Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. August 5, 2022.

Editorial: Illinois gets high marks early on clean energy, but renewables pose a challenge

Illinois is one of six states that together account for about a fifth of the nation’s carbon emissions output. So it has been gratifying to see a clean-energy monitoring group praise the state’s leadership in advancing the drive toward cleaner energy that is critical in the fight against human-caused climate change.

In a State Climate Scorecard issued June 30, the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, also known as RMI, placed Illinois alongside California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York and Washington as states both with the most potential impact on carbon reduction and the most progress toward climate-policy bench marks.

“We think Illinois is really critical to what’s happening to the whole country,” study co-author Jacob Corvidae told our Jenny Whidden for a report Sunday on the study, “and we’d like that leadership to continue.”

That objective, though, is by no means assured, despite the state’s early progress -- credited primarily to the Clean Energy Jobs Act that became law last September. For while the state scores well on RMI’s rankings for clean energy production, it stumbles for the moment when it comes to policies involving industry, buildings and transportation, and its achievements toward electricity production trace primarily to the use of nuclear power, a strong source of clean energy whose benefits are challenged by an aging nuclear infrastructure and a nuclear ban dependent on the development of so-far-nonexistent federal policy on nuclear waste disposal.

Whether Illinois should lift its ban on new nuclear power is the subject of legislation introduced in the state Senate and its merits are a topic for another time. But ban or no ban, the state’s existing nuclear infrastructure, which produces more than half our electricity, is aging and in the best of cases, would be hard put to be replaced or supplemented soon enough to have a material impact on our goals of reaching 100% clean energy by 2050. Instead, we’ll need more work to hasten development of renewable energy sources.

Fortunately, legislative and policy leaders in the state recognize the need for more robust policy on renewables. The CEJA legislation specifically demands a doubling of the state’s investment in renewable resources and promotes efforts toward increasing the number of clean-emissions electric vehicles on our roads.

RMI’s report puts it this way: “Despite a variety of climate policies already in place, Illinois still has substantial work to do. Effectively decarbonizing the state’s electric grid will require substantial build-out of renewables and grid modernization while retiring fossil power plants early.”

That’s no small objective. The RMI report suggests we’ve made a good start, though we still have far to go. Fortunately, we have a policy vision that promises success -- as long as we can stick to it.

___

Chicago Tribune. August 4, 2022.

Editorial: Memo to Illinois judges: When the defendant is a politician, speed things up

Here’s a modest proposal for Illinois judges: When the accused is an elected official, move more quickly to a trial date.

Yes, we know the wheels of justice grind slowly, especially given the pandemic backlog. And it’s true that all criminal defendants (and their victims) deserve a speedy but fair trial. But two recent examples suggest that time is yet more of the essence when it comes to accused politicians.

Take, for example, the case of Ald. Ed Burke, 14th. His racketeering trial is not set to take place until Nov. 6, 2023, a delay caused by the busy schedules of the attorneys involved. That date, a stunning four-and-a-half years after Burke’s May 2019 indictment, comes after the date when Burke will stand for reelection.

We’ve argued that Burke (who has pleaded not guilty) should think about his ward and the city as a whole and step aside while he prepares for his trial, advice that, at the time of writing, he has not yet taken. Clearly, though, the egregiously long delay is unfair on voters who may find themselves in the impossible position of not wanting to support a candidate who has been accused of being corrupt while at the same time not wanting to prejudge an innocent man. In this case, public interest should be deemed more important than attorney convenience.

The same applies to the upcoming trial of former House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan’s trial is also not coming until 2023 or maybe even 2024. The judge has set Feb. 1 as the deadline for pretrial motions and the full case likely will start months later than that. And, as the Tribune reported this week, that means Madigan is entitled for that period to not just his regular Illinois pension but also to the bump that goes to lawmakers of more than 20 years standing, replete with an annual increase. He is getting $12,400 a month from the state; an amount that would be reduced if Madigan was found guilty of misconduct related to his office.

If Madigan is innocent, and innocence must be presumed, that pension is valid. If he is found guilty, taxpayers would be right to conclude they had been bilked. Again.

Unlike Burke, Madigan is not running for anything during this delay, but the pension issue is a matter of public concern with both fiscal and symbolic weight. Here again, attorneys argued for extra time and the judge doled it out. But that generosity comes with a clear public cost.

Both of these men are entitled to their day in court. And the people of Illinois are entitled to that day arriving as expeditiously as possible. The limbo of delay — at a level that goes beyond reasonable preparatory time — does not serve either the public or the private interest.

Judges need to toughen up with attorneys and remind them that more is at stake than their schedules.

___

Chicago Sun-Times. August 7, 2022.

Editorial: There’s plenty of work to do to improve Illinois schools

A new report lays bare how far our state has to go since the disruption caused by COVID-19.

Most of us, even if we’re not directly involved with education, already know the COVID-19 pandemic sent a massive shock wave throughout the nation’s public schools system.

Just ask any parent, teacher, student, principal, college administrator, cafeteria worker or anyone else involved with K-12 or higher education. As one Chicago principal wrote in an op-ed back in January, as schools reopened during an initial surge of the Omicron variant: Our schools are not OK.

Meanwhile, record numbers of teachers nationwide are leaving the profession, which doesn’t bode well for getting schools fully “back to normal.”

In fact, “back to normal” isn’t good enough. “Normal” before COVID-19 meant stark racial and economic gaps in achievement, college attendance, access to technology and other indicators of quality education — all of which worsened during the pandemic.

Illinois must do better, and a new report lays bare how far our state has to go. With a new school year fast approaching, it’s another reminder for all of us — but especially policy makers, legislators and public officials — of what’s at stake, because good public schools are essential for Illinois’ future.

High-quality education is the foundation for everything else our state needs to thrive: neighborhoods and cities that are attractive to families, businesses with well-paying jobs that require an educated workforce and citizens who can participate effectively in civic life.

None of the sobering data in “The State We’re In 2022: A Look at the Impact of COVID-19 on Education in Illinois,” is surprising, unfortunately. Even so, it’s worth reviewing.

Here are some highlights

A body blow to enrollment

Students at every level have to be in class, whether in person or virtual, to learn. Because of plummeting enrollment during the pandemic, getting every child back in school is the first barrier to overcome, especially among the youngest students.

Enrollment in state-administered early childhood programs (including home visiting and other programs for infants and children under age 3) fell from 3% to 22% in fiscal year 2021, with the sharpest decline among children from low-income families.

Community college enrollment fell 14% overall, with the sharpest drop among Black and Latino students.

Public school enrollment fell, too, especially in rural schools, among white students and in the primary grades — when children begin developing the skills and habits to help them be successful in school. Chronic absenteeism also increased.

One remedy outlined by Carmen Ayala, state superintendent of education, deserves strong support: having regional offices of education do more to help districts with anti-truancy efforts. Ayala, speaking at a City Club of Chicago event last week to unveil the Advance Illinois report’s findings, said the Illinois State Board of Education is also planning a major bilingual (Spanish and English) enrollment campaign targeted at families of preschool and kindergarten-aged children.

Janice Jackson, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, also made an important point at the City Club: “Don’t discount the role of community organizations in getting kids back in school.” In Chicago, community groups typically focus on education as well as housing, anti-violence and other issues — and they know their neighborhoods and families.

Supporting community-driven back-to-school initiatives is a smart move.

Access to instruction

Though schools reopened to in-person learning in 2020-2021, low-income students and students of color remained more likely to be learning virtually or in a hybrid setting, the report states. Making the problem worse, these children were already more likely to have less access to technology, something CPS struggled with during the worst of the pandemic and afterward.

Meanwhile, students’ access to high-quality instruction, as measured by the state’s 5Essentials Survey that examines various research-based indicators of school quality, plummeted in 2020-2021.

Student well-being

Schools have a vital and essential role in fostering students’ mental and social well-being, and must be given adequate resources to meet that role.

That job is more important now, given the crisis in mental health among young people.

The good news: Parents and students feel more supported by their schools because of resources added during the pandemic, according to focus groups conducted by Advance Illinois. But the need for such resources — social workers, school nurses, programs on social and emotional learning — is ongoing.

Achievement gaps

As one might expect, test scores fell during the pandemic. As well, the freshman on-track rate, a reliable indicator of whether a student will eventually graduate from high school, declined as well.

Test scores should not be the final determinant of school quality, but scores do provide us with some insight into how much children are — or are not — learning. A decline in scores, and in the on-track rate, should be taken seriously.

There’s more in the full report online. But clearly there’s work to be done.

Illinois can’t afford to ignore it.

END