- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

January 18, 2020

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Keep the fresh ideas coming in order to improve education

We can all agree that we should appreciate what our teachers do for our children throughout the region, right?

After all, teachers play a large hand in molding our youth. Most are underpaid. Most are underappreciated.

Two stories published in The Southern recently stood out to us: One highlighted what rural schools are doing to recruit former students back to their home districts to teach. And the other looked at what Herrin is doing with instructional coaches, who are helping teachers in the classroom.

It’s no secret that Illinois has a population crisis on its hands. Well, the same goes for teachers. Here in Illinois, the period 2010 to 2016 saw a 53% decline in graduates from teacher preparation programs, outpacing even the national downturn among young people.

And it’s probably even worse in rural areas.

That’s why recruiting was a major point in both stories. Two superintendents who talked to The Southern likened the process to running a football program.

“I played college football, and it’s a little recruiting, letting people know they’re loved and appreciated, and the impact they could have on our schools,” said Hardin County Schools Superintendent Andy Edmondson.

Added Herrin Community Unit District 4 Superintendent Terry Ryker: After the University of Alabama recruits its top players, the coaches don’t turn them loose and say, “It’s all yours from here on out. We don’t need to coach you.”

We get it. Recruiting will get the best and brightest to our region to teach. But another thing that is happening in Herrin - and elsewhere - is our teachers are getting coached, too. We think that is a great thing.

For the 2018-19 academic year, the Herrin school district named eight instructional coaches, recruiting all of them from within its own ranks. The idea is simple: These are teachers who are designated to help coach other teachers, so that those teachers can, in turn, better coach their own students.

If done correctly, it’s one of those rare occurrences in life where it is a win-win situation. Who wouldn’t be for that?

So far, in Herrin, it’s going very well.

Last year, before the coaches were put in place, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) labeled Herrin’s elementary and junior high schools as “underperforming” based on standardized test scores, poor attendance rates and other factors.

Instead of wallowing over the label, Herrin teachers and administrators did the commendable thing: They went to work. “We really just kind of embraced that underperforming category and took a close look at all of the pieces and developed a plan,” said Herrin Elementary School Principal Bobbi Bigler.

The result: Herrin Elementary School received an “exemplary” designation, meaning the school, where two of every three students comes from a low-income family, ranked in the top 10% of schools statewide. Herrin Junior High also grew to “commendable” - the passing label assigned to about 80% of Illinois’ schools.

This shows us that the coaching can work, and we think it’d help other school districts that don’t currently use them.

Instructional coaches aren’t new to Illinois schools, but they are rare among Southern Illinois’ districts. Last year, the Regional Office of Education No. 21, which serves school districts in Williamson, Franklin, Johnson and Massac counties, offered its first instructional coaching training program for area educators. And several districts participated in addition to Herrin’s.

It should be noted that Herrin’s effort to provide teaching coaches was a result of the evidence-based funding system passed at the state level in 2017, which redistributed money to districts that struggle financially. Herrin’s success story shows that the increased funding is having its intended effect here in Southern Illinois. As legislators consider ways to ease the burden of property taxes - which make up the bulk of education funding - they continue to talk about how the state can provide even more funding to local districts. The infusion of cash already injected into local districts is clearly working, and more state money for education will help even more.

We encourage other school districts to follow suit with some of these ideas. We also encourage them to keep thinking of fresh ways to improve and maintain education in Southern Illinois. We have a long ways to go to fix education in the region and state, but fresh ideas like these are only going to help.


January 19, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Gov. Pritzker’s tough talk

Talk can be cheap, and it often is, particularly when Illinois politicians give one of their periodic sermons about the need to clean up government in this state.

Despite that admonition, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been and continues to be strong - both in word and deed - about the need to address what he calls this state’s “poisonous” political culture.

With the state’s political class (Chicago, Cook County and Springfield) swamped in pending criminal investigations and recent news stories about sickening business as usual by political high fliers, his words are - to say the least - as timely as they are pointed.

“Every person in Springfield needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and ask what their role has been in creating this culture, the availability of engaging in corruption, that’s the culture I’m talking about that’s so poisonous. And we have to ask the question, and they should ask the question of themselves - have they been contributing to that culture or have they been working, as I am, to improve the culture, to get that out of Springfield?” he said.

Although it could stand grammatical improvement, his statement was, on one hand, on target, and on the other, stunningly naive.

The people who contribute so generously to this state’s long-standing culture of corruption got into politics to take personal advantage of that culture, not eliminate it.

Pritzker, a multi-billionaire, certainly didn’t enter politics to boost his net worth, but many movers and shakers did.

That’s why the feds have so many criminal investigations under way. That’s why a load of state legislators have been or will be charged criminally. That’s why authorities are investigating links between Exelon/Commomwealth Edison and Michael McClain, a company lobbyist who is extremely close to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. That’s why authorities are looking especially hard at Madigan’s massive political and governmental operations.

Speaking of McClain, Pritzker publicly urged him to cooperate with the federal investigation, something that McClain had said earlier in the week that he will not do.

That’s bad advice McClain will reject out of hand. Cooperation for those in his shoes can be the key to the jailhouse door.

And, speaking of Madigan, the governor was notably circumspect in his comments about the all-powerful speaker of the House when he was asked if Madigan is a net positive or negative for Illinois.

“Look, I am the leader of this state. I’m the governor of the state. And I set an agenda, and I have gone to the Legislature and to the leaders of the Legislature with that agenda. And for the most part, we have passed much of the agenda that I put forward for last year,” Pritzker said. “And so I intend to keep working with whoever is holding those offices going forward. I believe that it is a positive that I am getting my agenda through, and I’m looking forward to continuing the progress that we’ve made and to bring a greater optimism and success to our state, as we did over the last year.”

Those who read carefully will note that Pritzker neither answered the question nor stated Madigan’s name. He clearly is treading carefully when it comes to the veteran Chicago politician.

That reticence is a two-edged sword. Pritzker has to go easy because he needs Madigan’s cooperation to pass his legislative proposal. But his reluctance to acknowledge the elephant in the room will strike many as evidence of hypocrisy, timid and lack of credibility.


January 17, 2020

Chicago Tribune

Repeating: Democrats, it’s time for Madigan to go

Decades of incompetent budgeting and enormous but unfunded promises shove state government into insolvency, unable to pay bills as they come due. Parents watch in chagrin as young people by the tens of thousands join an Illinois Exodus and build their futures elsewhere. Tax gouges relentlessly expand, but never enough to sate the ruling Democrats - as always, they want more money to spend, this time via higher income taxes.

Each word of that paragraph was true on July 2, 2017, when we first urged House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to resign from their leadership posts. And each word of that paragraph is true today, although not the end of the story. Add two years of fresh crises for Illinois Democrats, first with disgusting #MeToo scandals in Madigan’s realm, more recently with FBI agents and federal prosecutors incrementally identifying Illinois governance and politics as a vast criminal enterprise.

Cullerton is retiring from the Senate. But Democrats from Gov. J.B. Pritzker on down look paralyzed, unwilling or unable to challenge the presence of Madigan as the head of their state party and the kingpin of their House caucus. The feds have accused Madigan of no wrongdoing, and he reliably dodges responsibility for the misdeeds that others around him allegedly have committed.

What’s hiding in plain sight, though, is the entitlement - the impunity - with which those close to Madigan have concluded they can operate. In one case among many, impunity likely explains why Madigan crony Michael McClain could have the hubris to casually invoke rape and ghost payrolling when McClain emailed top aides to a governor, seeking protection for a state employee in a disciplinary case.

Madigan says he knew nothing about any of McClain’s maneuvering. Not the email, not the rape reference, not the ghost payrollers, not the veiled suggestion that McClain had dirt on the administration of then-Gov. Pat Quinn, so Quinn’s aides had better take notice.

For the most part, as their Madigan-related embarrassments pile up like cordwood, Illinois Democrats have condemned the sins, but they’ve not demanded that Madigan resign as speaker. Nor are they pressuring him en-masse to abdicate his throne in the Illinois Democratic Party.

One reason for the Democrats’ fealty: The Tribune reports that as of Jan. 1, four campaign funds Madigan controls have $21.1 million in cash on hand. A whole lot of Democratic politicians would rather wait in line for more porridge from Madigan than invoke their self-proclaimed principles.

We argued in 2017, and reiterate today, that Madigan’s tenure as speaker coincides with Illinois’ downward spiral.

His legislature - anybody want to argue with that phrase? - for decades has intentionally failed to give the people of Illinois solutions to the long-term crises of a tax-hobbled economy and high-overhead government:

No solutions for rising property taxes and workers’ compensation costs, for regulations and mandates that wave off employers, for party patronage, for runaway retirement costs, for that roster of 7,000 local governments … you know the list. Year upon year, Illinois’ crises endure. And as Democrats genuflect, Madigan too endures.

But we reached that verdict before allegations of sexual harassment and a rape cover-up struck Madigan’s fortress. Two years ago, a former aide to his political organization went public with accusations that a top Madigan operative had harassed her. She had tried to get Madigan to take her allegations seriously. She was largely ignored.

Our previous calls for Madigan’s resignation also came before he failed, repeatedly, to take responsibility for a culture of sexism and bullying within his own organization that eventually led to the firing of top Madigan aides.

Our push for Madigan’s departure came before we understood the extent of ethics cover-ups in Springfield. We didn’t fully grasp the farce of accountability in the General Assembly until the departing inspector general, in a commentary published by the Tribune, explained how deeply the system of investigating allegations of sexual harassment is broken - by design.

We didn’t know then that Madigan’s top lobbyist, McClain, would secretly arrange payments to support one alleged sexual harasser, Kevin Quinn, despite a growing #MeToo movement - and despite assurances from Madigan that he cares so deeply about the dignity of women who work in his realm.

Our recommendation came before Madigan’s campaign fund settled a civil lawsuit with the woman who brought those complaints forward, and long before the disclosure of McClain’s disturbing email, with its still unresolved allusion to the cover-up of a rape case.

So now, to members and elected officers of the Illinois Democratic Party, beginning with you, Gov. Pritzker: Isn’t all of this enough to have you pressure Michael Madigan to leave his leadership posts in the General Assembly and in your political party? Or rather, why isn’t it enough? Are you helpless? Feckless? Intimidated?

Any one of the shameful events that have unfolded under Madigan’s rule would justify a change at the top of any private sector, military, civic, educational or charitable organization: Vast indebtedness. Unbalanced budgets. A pension system threatening to implode. Federal corruption investigations of allies galore. Tolerance of sexual harassment. Cover-ups.

Yet proud Democrats in this state who are so quick to pounce on others’ mistakes, to puff out their own righteous chests, continue to enable - to protect - the man who offers no explanation except, I didn’t know. The man who displays no accountability except, I should have done better.

With all those Democrats propped up as his human shields, Madigan will not resign as chairman of their party or speaker of their lower chamber. Instead, he could well be rewarded with reelections to both posts.

Why? Primarily because he offers campaign money and a staff to handhold Democrats through their own election campaigns. For openly squandering the principles they mouth, that is their prize.

What hypocrisy.

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