Editorial Roundup: Illinois

The News-Gazette. January 24, 2021.

Editorial: Are stricter graduation standards better?

The aftershocks of the Legislature’s recent lame-duck session continue to reverberate.

The blitzkrieg of complicated pieces of legislation recently passed by the General Assembly with little consideration or debate has generated a lot of reporting, particularly on the hugely controversial criminal-justice package that sits on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

But, so far at least, little attention has been paid to a lower-profile but still important education bill. Supported by the Illinois Education Association and the Chicago Public Schools, it drew scant opposition.

That’s because most legislators want to be seen as supportive of efforts to enhance the K-12 experience of all children in the state’s 102 counties.

But some members of the Illinois State Board of Education, after reviewing the measure, are questioning the wisdom of some of its provisions.

At first blush, its enhanced graduation standards appear to be a good-faith effort to upgrade requirements in a way that would help students to be better prepared for pursuing an advanced degree.

But not all students will be pursuing advanced degrees. Further, not all students will have either the inclination or the academic preparation to meet the toughened standards.

One provision requires two years of “lab science” to graduate. Another requires two years of a foreign language.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of encouraging those kinds of classes. But given that interests and abilities run the gamut, it hardly seems fair to make requirements like those apply to everyone.

Further, isn’t it rather cruel to require that students who have a hard time reading at their grade level pass two years of a foreign language? A simplistic response to that question is that teachers should just make certain that all students read at their grade level. Then, two years of a foreign language wouldn’t present a potentially insurmountable problem.

In a fantasy world, that’s a reasonable response. But the real world is much different. Educators have struggled for generations trying to ensure a solid educational foundation for all students, and they have failed.

Try as they might, their efforts have been frustrated by the ugly realities of life that exact a heavy toll on children.

The foreign-language requirement is not scheduled to take effect until the 2028-29 school year. The lab-science requirement won’t take effect until 2024-25. So there’s time to prepare or modify them.

The legislation was introduced by the Black caucus, and it’s understandable that minority legislators would want to lay a foundation to help students pursue advanced degrees. But unrealistic standards are no better than none at all.

These measures are going to present problems for districts across the state. Where do they get the resources to pay for these new mandates? Given the current shortage, where do they find the teachers to carry them out?

Here’s something else to consider: New mandatory classes will limit the number of electives students can take.

That won’t make a huge difference for those interested in the liberal arts. But what about students who’d like to enroll in technical education classes that would make them more employable after graduation — assuming, of course, that they can graduate in the face of these new requirements?

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The Crystal Lake Northwest Herald. January 23, 2021.

Editorial: New speaker needs to keep change going

The state of Illinois has a new speaker at the helm of its House of Representatives, an important change if the state is going to break from decades of corruption and mismanagement.

But it’s just a first step.

Michael Madigan no longer wields the speaker’s gavel, but he remains the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, controlling whether both incumbent and would-be legislators get the financial support they need from the party to run their campaigns.

Statehouse races don’t run on shoestring budgets anymore. It’s not unusual for the party to infuse tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns and provide staff and other support, especially in competitive districts.

That assistance can make or break a candidate’s campaign in races that can easily cost millions of dollars.

For Madigan’s influence to diminish, the 36-member Democrat State Central Committee needs to oust him from the top job there, too.

Even more, though, depends on what changes the new speaker adopts.

Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the first Black man to ever hold the Illinois speakership, was elected by House in a 70-44 vote.

Welch made a lot of reform-minded promises to his colleagues to secure their votes, and we’ll be interested to see whether and how he fulfills those promises.

Welch announced his leadership team this week. On the roster are several new faces, and that’s an encouraging sign.

But questions remain: Who will be appointed to lead the different committees, in particular the Rules Committee where many a bill has died? How will the rules governing how the House runs change?

Will we still see bills hundreds of pages long dumped into the laps of legislators with no time to read them before the vote is held?

We have reasons to be skeptical:

Not only did Welch came up through the Madigan machine, he chaired the special investigating committee tasked with looking into Madigan’s role in the ComEd bribery scheme and determining whether discipline should be pursued.

Welch made the decision in October to postpone any further meetings by the committee until after the election and ensured the committee made no disciplinary recommendations.

We are hopeful Illinois is turning a corner – it desperately needs to – but more still needs to happen for that to become a reality.

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Decatur Herald and Review. January 22, 2021.

Editorial: Cannabis debate roils on

It’s the right of every citizen to have a voice in the implementation of a legal activity.

When it comes to cannabis dispensaries in the city, however, the right to condone lies with the Decatur City Council.

There is a group in Decatur that wants the city to allow a cannabis dispensary. Their petitions and pleas to the council have been ignored, and now an advisory referendum petition set for the April election has been rejected.

That may be the only way to quiet the public voice on the Decatur dispensary issue.

In October 2019, after hearing from residents for more than two hours, the Decatur City Council voted against allowing recreational cannabis dispensaries in the city on a 6-1 vote. In March 2020, Decatur Township voters voted supporting a non-binding referendum endorsing allowing cannabis sales by a 62-38% margin. The Decatur City Council made it clear the vote would have no influence on their positions.

The pro-sales group submitted a petition to get the proposition on the April ballot. The petitions were challenged, found wanting, and the vote has been pulled from the ballot. The petition, with 920 signatures, fell at least 600 signatures short and as many as 1,000 short of what is required for a petition to be filed. In addition, multiple voters on the petition either don’t live in Decatur or had voter information with an incomplete or missing address.

Anyone who’s followed ballot petition issues in Decatur’s history knows there have been challenges over paper clips, staples and rubber bands on entries and the legalities therein. But the response then was wondering why we have the rules if we’re not going to follow them.

If there are enough people supporting a referendum, 1,900 or so signatures shouldn’t be hard to find, especially after 3,300-plus voted in support of the proposal in March 2020. That township vote, council members took pains to point out, “only” represented about 70 percent of City of Decatur, and it wouldn’t be fair to citizens who had not had an opportunity to vote on the proposal.

Citing COVID-19 issues as a hardship in gathering enough signatures, though, makes light of those candidates who managed enough signatures to get on the ballot to force a primary. Particularly troubling is the report that no signatures had been gathered since December 2019.

Ideally, this is an issue that should be decided by the public, and not via advisory referendum. Any Decatur voter with experience in voting knows what the city does with advisory referendums. If the council has decided it knows best, as it’s shown continually through the last 15 months, then the only way to change the result is to change the council.

That makes next month’s primary election even more vital in the fight over the issue.

It’s worth noting there was $1 billion in cannabis sales in Illinois in 2020, and it’s worth noting the tax rate in Decatur would be at least 9.25%.

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