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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

September 18, 2018

September 16, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Rauner has a tough sales job

Widely perceived to be in deep political trouble, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner took important steps Thursday that he hopes will lead him back into the political promised land.

In so many words and so many ways, the hard-charging former businessman admitted that he has been too much of a bull in a china shop, that he was too aggressive in seeking important policy changes and that the budget battle he fought with — and lost to — Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan hurt many people.

He didn’t come out and say “I’m sorry.” But Rauner did say he has learned from the bitter lessons of the last four years what not to do in the next four years. If re-elected, he promised to do a better job leading Illinois in the direction it must go if it’s ever again going to regain its status as a prosperous, successful state.

“I have learned that the two most important things for success in public service are courage and understanding,” he said. “I have learned that building consensus around ideas ... hammering out policy details ... clearly communicating to the people of Illinois why they matter ... these things take time in government. Sometimes more time than we would like.

“I stand before you today a man of no less courage, but perhaps greater understanding.”

The question in the aftermath of Rauner’s mea culpa speech in Chicago is whether it will make a difference, and if so, how much of one in his face-off with Chicago Democratic businessman J.B. Pritzker.

The people of Illinois are angry and sickened by the state’s faltering circumstances — financial chaos, endemic corruption and status-quo politics.

But do they consider Rauner to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Given the state’s political leanings — overwhelmingly Democratic — Republican Rauner has never been the people’s choice. He was elected because voters — by a narrow margin — were disillusioned by 12 years of chaotic, corrupt and financially inept one-party Democratic rule they associated with former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.

Elected Democrats in Illinois made Rauner governor by making themselves unacceptable to voters who traditionally prefer Democrats.

Pritzker is a traditional Democrat; he’s also a political newcomer with no record to defend, a united party behind him and boatloads of cash. He has none of the weaknesses a Democrat must have to lose a statewide race. Even his repeated pledge to raise the state’s income tax — traditionally a political no-no — seems to have had no impact on his standing with the body politic.

Rauner’ speech last week was an effort to reshape the challenging political landscape by asking voters to give the new, wisened version of himself a second look. Just as important, he reminded them how important it is that the state chart a new course and warned that Pritzker’s only interested in doing more of what made Illinois a mess.

“Our neighboring states have flattened and reduced taxes for their residents,” he said. “Bluer states than Illinois have put in place the same common-sense reforms I’ve proposed: Rhode Island Democrats achieved bipartisan pension reform, Massachusetts Democrats reformed their workers’-compensation and government health care systems, California Democrats passed term limits and have tackled gerrymandering.”

But is anyone listening? Are they persuaded?

The Pritzker campaign already has this election chalked up in the win column, and their analysis appears correct — it’s Pritzker’s race to lose.

Rauner still has time — roughly seven weeks to the Nov. 6 election — but it’s drawing short. The governor’s words are an acknowledgement that he’s got tough sales job on his hands.

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September 16, 2018

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Crowd funding books is a heartwarming story. But it’s a shame we’ve come to this

It’s the kind of story that warms your heart.

Brooke Crombar, a teacher at Thomas School in Carbondale, posted a plea on social media, asking her followers to help purchase books for her students. Granted, the request was modest, a $9 donation for each of her 20 students.

It took just two hours for Crombar’s friends to pledge the donations. As a result, each of her students will receive a book monthly from Scholastic.

Crombar’s plea was a worthwhile endeavor. The ability to read, to understand the language, is the basis for all learning. Sitting down to read a book can introduce a student to new undiscovered worlds and different cultures, and pique interests the young man or woman never knew existed.

And, it’s heartwarming to see how quickly Crombar’s friends and acquaintances responded. It was an act of generosity that will benefit these 20 students and could possibly set a tone of scholarship that will carry these young men and women into successful careers.

Yet, it’s a shame that today’s teachers have to reach out to friends to put books in the hands of students. It is another reminder that Illinois schools remain underfunded. Most of us have friends involved with education. If you have an acquaintance who is a teacher or school administrator, you know they regularly take money out of their own pockets to purchase school supplies.

Section 1, Article X of the Illinois Constitution reads: A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.

“The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free.”

Of course, that doesn’t come without a cost. That same section also states, “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

Unfortunately, that’s where the system breaks down.

It’s an extreme example, but in 2016 the Chicago Tribune reported that the Butler School District No. 53 in Oak Brook received more than 90 percent of its funding from local sources. At that time, the State of Illinois was paying just over 27 percent of the cost of education in an average school district. As a result, of the state’s dwindling role in education, property taxes have skyrocketed around the state.

Those funding issues were exacerbated by the two-year budget deadlock.

Things have gotten better in recent years ... better, of course, being a relative term. An actual budget in place helps. The new school funding formula will funnel extra dollars into the neediest districts. And, in this budget cycle the General Assembly lived up to its new commitment to education and pumped an extra $350 million into education.

But, as teachers like Brooke Crombar could tell you: The education system is still underfunded.

A recent survey in U.S. News and World Report rated Illinois 32nd among the states in higher education and 14th in pre-K through 12th grade. A Forbes magazine study ranked Illinois as the 13th most educated state and 19th in terms of the quality of education provided by state schools.

While not horrible, it’s unacceptable for a state with Illinois’ resources. But, those rankings aren’t likely to improve if students have to rely on the generosity of strangers for reading materials. It’s a matter of the state living up to its constitutionally stated obligations.

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September 15, 2018

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Thumbs-up to informed decisions, better government

Thumbs-up: To informed decisions. A few weeks ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner unveiled a new website, ILCollege2Career.com, intended to give the state’s high school students and their families virtual reams of information about Illinois colleges and universities. The big-picture focus is on convincing Illinois students to stay in state and effectively prepare to become desirable employees, but we’re impressed with the stated approach to that goal, which is by offering detailed analysis of schools broken down by academic programs and looking at the success of graduates.

High schoolers now can consider their higher education options by looking at information on cost to attend, debt levels for graduates and the likelihood of graduating on time. This isn’t just a Rauner initiative; it’s a partnership involving the state Board of Higher Education, Community College Board, Student Assistance Commission and Department of Employment Security.

Employers also can look at the data from their perspective, and the information should help colleges analyze their own efforts. More information usually is a good thing, and we look forward to seeing how our local students and employers make use of the new data presentation format.

Thumbs-down: To misguided overreactions. When the Illinois State Board of Education released findings from its Kindergarten Individual Development Survey last month, some folks expressed outsized concern with the data that seemed to overlook some of the study’s inherent - and expected limitations. To a degree, that’s understandable, because at first blush the notion that only 24 percent of the state’s kindergartners were fully ready to start school, and that 42 percent weren’t ready in any development area, is staggering.

Peeling back the layers, however, can hopefully abate some of the consternation. The study has a good sample, about 106,000 Illinois students who started kindergarten in August 2017. That’s 81 percent, but not all, and we know Illinois has a lot of diversity in terms of economics and access to preschool. Also, the data comes from teacher observations over the first 40 days of school.

We don’t doubt the work of the professionals who know these students so well, but it’s also important to remember the data is both a snapshot of one group of students over a few months and it’s the first attempt at capturing such analysis. If we consider this as a starting point that shows areas of possible improvement, that’s a good thing. But if you’re using the numbers as foundation to level heavy criticisms, we urge seeking the broader context.

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