February 10, 2014
The (Freeport) Journal-Standard
Invest in education early and see the rewards
Early education is an investment in the future, an investment that has been shown to reap dividends by study after study.
It's an investment that has been lacking in recent years in the state of Illinois. Preschools are an important piece of the early education puzzle, and yet the state cut preschool funding by $80 million between 2009 and 2013. It appears Gov. Pat Quinn wants to reverse that trend. The governor announced a "birth to 5" initiative during his State of the State address last week. His plan would invest in quality preschool, prenatal care and support services for parents. This is an important state, local and national issue. President Barack Obama has called for an increased emphasis on early childhood education in his last two State of the Union addresses. Studies have shown that the achievement gap between low-income or low-socioeconomic-status children and their peers begins as early as 9 months.
Gaps in school readiness widen because children are less likely to be read to by their parents. Those children hear 30 million fewer words by age 3 than more well-off children. It's difficult for disadvantaged children to identify, read and understand words they've never heard.
It's not that their parents don't want to help their kids - they can't. They don't have the education and literacy skills to improve their own lives, let alone their children's.
Many children start off behind and fail to catch up.
A good education can level the playing field for a disadvantaged child and help that child escape poverty. Students who attend preschool are less likely to fall behind as they continue in school and are more likely to complete their education, graduate from high school and become productive members of society.
The average dropout earns about $10,000 less a year than a high school graduate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Dropouts are more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty, according to the Department of Education. Dropouts are 63 times more likely to wind up in jail or prison, according to a study by researchers at Northeastern University. The same study showed that a dropout costs taxpayers an average of $292,000 over a lifetime because of the costs of incarceration and other factors.
Early childhood education programs can help shape the future of the community if those programs get the resources they need.
February 9, 2014
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Let the movement to end lame-duck voting begin
It is pretty clear that the temporary increase in the Illinois income tax would not have passed in 2011 had it not been for lame-duck voting.
Some of the votes that put the measure across were cast by legislators who left office the next day. Some of the votes were cast by legislators who, coincidentally enough, were later appointed to highly paid jobs on the state payroll.
Lately, a spate of referendums to amend the state constitution have been promoted to change the way business is done in Illinois. There's a movement for a referendum question that would seek to clean up the way legislative maps are drawn. There's another movement to get a referendum on the ballot asking whether to impose term limits on those elected to state office.
And as of last week, there is a bill in Springfield that would try to get a referendum on the ballot asking voters to do away with lame-duck voting - that is, legislative action that takes place in the weeks between the time an election takes place and the newly elected officials are sworn in.
The measure, being pushed by Republicans, would promote a referendum asking voters to move the date of the state inauguration from the second Wednesday in January to the second Wednesday in December,
While that would reduce the lame-duck period, it wouldn't eliminate it. There'd still be more than a month between Election Day and inauguration day.
Meanwhile, let's be clear on the reasons lame-duck voting ought to be abolished.
In promoting the end of it, state Rep. Renee Kosel told the Joliet Herald-News that legislation brought up in lame-duck sessions is "garbage legislation that would not pass any other time."
It is true that it is legislation that very often would not pass any other time. But that doesn't make it garbage. Controversial? Almost always. But garbage? No.
Some of the most significant legislation of the day ends up getting handled in these sessions. In Congress, the 13th Amendment that ended slavery was passed in a lame-duck session. And in Illinois, there have been significant measures to allow civil unions, end the death penalty and ban indoor smoking.
Those are landmark measures. All controversial. Some great achievements.
But all would have been nobler achievements, would've rallied more public support, had they been adopted in the light of day.
The greatest threat to Illinois isn't, in the end, one issue or one individual cause. The greatest threat is the corruption that pervades our practice of democracy.
You can't oppose corruption and then embrace lame-duck voting. No matter how important the legislation may be.
Uphold integrity. End lame-duck governance.
February 7, 2014
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
Wage hike for Illinois direct support workers overdue
Direct support workers throughout Illinois - workers who provide round-the-clock care for physically and developmentally disabled children and adults - are working for shockingly low wages and deserve a long-overdue boost in pay from the state.
Direct support workers labor to provide medical care, emotional and physical support, help with daily activities and try to ensure those they care for enjoy their lives as much as possible. It can be emotionally draining, back-breaking work. They give baths, brush teeth, assist with toileting, cook meals, do activities with clients, drive them to appointments, entertain them and generally try to make their lives as happy as possible.
Direct support workers, in essence, function as stand-in parents, best friends and EMTs to those they care for. And their job is crucial not only because of the care they provide to the disabled, but also because of the down time and the peace of mind they are able to provide families of disabled individuals.
Yet, direct support workers in Illinois earn an average $9.35 per hour, which is 21 percent below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty threshold of $11.32 for a family of four, according to members of the Care Campaign, an effort designed to bring awareness of the low wages the workers earn.
Such low wages for direct support workers lead to high turnover, which is unsettling for the state's 23,000 disabled clients and their families. It also puts more pressure on the workers who stick around, work as much overtime as possible and sometimes work two or three additional jobs to make ends meet and support their own families.
Direct support workers and the providers they work for are asking the legislature to increase the starting wage to $13 an hour, with an initial increase of $1 an hour for all direct support workers.
It is difficult to go to the state of Illinois and ask for more money during these difficult and turbulent fiscal times. However, the state has put off increases for these providers for years.
Their request has merit and should be considered by the General Assembly as soon as possible. The plight of Illinois' 31,000 direct support workers and the families they support - both at work and at their own homes - is too important to continue overlooking. They deserve a decent living wage.
February 5, 2014
Don't extend Illinois' temporary income tax
A recent BND headline posed the question: Will Illinois lawmakers extend the 'temporary' income tax? State Democratic leaders certainly will try. Gov. Pat Quinn argues that Illinois can't get by without that extra tax money. His office predicts the state's deficit would grow to $1.9 billion in 2015 and $4.1 billion in 2016 without it.
But lawmakers shouldn't even be thinking about extending the tax.
There's the credibility issue. They said the tax would be temporary. To go back on their word and make it permanent would be one more political lie, like telling people that lottery money would go to education -- only to move out budgeted money as the lottery winnings moved in.
Beyond that, though, none of the things the temporary tax was going to fix have been fixed. The fiscal restraint that was promised didn't materialize. Instead, the extra tax revenue was an excuse to put off tough decisions like pension reform and spending cuts. When the state got an unexpected revenue windfall last year, state officials immediately spent the money instead of paying down the backlog of bills. At year end those unpaid bills amounted to $7.6 billion.
When Quinn signed the temporary tax bill in 2011, he predicted the tax increase would aid the state's economic recovery: "I really do feel that this reform and restraint will lead to more jobs and economic growth in Illinois."
But Illinois' unemployment rate of 8.6 percent in December was among the highest in the nation, almost 2 percentage points higher than the national average of 6.7 percent.
End the tax in 2015 and give the money back to the taxpayers. It has a better chance of helping the state's economy in the people's hands than it does the politicians'.