- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

March 5, 2016

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

One more word needs to be said in Springfield’s war of words

If you believe that words and the tone of political rhetoric matter, then you might have a few words for how politics played out last week, both at the state and presidential level.

Disappointing. Discouraging. Frustrating. Just plain sad.

At the state level, while legislators engaged in “Groundhog Day” levels of inaction, their leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner instead ratcheted up the rhetoric yet again.

Just 2 1/2 weeks ago, Rauner stood before the General Assembly and declared, “I stand before you today with respect for our co-equal branches of government … and a deeply-rooted desire to work with each and every one of you to right our ship of state.”

By last Monday, his frustration had boiled into a press conference that left many scratching their heads about his strategy for doing that.

Rauner and Speaker Mike Madigan have left no doubt they’re at war, and the governor took to the press to complain that the speaker is delaying a deal to help higher education so that he can use it as a campaign issue. But this time, the governor also doubled down on Senate President John Cullerton, despite apparent previous efforts by the two to compromise.

“You know what President Cullerton said to me in private? He said, ‘Bruce, I’ve lived in Mike’s shadow for 37 years. I’m not gonna step out now,’ ” Rauner told reporters. “Can you believe that? Can you believe that? You wonder why Illinois is in such deep yogurt, ladies and gentlemen.”

Even in the business world from which Rauner comes, it’s hard to fathom the idea that belittling your rival by revealing an unflattering comment - allegedly said in what was, by the governor’s own description, a private meeting - is smart negotiating strategy. Trust? If Cullerton had a shred of it for the governor before, it’s blown out of the water now.

Not that Madigan’s team, who sees the governor as bearing sole responsibility for the higher education debacle, has been a model of restraint and reason, either. Among the choice reaction quotes from Madigan spokesman Steve Brown were observations that the governor is “a little wobbly” and “a little more irrational than usual.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers went through another round of passing a bill that Rauner would veto, having the governor veto it and then unsuccessfully trying for an override that Madigan knew he didn’t have the votes for, in order to stake out political positions. And now, the House has adjourned until April.

Perhaps the most optimistic thing that could be said about Illinois’ political rhetoric at this point is that it’s still more genteel than the war of words between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

But none of this back and forth inspires any confidence that the state’s top leaders are sincere when they talk about finding compromise, or bemoan the collateral wreckage their actions are creating. That’s a disturbing thought.

The voices that deserve to be heard are those of the students wondering if they’ll have to drop out of college, the workers worried about whether they’ll be laid off because of the state’s crisis, the social service providers who care for the elderly and vulnerable, and the business owners worried about the economy and added uncertainty created by the impasse.

Hopefully, those people will talk loudly and clearly to their local representatives, and those rank-and-file members will come back to Springfield with the one message that needs to be delivered to those at the top:

Enough.

___

MARCH 6, 2016

Belleville News-Democrat

State capitol is house afire, not fire house

As the Illinois House last week debated how to stop Illinois universities from further decomposing, some lawmakers talked about staying in Springfield until they came up with a fix.

That didn’t happen. They all went home Friday and are not scheduled to return until April 4.

When the noon whistle blows, do firefighters turn off the hoses and go to lunch? When the battle is raging, do soldiers punch out and return to barracks because it is quitting time?

Of course not. Those are urgent situations.

Too bad Illinois House members feel no sense of urgency or emergency. No budget. No college spending authorization or help for the needy students who are not getting their tuition grants and may need to drop out. Time for a nice, monthlong rest for the weary lawmakers of Springfield.

Colleges create wealth by improving our workforce. They hire thousands of people across Illinois, but specifically drive the economy in Edwardsville and Belleville and Granite City. Aren’t these economic engines worth putting in a few more days of work?

Not to mention creating any controls by adopting that little orphan of Illinois: the 2016 state budget.

The capitol building is on fire. Lawmakers cannot pretend Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner can put it out by himself when there is a drip of dollars coming in and an all-consuming debt standing at $7.25 billion.

Will anyone answer this ringing fire alarm?

___

March 3, 2015

Chicago Sun-Times

Let CPS, not a state board, run all Chicago’s schools

The Chicago Public Schools will never get a handle on their massive financial problems if they can’t even decide without outside interference which schools should be opened or closed.

The State of Illinois, that is to say, should butt out.

In a bad sign of things to come, the Illinois State Charter School Commission this week overruled a decision by the Chicago School Board to close three charter schools at the end of the school year.

The commission may have had no choice under state law, given the way CPS blew by the rules to shut the three schools down. But at a time when CPS is understandably taking a more skeptical stance toward charter schools - rejecting many more requests to open new ones and more aggressively closing underperforming ones - the last thing CPS needs is a state commission second-guessing every move.

When CPS shoots down a charter school, the commission’s authority to overrule that decision on appeal should be extremely limited. If that requires a change in the state statute, so be it. It is not as if Chicago has been hostile to charter schools over the years - quite the contrary - and if CPS must now be a little less welcoming as part of an overall effort to stabilize its finances, so be it.

Last November, the School Board voted to close the three schools in question for the best of reasons: They were doing a poor job of educating children. The entire point of the charter school movement, we are so often told, is to provide kids with quality alternatives to poor-performing traditional public schools. But these three charters - Amandla Charter in Englewood, the Sizemore Academy campus of the Betty Shabazz International Charter School in West Englewood, and Bronzeville Lighthouse - were not measuring up.

The commission’s action this week, unfortunately, likely will cost CPS money. The district could be left with less revenue, even on a per-student basis, to run its remaining schools.

When the state commission overrules CPS on a charter school closing, it effectively takes control of the school, funding it directly and deducting that money from CPS’ pot of general state aid. If the commission now decides to fund the three rescued schools at 100 percent of the state’s per-student tuition rate, that will cost CPS about $13 million - more than the per-student rate at district-run schools and other charter schools.

State interference in local charter school decisions undermines the ability of CPS negotiators to cut a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union. District officials have offered to cap the number of charter schools, but the union knows CPS can’t be counted on to deliver. The state commission ultimately decides if a charter school can open or stays open.

This editorial page has generally supported the charter school movement in Chicago. We like the healthy competition and the promise of innovation. Families deserve choices. We have supported good charter schools, especially in neighborhoods where the traditional public schools are dismal, and opposed those that would undercut quality existing schools. We will continue to call it that way.

But we also feel sure that CPS, rather than a once-removed state board, should be calling the shots in these tough financial times.

Or Chicago eventually will have two public school systems, one run by the city, the other by the state. Separate and unequal.

___

March 3, 2016

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

Prevention is best antidote to heroin problem

Of the numerous lives saved by Narcan, there are many more saved by effective drug prevention.

That’s why the public must support the work of police, prosecutors and recovery experts who work hand in hand to fight the availability of illegal drugs and the misuse of prescription medication.

Narcan is an overdose antidote that is given to someone whose drug use has so slowed their respiratory system and heart that they are near death. The antidote - miraculous, really, when you watch it in action - almost immediately reverses the effect of narcotics on the brain and jump starts the system.

A new law that went into effect this week calls for first responders to be trained in Narcan’s use and for emergency workers to be equipped with the single-dose applications.

Pantagraph-area first responders either already are trained, or are finishing their training, and some departments have been outfitted for more than a year.

But the doses are expensive - $80 per shot - and need to stay in a cool environment. As DeWitt County Sheriff Jered Shofner pointed out in a recent Pantagraph story, squad cars aren’t equipped with refrigerators.

And, while the drug also is starting to be sold over the counter in Illinois stores and pharmacies, Narcan should be a last-use option. Even better is to fight the scourge of heroin and other drugs, like meth or crack, that can provide a quick and cheap high, but come with the very real danger of addiction.

Narcan’s use isn’t limited to heroin. It also can be used to reverse overdoses of opiates, including prescription narcotic painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Twenty years ago, meth made its way east from California to Missouri, and then into Illinois. Heroin was a last-ditch drug for an addict. Meth was easy to make and cheap to buy. But heroin use has risen again in recent years, making its way - like meth - to people looking for a fast high without understanding the consequences.

Police, first responders and drug recovery specialists work hard to battle drug problems in our communities. But communities must support their work: we must report suspicious behavior, provide police with the financial support they need to combat the producers, distributors and sellers, and support specialists with the tools they need to help users.

Many lives will be saved by the use of Narcan in the field. Many more will be saved if we support the work of those who fight the problems of illegal drug production and sales.

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