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May 2010
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Something Stinks in Springfield (again)

The Illinois Capital: the building where nothing gets done

South Farms. If you are familiar with Champaign, Illinois, you’re familiar with South Farms. On days the city of Champaign gets wind out of the south, the pungent odor of manure hangs over the town of Champaign. Somewhat like the Blommer’s factory in Chicago, but instead of chocolate, that smell is manure.

I was reminded of South Farms as I spent part of last week in Springfield, as the smell from the capital building permeated the town. Another week of passing the buck, when the legislature actually had the opportunity to do a service to 30,000 school children in the city of Chicago.

On April 23rd, I wrote about the possibility of the vouchers being used in the Chicago Public Schools. Thanks largely to State Senator James Meeks (D– Chicago), the state senate passed a bill that would have provided access to vouchers for 30,000 elementary school children in the lowest performing 10% of Chicago elementary schools. The bill was praised by senate Democrats and Republicans alike– it would have provided these students access to $3,700.00 a year from the state, which is the amount the state provides the school per child. Therefore, it would cost the state nothing– as monies already being provided to failing schools, would be given to the students instead and those students could use it to go to a better performing school. Last month I praised the idea– I still believe it’s a good idea (in an unscientific poll on the conservative blog on Illinois politics, Illinois Review, the voucher program has a 86% approval).

In favor of the bill, State Representative Suzanne Bassi (R– Palatine), called on fellow lawmakers to “search your souls” and vote in favor of the bills as “we have failed these kids in inner- city schools.” Representative Ken Dunkin (D– Chicago) also pleaded with legislators: “I’m begging you. Help me help the kids in my district.” Finally, the representative sponsoring the bill in the House, Rep. Kevin Joyce (D– Chicago), reminded legislators to “Think back to why you ran for office. Was it for a pension? I doubt it. Was it to protect the leadership of a union? I doubt that. Actually, in all cases I believe each and every one of us here got involved to try and make a difference in the lives of our fellow man.”

On Wednesday, the state House decided against making a difference and helping children that could use our help and decided to maintain the status quo-which everyone admits is not working. The voucher bill died in the House as many Democratic representatives blatantly caved into pressure from teachers unions. Opponents blamed the problem in the city schools on the home life of children in the school system. Rallying troops against the measure Rep. Art Turner (D– Chicago) passed the buck: “Chicago Board (of Education) get busy. Do what you’re supposed to do.”

Representative Art Turner passed the buck back to the Chicago Board of Education

What is the legislature supposed to do, Art? If the Chicago Board of Education is not doing its job, then what are you supposed to do? Cave into union pressure Art? Are we supposed to just throw more money at the problem– which is what the teachers union wants to do with a tax increase? Do your job, Art Turner. Even though your district has 10 of the worst performing schools, you worked your butt off to defeat the bill, which could have changed the life of dozens if not hundreds of children and families in your district. How long has the Chicago Board of Education had this problem on its desk? Then the problem comes to you, you have the chance to make a difference, and you pass it back to CPS? Shameful. And shame on the rest of the Chicago Democrats who voted against this measure that would have helped their constituents have access of a better education. I heard Chicago Democrat Monique Davis make much of the same argument on Thursday morning’s Cisco Cotto show on WLS-AM 890.

Listen to her argument here:

She explained that all city school children deserved a better education, not just the children in the lowest performing 10% of schools. So, because all children deserve a better education, she decided to sit on her hands and do nothing. Or better stated, she decided to sit and her hands and help the teachers union, rather than helping the children and families in her district have the same choices more affluent families have: the choice of sending their children to a better performing school. The opportunity that having an education provides. Now, these children will languish in lower performing schools– and the statistic that one in 25 Chicago Public School students will have a bachelor’s degree by time they are 25 will not increase. Thank you Art. Thank you Monique.

Art Turner and Monique Davis don’t care about the children in their districts. They care about getting reelected– and getting monies from teachers unions to assist in that endeavor.

It is important to remember that there are families in these low performing schools that value education and do their best to provide their children a home that will assist in learning but unfortunately, because of where they live, do not have access to a decent school to provide a foundation and opportunity. These low performing schools, because of disrespectful students, lack of parent participation, and frustrated and/or bad teachers, provide another barrier to the students that want to learn. The legislature had the opportunity to take that barrier away last week and failed to do it.

I am passionate about education and the right of all children to have one because of my college experience. I was fortunate enough to attend a great public high school, York Community High School in Elmhurst. I remember freshman year in college at University of Illinois thinking college was easy because I had seen all of the material in high school. The guy who lived across the hall my freshman year came from the Chicago Public Schools. One night, he asked me to help him with a paper he was writing. After getting over the format– torn out spiral paper written in pencil– his was a lesson on how not to write a paper. Prior to helping him with his paper, I never truly appreciated the education I received at York. Helping him made me realize not only that I had a head start, but that he was so far behind that he would never be able to compete in college– through no fault of his own. He was never taught the basics. CPS did not provide him the educational foundation so he would be able to learn and compete in college. My first semester I was able to breeze through all my classes with much less work than he devoted to his. That student did not return second semester and it was not fault of his own. He worked harder than I did, he just did not have the foundation to compete. That’s the product the Chicago Public Schools are providing our society. And with a chance to change that product– which is what Chicago Democrats have been requesting for decades– Chicago Democrats took a pass.

Gov. Pat Quinn-- busy getting nothing done. Again.

And, our governor, Pat Quinn, again sat on the sidelines not voicing an opinion either way. Maybe, Governor Quinn, just maybe with a little help from you, this bill could have passed. But instead, you sat on your hands, not willing to take a political risk by going against the teachers union. Shame on your too Governor Quinn. Maybe you’d actually have an argument for my vote if you actually did something with your office. I hate to admit it, but Bill Brady is looking better and better.

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