- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 14, 2017

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Money can’t buy everything

Money certainly helps. But it’s parents who matter when it comes to their children’s education.

Since the 2018 gubernatorial election campaign is, unfortunately, already underway, the herd of Democrats who are running and incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner are doing a lot of talking about the importance of K-12 education.

Rauner emphasized education when he first ran in 2014, putting the issue on a par with an economic reform package he contends is necessary to boost the state’s flagging economy and make it more attractive to job-creating investors.

Right now, his would-be Democratic opponents who are competing against each other in the March 2018 primary are doing the same thing.

Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy, a former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, promises that a part of his plan to supercharge the state economy involves investing more money in K-12 and higher education.

Just last week, one of Kennedy’s opponents, businessman J.B. Pritzker of Chicago, released a five-point plan to expand early-childhood education in Illinois. He’s proposing what is called “a comprehensive birth-to-5 educational system” for every child who needs one.

It would include mandating kindergarten by lowering the compulsory school age from 6 to 5 years old, universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, increased welfare benefits for lower-income parents, expanded birth-to-3 services to boost child development and hiring more teachers and building more classrooms.

Of course, Illinois is effectively bankrupt and deeply in debt. So paying for it is another matter. Pritzker’s plans would cost more than $200 million a year.

Highly respected scholar James Coleman conducted a comprehensive study in the mid-1960s for the U.S. government that was titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” The national sample included more than 600,000 students and teachers in more than 3,000 schools.

Among the study’s findings was that family background, including parents’ education, number of siblings and parents reading to children, had far more impact on a child’s educational achievements than school surroundings, including school expenditures, class sizes and teacher qualifications.

Coleman’s findings challenged the notion that schools alone can eliminate the educational shortcomings that plague low-income children. The study also found that another important factor for a student’s quality of education is peer influence, which is measured by such variables as average hours of homework done per week, preparation and planning to go to college and discipline problems.

Society, of course, has a moral obligation to do the best it can to give each child the best educational opportunity. But society can’t give a child loving parents who are well-educated, understand and emphasize the importance of education, and take the time to read to their children on a consistent basis. Society can’t give each child parents who instill in their children sound values and set good examples for them to follow.

In fact, society can’t even give each child a family structure that lays the groundwork for a happy, healthy, successful life.

The family structure is at death’s door in this country. Out-of-wedlock births, which virtually guarantee a range of future problems for the child, are as common as May flowers.

So bear that grim reality in mind the next time some ambitious candidate discusses the miracles that his educational spending problems will bring to fruition. They may, in some fashion, ameliorate the educational shortcoming that society would like to disappear. Selling increased spending as a magic elixir may sound good. But, like much of what our public officials are selling, it’s fool’s gold.

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August 13, 2017

Chicago Sun-Times

Don’t let energy company short-circuit Illinois law

Is one of the best new energy laws in the nation really about to unravel this quickly?

Last December, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Future Energy Jobs Act. Hammered out over more than two years and supported by a wide variety of usually feuding interest groups, the law enhances conservation and renewable energy, preserves nuclear energy production and provides hundreds of millions of dollars for low-income communities. It puts Illinois at the forefront of wise energy policy.

But Ameren Illinois, which supplies gas and electricity to central and southern Illinois, already wants to rewrite the deal to its benefit. Ameren wants to lower its energy efficiency goal over the first four years by 27 percent - yet still pocket a multimillion-dollar performance bonus that goes with exceeding the goal.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, who helped craft the legislation, gets it right when she calls this a “sellout” by Ameren, which was at the table when the legislation was negotiated. Ameren already had negotiated a lower target for itself than ComEd is getting, yet ComEd intends to comply with the law without complaining. When it meets in September, the Illinois Commerce Commission should nix Ameren’s request.

Improving energy efficiency is a key part of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which went into effect on June 1. An earlier efficiency standard set in 2007 has helped to give Illinois the lowest power rates in the Midwest. Moreover, energy efficiency is one of the best ways to reduce climate-changing emissions from burning fossil fuels. And 90,000 people in Illinois already work in the energy-efficiency economy in Illinois, including engineers, architects, retailers, manufacturing employees and others. Supporters say the new law will add another 7,000 jobs and inject $700 million on average into the Illinois economy every year through 2030.

Ameren says it would prefer spending money on helping low-income communities. But aid to low-income communities already is an important feature of the Future Energy Jobs Act.

Ameren also claims it still intends to eventually meet the law’s full energy-efficiency target. But that’s not an excuse for trying to wiggle out of the requirements in the new law right out of the box. If the other entities that were partners in the negotiations over the Future Energy Jobs Act start trying to cut better deals for themselves, the expected benefits to consumers and the environment will be in peril.

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August 13, 2017

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Cairo residents deserve answers

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made his long-anticipated visit to Cairo to see in person the city he said earlier this summer is “dying.”

Going into the visit, there were questions as to what would happen. Would the visit actually change anything? What would it accomplish?

When it was all said and done, Carson said all the things Cairo residents probably wanted to hear.

Yes, he did admit there are grave issues in Cairo. That much has been obvious for some time. In April, HUD said residents of the McBride and Elmwood housing complexes have to move because the units are to be torn down.

Carson also said he hopes the visit will encourage greater economic opportunities at the confluence of the rivers.

But, he also said that HUD will continue to work with city officials to attract private investors to help build affordable housing in Cairo.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t address the immediate problem. Cairo residents need help now. Right now. Not in the distant future. Not in the near future. In fact, they’ve needed help for a long time now.

It’s been four months since HUD announced the plan to tear down the much-maligned housing complexes. Residents will be forced to find new housing - most of which is outside Alexander County. HUD has promised to provide vouchers to ease relocation costs. But many of the residents want to stay in Cairo, because, after all, it is home.

To offer nothing but hopeful and optimistic platitudes is an empty gesture by Carson. Residents need an answer as to where and when they have to move - not a long-range plan for new housing.

We agree wholeheartedly that economic development is needed in Cairo. It is possible the Alexander County community could grow and get back to the prosperous place it once was. After all, the city sits on the confluence of two of the largest rivers in the U.S. - the Mississippi and Ohio.

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, has been pushing to develop an inland river port terminal in Cairo - a fine idea given the location of the city. “He (Carson) knew a little bit about it. He knows a lot more now. I had an opportunity to speak with him personally and I talked to him about that and he sees the potential here and that’s what is so encouraging,” Fowler said.

We said months ago that we laud Fowler’s repeated efforts in Cairo. But, that kind of development takes time, a commodity currently in short supply for Cairo residents. The long-term thinking is hopeful, but does not help residents who need answers right now.

Hope and promises are a great thing, but residents needed more than that from Carson. He had several months to prepare for the visit. It wasn’t unrealistic to expect some real answers and concrete plans, even if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

After what they’ve been through, Cairo residents deserved better.


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