Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: The need to diversify Illinois teachers

If you are a family of color living in the suburbs, it’s unlikely that your child’s teacher looks like you.

That’s because there is a big difference between the racial makeup of teachers in the classrooms of Illinois schools and the student population.

State education leaders have acknowledged the need for more diversity among teachers, and starting in 2022-23, all teacher preparation programs are required to set enrollment targets for candidates of color. And, the state has invested $6.5 million in partnership with teachers unions for a statewide mentoring and virtual coaching program for first- and second-year teachers.

They also should be sure to talk to Justin Johnson, a Mundelein resident and a band instructor at Niles West High School in Skokie. Johnson is the 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year -- a distinction that earned him a yearlong sabbatical, during which he plans to focus on increasing recruitment and retention of minority teachers and mentoring new teachers.

Johnson, who is Black, says that while having a teacher workforce that reflects the student population is crucial, it’s also important for school leaders to go beyond simply hiring teachers of diverse backgrounds. They must create a culture and climate in which minority students and employees feel welcomed and will thrive.

Johnson has helped District 219 increase its hiring of people of color by 200% during the last three years, although there is more work to be done there.

”(Teachers need) a place where they actually feel like they belong, because if you just hire them and you don’t address any of those things, they’re going to leave,” Johnson told our Madhu Krishnamurthy.

In Illinois, there’s nowhere to go but up, as the percentage of minority teachers is far from reflecting the racial breakdown of the population. The state’s more than 130,000 teachers are 82% white, 7% Hispanic, nearly 6% Black and 2% Asian. Its nearly two million students are 47.5% white, 26.6% Hispanic, 16.6% Black, 5% Asian and 3.5% two or more races, data shows.

Johnson noted diversifying teaching ranks is an issue nationally. Changing that can help close the achievement gap that disproportionately affects Black and Latino students and provide examples for minority students to follow as a career option.

He said initiatives like the Golden Apple Scholars program help minority students see the value of a career in education, but the state also needs to make it more affordable for students of color to take the required certification tests. And, schools must develop mentorship programs pairing first-year teachers of color with experienced teachers like themselves, then provide resources to support them.

Diversifying the teaching ranks is long overdue in Illinois, but that change, with input from teachers of color like Johnson, will help boost opportunities and performance for minority students and better reflect the face of education in the state.

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Chicago Tribune. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: Will Illinois Democrats ‘Let the people vote!’ on pension reform?

Two years ago, Democratic lawmakers fast-tracked a proposed constitutional amendment that would have permitted replacing Illinois’ flat-rate income tax with graduated rates. But citizens didn’t trust that politicians would raise taxes only on high earners. Sooner or later the pols would come after the middle class. That’s where the big money is. So, last November, voters rejected the Democrats’ grab for new billions in revenue.

That was nearly nine months ago — enough time for smarter state finance ideas to gestate. We had hoped that, with their fantasy of higher income tax rates dashed, the ruling Democrats would focus on the cost side of their ledger. Put another way, we hoped that for lack of easy tax increases, they’d address the pension crisis that lawmakers of both parties spent decades creating, and that consumes nearly a quarter of state revenues. The Springfield swells ought to be terrified by the potential for Illinois state and local pension funds to go insolvent, unable to pay full benefits to public sector retirees.

But during their spring session the supermajority Democrats instead busied themselves with their decennial obsession — drawing new district boundaries that maximize their likelihood of reelection. They also adopted a fiscal 2022 budget that earned them qualified praise from the private sector agencies that assign credit ratings to governments nationwide.

Cue the Illinois Exodus

What lawmakers ignored is the gazillion-pound gorilla that imperils the economic future of Illinois — this state’s tax climate, jobs availability and population migration.

So the gorilla keeps getting bigger. Springfield number crunchers assert with straight faces that state government’s unfunded pension liability has swollen to $144 billion-with-a-b. Enormous as that worst-in-the-nation estimate is, it’s based on hopelessly rosy projections. It’s not even half of the more realistic $317 billion that Moody’s Investors Service calculates as the Illinois pension system’s true shortfall.

Add to that estimate all the unfunded pension liabilities of Illinois’ 7,000 local governments. And also add more tens of billions in unfunded liabilities for public retirees’ health care. Now you have some sense of the crushing public debts that lawmakers have rung up for taxpayers.

Little wonder, then, that voters rejected the graduated income tax gouge. Little wonder that many taxpayers intend to move elsewhere before Illinois’ pension crisis comes to a head. And little wonder that “Illinois Exodus” — Springfield insiders despise that phrase for its accurate suggestion that they’re driving people away — is now common parlance.

The pension crisis is, though, a problem that needn’t be as daunting tomorrow as it is today. Public employees are entitled to every penny of the benefits they’ve already earned — and we know of no one who’s seriously suggested otherwise. But amending the state constitution’s rigid pension clause would permit some adjustment of the benefits public workers earn in future years.

The challenge is getting that proposed amendment on the ballot so citizens can approve it. Public employee union leaders hate the idea — their members now have a pension scheme every bit as generous on paper as it is vulnerable to eventual collapse. That labor opposition is determinative: We’ll observe as politely as we can that Democratic lawmakers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker chief among them, timidly kowtow to the union leaders.

Recall that, when he was pushing the General Assembly to advance the proposed income tax amendment onto the 2020 ballot, Pritzker was so confident of passage that he patriotically proclaimed, “Let the people vote!”

We and other voices urged that he offer voters a companion amendment: modification of that rigid pension clause. But while the graduated-tax-rates amendment flew onto the ballot, Democratic lawmakers wouldn’t let the people vote on pension reform.

Vampires and garlic

We mention this because many Democrats who authorized one amendment but stonewalled the other already are angling for reelection next year. Soon they’ll be circulating their petitions to get on the June 2022 primary ballot.

Sure, each of us can sign the politicians’ paperwork in front of the grocery store and hurriedly move on, much as fictional vampires squeamishly flee the scent of garlic.

Imagine, though, making the politicians feel squeamish. Imagine the impact if Illinoisans by the thousands confront them with a straightforward request: You want to be on the ballot. Do you also want a pension reform amendment on the ballot?

Every incumbent, every challenger, every Democrat, every Republican who wants his or her fanny seated in the General Assembly should have to answer that question, over and over and over.

Because if we voters again let the pols dodge this pension crisis, that’s exactly what they’ll do. And they’ll keep dodging until some emergency, such as the imminent implosion of a pension fund, forces action. At which point they’ll solemnly intone that they have no choice but to radically raise taxes. As if they’re victims of the emergency, rather than its architects and enablers.

It’s the politicians who put Illinois taxpayers in a vise by promising fat pensions to retirees yet not investing enough money to pay for it all. Every year we let the politicians delay, the vise twists tighter.

Pritzker and Democratic legislators are letting 2021 slip away without action on a pension reform amendment. Come 2022, the rest of us should demand that they let the people vote.

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Champaign News-Gazette. July 25, 2021.

Editorial: Another ethics placebo for the people of Illinois

The Illinois General Assembly is a master of approving phony reform bills.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week continued his usual practice of signing whatever legislation the General Assembly puts in front of him.

This time, he put his stamp on what purports to be legislation establishing stricter ethics standards for members of the Illinois General Assembly. Having it both ways, Pritzker acknowledged the legislators’ handiwork “didn’t go far enough” but suggested it represents an improvement.

In rejecting suggestions from good government types, including Change Illinois, that he veto the bill, Pritzker said “you can’t go by the theory that the perfect should be the enemy of the good.”

The governor is right about that. No piece of legislation can be perfect because it is inevitably the product of a compromise-driven process.

But by invoking that cliché, Pritzker means to put an end to the discussion. That would, in fact, be reasonable if the legislation really met Pritzker’s characterization as “good.” It doesn’t.

Although adorned in gaudy wrapping paper progress, the legislation is an empty shell devoid of substantive, positive changes.

In passing this legislation, super-majority Democrats employed a familiar magic trick — creating an illusion of reform rather than real reform.

Change Illinois had hoped the legislature would ban lawmakers from lobbying local government, establish a two-year ban on former legislators lobbying their former colleagues, strengthening conflict of interest standards and giving real authority to the legislative inspector general.

After reviewing the bill, the reform group said the final version of the purported ethics bill fell “well short” of those goals.

The revolving door ban on former legislators lobbying their old colleagues is a loophole-ridden joke. Legislative inspector general Carol Pope was so disgusted by the bill’s failure to strengthen the authority of her office that she submitted her resignation.

The status quo under the new bill isn’t all that different from the inadequate status quo under the old law.

Obviously, lawmakers of this scandal-ridden state have shown they want nothing to do with changes that would undermine their ability to profit — one way or another — from their legislative duties.

Of course, if Illinois was a state where public officials had a reputation as always acting above board, it would be one thing. (As hard as it is to believe, some states have well-deserved reputations for honest government.) But Illinois always has been, is now and probably always will be up to its neck in corruption.

Our culture of corruption even has a name — “the Illinois/Chicago Way.”

One feature of that sickening approach to public duty is that legislators — for the most part — don’t care what the public thinks. If no one can force them to pass substantive ethics rules, they simply won’t do so.

There’s no price to pay for thumbing their nose at the voters.

Our elected officials may be craven in many respects, but give them credit for one thing. With their fingers in the air checking the political winds, they know what they can and can’t get away with.

Illinoisans may be disgusted with the political climate, but they’re resigned to it.

So the legislature passes a phony ethics bill. The governor signs the phony ethics bill. And that is that.

It’ a heck of a way to run a state. But this is, after all, business as usual in Illinois.

END