- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October 7, 2017

Belleville News-Democrat

Given a choice, who picks a failing school for their child?

So you thought Illinois lawmakers made a deal on the school funding formula? Well, think again.

The Republican votes needed to pass the school funding bill and get checks mailed to the school districts were earned through compromise. A major part of that compromise was a $75 million experiment in helping bring private school scholarships to more youngsters trapped in failing public school districts.

Up to $75 million in state tax credits will be offered per year for five years to those who donate to private school scholarship funds. Those scholarships are then targeted to the neediest students, giving their parents an alternative to public schools.

Teachers’ unions, specifically those in Chicago, began wailing immediately. They detest anything that gives parents a choice because they know that when given a choice the parents are unlikely to choose them.

Enter state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood. She introduced a bill Monday that would essentially undo the private school tax credit by delaying it until public school spending increased by $350 million - a remote, unlikely goal in a state with $15.2 billion in overdue bills.

It’s pure coincidence that educators and teachers’ unions donated $406,000 to the Chicagoland Democrat’s campaign funds during the past decade.

Democrats and Republicans finally figured out how to work together, but now a Democrat is reneging? Can you ever again trust one of Madigan’s minions?

Offering someone a tax credit for a donation is very different than school vouchers. Teacher unions perceive a threat, but the reality is this is a limited experiment to introduce some choice into an education environment that really needs aggressive competition.

Tax dollars are not being taken from public schools and following the students as in a voucher program. These are private donors choosing to donate towards private school educations with the potential to better educate those youngsters and boost their chances of being deeply connected to their community through faith and personal attention.

Translate that as young employees who, when given a choice, are less likely to take their careers and taxes outside of Illinois.

And compare that to the job performed by Chicago Public Schools, where they spend 25 percent more per student to produce fewer than one-third ready for college. Statewide nearly half of the students are college ready.

A deal is a deal. If you cannot be trusted, then expect voters denied school choice to exercise legislator choice.


October 9, 2017

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Tale of two schools sends a message.

There was a protest on the University of Illinois campus Thursday, a small group of people expressing their disdain for the supposedly “controversial conservative” speaker named Charlie Kirk.

Identified as a founder of Turning Point USA, Kirk, a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team, spoke in favor of such concepts as the virtues of capitalism, the system on which this country’s economy operates; fiscal responsibility, surely a relevant topic in a state that is effectively bankrupt; and limited government, a subject deeply relevant considering the U.S. Constitution was written as a means of limiting government’s control over we the people.

Kirk’s critics, perhaps getting carried away with emotion, called him a fascist, a label some people apply uniformly to those with whom they disagree on even such mundane topics.

But here is what matters. The protesters protested. Those who wished to hear Kirk speak at a room in the Illini Union were able to hear his speech uninterrupted.

In case of a problem - there was none - there was sufficient security to keep the two sides apart and avoid any trouble.

That’s the way it should be. Everybody got their chance to speak and be heard.

That doesn’t happen every day on college campuses, where weak-kneed administrators are scared of their own shadows and too often inclined to submit to hecklers’ vetoes.

Consider what happened recently at William & Mary in Maryland, where a speech by one of the university’s graduates now with the American Civil Liberties Union was scheduled.

The irony of what occurred is disgracefully delicious.

Invited guest Claire Gastanaga intended to deliver a lecture titled “Students and the First Amendment,” certainly a timely subject from which students could learn.

But protesters from Black Lives Matter took over the room and halted the proceedings with chants that included, “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too,” ”the oppressed are not impressed” and “shame, shame, shame, shame.”

They even fired a shot across the bow of liberals who’ve shown a disturbing lack of outrage when campus leftists shout down conservative speakers.

“Liberalism is white supremacy,” the Black Lives Matter protesters shouted.

In an amazing display of unpardonable acquiescence, the meeting organizers turned the microphone over to protesters who read a statement denouncing the proceedings as well as the ACLU’s long-standing practice of defending free speech rights for all.

Then organizers declared the meeting closed and audience members were directed to leave.

Some audience members declined to go, seeking to speak with the ACLU’s Gastanaga. But protesters surrounded Gastanaga so no one could get close to talk to her and shouted loudly so no one could speak with her through the curtain of people surrounding her.

In the aftermath of this abomination at a supposed bastion of free discussion and inquiry, William & Mary officials issued a statement expressing regret over what occurred. They warned that “silencing certain voices to advance the cause of others is not acceptable” and said William & Mary “must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations.”

Easy ones, too. Just what’s so hard about listening to a talk on “Students and the First Amendment”? Those words, however, are meaningless if university officials take this kind of conduct lying down. The wrongdoers must be identified and sanctioned, or there will be more assaults on speech at William & Mary.

It’s good that the UI wasn’t the site of a similar disgrace. But the protest here wasn’t much because the event wasn’t much. Those expressing outrage over Kirk’s appearance probably never heard of him a week before learning he was coming to the Illini Union and won’t remember his name a week from now. Non-entities rarely spark real moral outrage.

So the issue at the UI is not closed, by any means. Tougher tests will come. If they do, it’s our hope, though not our expectation, that UI officials will respond more vigorously than their counterparts at William & Mary who did little more than issue a statement containing platitudes while cowering beneath their desks.


October 6, 2017

Chicago Tribune

Saving DCFS. Saving kids. Honoring Joseph.

The death of 3-year-old Joseph Wallace in 1993 galvanized Illinois child welfare officials to overhaul the Department of Children and Family Services. The boy’s mentally ill mother had repeatedly regained custody of him, despite alarming indications she would harm him.

From police reports, her description of how she hanged her little boy from a doorway with an extension cord:

“Wrapped it on his neck. I tied it like you tie your shoes,” she told police.

“And did you say anything to Joey once you got off the chair?” a detective asked.

“I told him, ‘Bye,’ ” she said.

“After you told him, ‘Bye,’ did you do anything else?” police asked.

“Yeah,” the mother answered. “He waved at me. And told me, ‘Bye.’ “

He waved at her, and she turned away while he died.

Following Joey’s death, DCFS reorganized and eventually resurrected its reputation, becoming a national model in child protection. Then-director Jess McDonald provided nine years of steady leadership. His mission at the time wasn’t official but it was understood, from case workers to managers to society at large: No more Joseph Wallaces.

Yet 24 years later, the agency with the noble mission of preventing child abuse and neglect finds itself, again, a national scandal. DCFS is failing at its mission to protect vulnerable children and in some cases, perpetuating their destruction.

The Tribune’s David Jackson, Gary Marx and Christy Gutowski have spent years documenting turmoil within DCFS, which has churned through nearly a dozen directors since McDonald’s departure in 2003. It’s a despicable record of failed leadership.

Also troubling, the agency contracts with private entities to provide some of its family monitoring services. But until recently, DCFS didn’t communicate regularly with those outside firms or hold them accountable on specific cases.

According to Tribune reporting, caseloads for investigators are unmanageable. And court-issued mandates that were put in place for oversight aren’t working, cost too much and lack transparency.

Kids removed from their homes are trapped in limbo for too long while investigations unfold. Illinois has one of the nation’s worst records on getting kids into permanent foster homes or returned to family members in a timely manner.

Staff vacancies and turnover disrupt consistent contact with troubled families. And union protections - this is Illinois government, after all - take precedence over common sense reorganization efforts that could move more workers to the front lines.

New DCFS Director Beverly “B.J.” Walker, who most recently oversaw human services in Georgia, faces a daunting responsibility. Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed her in June after his first pick resigned amid an embarrassing ethics probe.

Her focus, Walker says, will be making decisions, consistently, that are in the best interests of the children under her care. It is a simple motto but seems to be a good place to start and to stay. A lot of desk-pounding wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

. DCFS needs stable leadership at the top. No more plugging people into DCFS directorship roles based on political loyalty or some other unworthy metric. Yes, we’re looking at you, candidates for Illinois governor.

. DCFS needs to hold outside contractors accountable. It needs to push harder with organized labor to soften work rules that protect employees at the expense of kids. Investigators need fewer cases. Can employees be cross-trained to tackle different tasks? Can overworked investigators be assigned subordinates to help with assessments and paperwork? DCFS is a unique agency with a task more critical than those of many agencies. The unions representing those workers need to be flexible. Kids’ lives are at stake.

. DCFS also needs to lead the way toward better coordination with the courts, law enforcement, other service providers and health organizations. That is a point that has been raised for decades: Break down the silos that make the jobs of child welfare workers harder. Files on families and wards of the state should be shared to enable more informed decisions.

A few years ago, a student at Illinois State University agreed to be interviewed by a Tribune reporter. His name was Joshua. He was Joseph Wallace’s baby brother. Police found him sitting on the floor, unharmed, near his brother’s body on the day of Joey’s death.

Adopted by a single mother when he was 5 years old, he navigated through life knowing his past but staying focused on his future. He was concerned about stories in the newspaper highlighting DCFS’ failures. His brother’s tortured but precious existence had to mean something, he thought.

But Joshua was worried.

“I don’t want him to have died in vain,” he said.

Let us all commit to ensuring that Joey Wallace did not.

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