowd.|
In this year before the presidency and every seat in the General Assembly comes up for grabs, Illinois Republicans are working to raise the profile of their party and their message of fiscal responsibility. Republican Party Chair Pat Brady announced an Illinois straw poll — similar to the famous Iowa straw poll conducted last weekend — on Republican presidential candidates on November 5, one year before the election. Brady said the party plans to have polling locations in every county in the state. Brady put a positive spin on the spotty attendance at the Republican rally at the fair today, while noting that Democratic Party Chair and House Speaker Michael Madigan did not attend yesterday’s Democratic events. “This is a substantially better crowd than we had in the last off-]election] year, and we don’t bus people in because we gave them jobs. These are all people who came because they want to support the party.”
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Gov. Pat Quinn was met with demands from all sides as he hosted Governor’s Day at the Illinois state fair.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Illinois' new Congressional and state legislative district maps face yet another lawsuit.
The League of Women Voters of Illinois sued to have both maps tossed out, claiming they violate the First Amendment rights of voters by trying to control their political voices. “By considering the partisan composition of the districts and the political competitiveness of election campaigns in such districts, the General Assembly is unlawfully attempting to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear and receive,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit says that trying to make districts politically competitive — something that would require voting history and information on party affiliations — is a valid goal. But it says that Democratic mapmakers were more concerned with maximizing political benefits than ensuring that races would be competitive. “ By use of methods to control or influence the kind of views that residents are likely to hear and receive, without safeguards ensuring such action is narrowly tailored to serve legitimate state interests, there is a significant risk that the General Assembly and Congressional delegation will become less accountable and responsive to changes in public opinion and less under popular control,” the complaint said.
“The problem is the usual gerrymandering. It doesn’t matter who is in office. They just do it,” said Jan Dorner, president of the League of Women Voters of Illinois. “It isn’t specifically about these maps. … our hope is to change it from now on.”
Republican state legislative leaders and a Republican-backed group have already challenged the state and congressional maps in federal court. Their challenges allege the maps dilute the political power of Hispanic population of the state, among other complaints. Dorner said by focusing on First Amendment rights, the league is scrutinizing legislative maps in a way they have not been challenged before. “Filing under the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution — we think is a new legal claim.”
Dorner said new maps should be drawn by an independent commission without taking political data into account. The group backed an effort in early 2010 for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would have put the once-a-decade redistricting process into the hands of a commission. The Fair Map Group was unable to collect the needed number of signatures to get the amendment on the ballot. A Republican attempt to pass the amendment through the legislature also fell short. Democrats criticized the league for working closely with their political opponents and a playing a large role in what was, in part, an effort financially backed by Republican state legislative leaders. “Three years ago, we were being called Democrats by the Republicans,” Dorner said. “Just recently we have apparently become Republicans. Bottom line is, we believe in what’s right. And I don’t care if it's Democratic or Republican or Green or Libertarian.”
Gov. Pat Quinn today voiced his support for the maps he signed into law. “The process for redistricting both the congressional districts and state legislative districts was the most open process Illinois has ever had. There was ample public participation and opportunity to participate. I looked at both maps in a very careful way and made a decision that they were fair — done through an open process. So, we’re happy to defend that work in any court in the land.”
Monday, August 15, 2011
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
President Barack Obama called for a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act before the beginning of the school year, but gridlock in Congress has led his administration to pursue a stopgap measure to keep thousands of schools from failing under the law's standards.
The act, passed under former President George W. Bush, requires that all students reach math and reading proficiency goals by 2014. As the requirements ramp up, schools nationwide that are making improvements are still failing under the act. Once a school fails to meet the goals for three years in a row, it can face drastic corrective measures, such as mass firings or even closing.
The Obama administration has been pushing for a change for more than a year, warning that up to 80 percent of schools will be labeled as failures in the near future. Obama rolled out his plan for a rewrite in March 2010. “The stakes are high. As it currently exists, NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers. Under the law, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be labeled as 'failing,' eventually triggering impractical and ineffective sanctions,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in an opinion peace he penned in July urging Congress to rewrite the law.
In a Congress that is falling into venomous partisan struggles over authorizing more federal borrowing and approving funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, two things that have been generally routine actions, changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, which is the current version of the complicated and controversial Elementary and Secondary Education Act, have little chance of being approved quickly. “The law, NCLB, as it currently stands is four years overdue for being rewritten. It is far too punitive; it is far too prescriptive. It led to a dumbing down of the standards, led to a narrowing of the curriculum,” Duncan said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Instead of a rewrite, the administration is going around Congress for the time being and plans to offer states waivers so they do not have to meet the ever-increasing goals of the act. But the feds say they will not just give states a free pass. “Where there’s a high bar, where folks are really doing the right thing for children, we want to give them a lot more flexibility,” Duncan said.
The Department of Education plans to announce the requirements for waivers in September. From a prepared statement by the department: “The administration's proposal for fixing NCLB calls for college- and career-ready standards, more great teachers and principals, robust use of data and a more flexible and targeted accountability system based on measuring annual student growth.” The statement said the requirements will reflect “similar goals.”
“The standards will be high. The bar will be high. States are going to have to embrace the kind of reform that we believe is necessary to move our education system forward,” Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, said at a Washington, D.C,. news conference. “Any state that isn’t able to comply with those kinds or reforms, that isn’t able to embrace reform, will have to comply with No Child Left Behind as we move forward.”
In essence, waivers could leave state officials choosing between making the reforms the department requires, or watching hundreds of schools fail and possibly become subject to some drastic consequences. Given all of Illinois’ recent education reforms — some of which were touted by Duncan, and others that were done as an attempt to win grants from the Federal Race to the Top Program — it would be reasonable to assume the state could be in good standing with much of what the department will seek for waivers. But only time will tell. Mary Fergus, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education, said the board does not want to commit to seeking a waiver until the full plan is unveiled in June. Fergus said the board plans to “seek some feedback from the field” on what teachers and administrators would like to see as part of a plan to give schools more flexibility under the act.
Members of Congress working on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act say Duncan is jumping the gun and may be overstepping his authority. U.S. Rep. John Cline, a Republican from Minnesota and chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, and U. S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, sent a letter to Duncan voicing concerns over the waivers.
“The committee is optimistic a bipartisan consensus is possible on commonsense reforms that reduce the federal footprint in education and allow states and school districts the flexibility to meet the needs of their unique communities. However, as we continue working to attain this goal, we must ensure temporary measures do not undermine our efforts,” the letter said. They also questioned whether Duncan can impose requirements on states. “While flexibility in our education system is urgently needed, the department’s proposal is cause for concern. Issuing new demands in exchange for relief could result in greater regulation and confusion for schools and less transparency for parents. Additionally, the proposal raises questions about the department’s legal authority to grant conditional waivers in exchange for reforms not Authorized by Congress.”
But members of the administration say Congress has dragged its feet too long. “We would have loved to see Congress act. No question that it should have happened. We hope it happens some point down the road. But it hasn’t, and we can’t afford to wait,” Barnes said.
Illinois Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican, said the waivers could result in a national “patchwork” of education policy because some states likely will not get them. “I think that if you’re going to try and fix this, and you’re going to have a consistent policy, we need to go ahead and go in there and change the federal act.” He said that they are areas of agreement about a revamp of the act, but political infighting is holding up the process. “Let’s agree on what we can agree on. … Right now at the federal level, gridlock is the dynamic.”
Eddy, who also is a school superintendent in Hutsonville, said missing out on a waiver is not as much of a concern for Illinois because he predicts that the requirements will “mirror” Senate Bill 7, a landmark education reform bill passed during the spring legislative session. He agrees that Illinois schools need some kind of relief from the rigid requirements of No Child Left Behind. “I think those first few years while the goals were attainable schools did improve,” Eddy said. He said now, as schools that are still improving begin to fail under the tightening requirements, a feeling of apathy has set in. “It’s not going to get any easier because the ramp just gets steeper. … Many are saying, ‘Well, who cares if we make it or not because it has become impossible.’”
For more on the No Child Left Behind rewrite, see Illinois Issues, June 2011
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto pen today to urge lawmakers to end the legislative scholarship program for the second time in as many years.
The governor rejected a bill last year that would have put a ban on lawmakers awarding the scholarships to campaign contributors or their families. In the veto message, he called on the legislature to instead approve an abolition of the program. Lawmakers never tried to override the veto, so the underlying bill died.
This time around, Quinn made the changes to the legislation himself. He used his amendatory power to tweak House Bill 1353, a bill that in its original form would bar lawmakers from giving the scholarship to family members. If the General Assembly approves his changes, the program would be eliminated on June 1, 2012.
“For the second consecutive year, I am compelled to return a measure to the General Assembly that fails to comprehensively reform the way legislative tuition waivers are awarded,” Quinn said in the message accompanying the veto.
Quinn signaled today that he would not accept any reform to the program sent to him by lawmakers. “You can’t put perfume on a skunk. This system has had too many problems for too many years, and it’s time to abolish the legislative scholarship program and go forward with a better program.”
In the wake of a federal investigation looking into former Rep. Robert Molaro awarding scholarships to the children of campaign donors, at least one sponsor of wholeheartedly backs Quinn. “I thought I had the perfect bill, and the governor possessed the perfect parliamentary tool to once and for all kill this controversial program,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican. Dillard, who has voluntarily stopped awarding scholarships, wants to push for a vote to approve the change in the legislature's veto session, scheduled for October. “Literally in one day, the legislature in the fall veto session can abolish these scholarships,” he said.
Rep.Robert Pritchard, a sponsor of the bill in the House, said he agrees with Quinn and Dillard that the program should be ended. However, he said he thinks the Quinn should have communicated with him and tried to go about it in a less “backhanded way.”
“I am just disappointed the governor’s office didn’t reach out and let me know that’s what they were going to do with the bill,” said Pritchard, a Republican from Hinckley, said. He said he passed a reform bill because an all-out abolition lacked the support needed for approval. “My bill is a small step because that’s all I could get to move.”
Pritchard still awards the scholarship. He said he does not want his constituents to miss out on the opportunity as long as it exists. “I know they definitely help a lot of students.”
He said he will test the political waters to see if there are enough votes to approve Quinn’s changes before he decides to call the bill. However, he said an amendatory veto might be a way to address the issue quicker and more easily. “This certainly becomes a better solution to that overall problem if legislators cannot award the scholarships in an ethical way.”
Quinn alluded to the scholarships becoming a political lightning rod when every seat in the House and Senate is up for grabs next year. “This will be a time for everybody to say, before filing for election, where they stand on legislative scholarships.”
Dillard said he thinks there will be more important issues in campaign season, but he did say that lawmakers’ votes would give an indication of where they stand when it comes to legislative perks and government spending. “The General Assembly scholarship is not the most important issue, but it is an important issue. It is a litmus test as to where you fall on the reform scale.” Legislative leaders could choose not to call the bill, and if that happens, Quinn’s changes and the underlying legislation would die.
Quinn wants any money saved by ending the program funneled into the Monetary Awards Program (MAP) for needy students. According to Quinn, 147,210 students received MAP grants in Fiscal Year 2011, but 151,367 were turned away due to a lack of funds. The legislative scholarship program is set up differently. Lawmakers give students tuition waivers, and universities foot the bill. “It’s time now to have a real debate on this. Let’s have a vote, where the legislature hopefully votes to end a perk that they have and instead go forward with a program that helps the common good,” Quinn said.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
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Saturday, August 06, 2011
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Friday, August 05, 2011
By Jamey Dunn
Regional superintendents say it will be difficult for them to stay on the job if they miss another paycheck, but no clear plan has emerged to pay them soon.
“At this point I don’t believe we have the legal authority to pay them. We’re going to continue to explore that possibility,” said Matt Vanover, a spokesperson for the Illinois Board of Education (ISBE).
Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto pen in June to remove money for the administrators’ salaries, and they have been going without pay since. Quinn has been in talks with regional superintendents and is reportedly working on legislation that would allow them to be paid out of local tax revenues. However, any such plan would not come before the legislature until lawmakers return for their fall veto session scheduled in October — meaning paychecks probably would not go out until November. Bob Daiber, Madison County regional superintendent and president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said that if a deal is not worked out to find funding by August 11 — the latest date necessary to get checks out on the August 16 payday — he is concerned many superintendents simply won’t be able to continue working without pay.
Daiber said if superintendents go without on the next payday, it would be the third pay period that they have not received compensation. He said, for many, the bills are piling up. “We have people that have property taxes due this month." The superintendents' association is pushing for ISBE to pay its members from another area of its budget, with the understanding that the money will be replaced when a permanent solution is found.
Vanover said if the legislature had passed a lump-sum budget, as it did the last two fiscal years, it would be much easier to shift the money. But since lawmakers passed an itemized budget for the current fiscal year, moving money around to pay the superintendents is easier said than done. “We can’t just say we’re going to take money out of general state aid and provide it to the regional superintendents. … I’m not saying [ISBE paying them] can’t happen, but at this point we haven’t found a way that we can do that.”
As for how ISBE would handle a mass walkout of regional superintendents, Vanover said it had only had to address a few vacant positions at a time in the past. “We have been able to work around some of these issues but that was in a very limited context.” Asked whether ISBE could take on the regional superintendents' duties — which range from school inspection and teacher certification to operating alternative schools — if many of them seek other employment, Vanover responded, “Absolutely not.” He said ISBE does not have the manpower and changes to statutes would be needed.
Quinn’s long term plan is to pay the superintendents out of the Personal Property Replacement Tax so they are not supported by state funds. “We really feel that that’s a function that should be financed at the local level. There is a fund that goes to the local school districts and local government. … Other local government officials have been paid locally, and I think it’s time that we addressed this issue,” Quinn told reporters in Chicago.
Joe McCoy, legislative director for the Illinois Municipal League, said $2.6 billion in Personal Property Replacement Tax revenue was held back from local governments to pay stipends for county officials. However, he said municipalities, many of which face their own budget troubles, cannot afford to give up enough of those revenues to pay regional superintendents. McCoy said the largest beneficiary from the replacement tax is schools, which get about 60 percent of the revenue. He says 20 percent goes to local governments and the rest to other expenses. “We think the plan that’s floating out there would take money away from some of our municipalities, and we would oppose it,” he said. Lawmakers could also vote to override Quinn’s veto and reinstate the funding for superintendents in the state budget.
If Quinn has a plan to pay the superintendents soon, he is not commenting on it. When asked if the administration is trying to find a way to pay them this month, Kelly Kraft, a budget spokesperson, responded in a written statement, “We continue to examine mechanisms to provide payments as quickly as possible.”
Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 95, 260 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the August 5, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks