Report on poverty in Illinois highlights problems

Hopefully, Chicago teachers, students, and parents will get a chance to read Jim Broadway's report on the recent study on the impact of child poverty on children in Illinois. As Broadway notes, despite a constitutional provision that says the state is commited to ending poverty in order to help citizens achieve the most fulfilling lives, the state is seriously behind in dealing with this problem:

Illinois stands out in report on education and poverty - but not in a good way

By Jim Broadway, Publisher, State School News Service

We, the People of the State of Illinois ... in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the people; maintain a representative and orderly government; eliminate poverty and inequality; assure legal, social and economic justice; provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; insure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and liberty to ourselves and our posterity - do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois. (Source: Illinois Constitution.)

We began last time by quoting a clause in the Illinois Constitution that makes it illegal to adjust the pay - upward or downward - of a legislator during his or her term of office. So in "suspending" legislators pay for their "failure" to enact pension reform, Gov. Pat Quinn may have violated that policy. He says he didn't but others say he did.

Anyway, today we direct your attention to that Constitution's key provision, the "mission statement" of our state's strategic plan, the Preamble. Look at all the wonderful things we planned back in 1970 to do!

We would "eliminate poverty and inequality." We would have a "representative and orderly government." Hah! We would "provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual." Can you believe it?

A credible argument can be made that our state's policymakers have failed conspicuously with respect to every goal set forth in the Preamble, the most purpose-setting clause in Illinois' highest level policy document. Failed conspicuously.

A consequence of our utter failure to "eliminate poverty and inequality" (The gaps have been getting wider steadily since the Reagan Administration.) was documented recently in a report entitled, "Uneven at the Start," by the Education Trust.

It uses highly credible data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to document that some states have a "track record in raising the performance of all students, low-income students, and students of color, while other states are lagging far behind." [Emphasis ours.]

As you may have guessed, Illinois falls into that "lagging far behind" category.

"It's important to note that several states ... had weaker track records for low-income students than for students overall in fourth-grade reading. For example, Illinois and Utah demonstrated average track records for students overall, but each performed worse or improved more slowly on behalf of its low-income students than the nation as a whole.

"While these states' overall fourth-grade results are at least keeping up with national trends, their low-income students' trajectories are cause for concern."

The researchers presented data on each state's general learning-growth achievements. "Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have some of the strongest track records [for all students, while] West Virginia, Oregon, South Carolina, California, Mississippi, and Louisiana, on the other hand, have some of the weakest track records in the country."

The document cites two states, Florida and Delaware, whose overall performance generally matches national average, "but both of these states are, on balance, doing better than the nation for one or more underserved groups."

"In Illinois, on the other hand, we see the opposite picture — the state is doing about the same as the nation for all students, but faring worse for its low-income and African American students."

What this means is this: We focus our resources on the education of children who already have learning advantages, so they can pull our averages up to national norms even as we let our low-income and minority kids fall behind.

Illinois is mentioned 14 times in the report - but not once in a positive way.

The Preamble probably needs to be rewritten. It was ratified at a time when folks felt more responsible for each other than they seem to today, a time when it did appear possible for a golden decade or so that we could care about "the least of these."

Most of you are too young to remember. We had just endured a horrendous decade featuring the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the escalation of war in Viet Nam, the murderous Mansion Family spree.

But somehow through of all that carnage emerged milestones of social progress, federal policy protecting the rights to vote, to non-discrimination in housing and employment. Women became "liberated" and we cared for the environment.

It was in the heady glow of a host of social "movements" that those idealistic goals were sculpted into the Constitution of Illinois. We seem more "realistic" now. It's everyone for himself now. The "fullest development of the individual"? What a quaint notion!

Relatively few of today's policymakers were on the scene when the Constitution was ratified by the voters in 1970. I can think of only one. House Speaker Michael Madigan was a delegate to the convention that drafted the Constitution and its Preamble and its (falsely) promising Education Article. He was elected to the House of Representatives, also in 1970.

He's been reelected every two years since then and has led the Democrat caucus for 30 years, since 1983, as Speaker for all but two of those years. Now it appears Madigan intends to continue on in spite of the state's conspicuous failures on his watch.

Confirmation of that came to us in a curious way.

Madigan's daughter Lisa Madigan is, as you know, the Illinois Attorney General. For months, or maybe a couple of years, it seemed likely that she would challenge Quinn in the 2014 Democrat gubernatorial primary election. Most pundits seem to think she would beat the bumbling Quinn like a drum. But now she says no, it won't happen.

Although she made it clear that Quinn was a tempting target, that she is, like so many citizens, often frustrated by the lack of competence in the Governor's Office, her father's decision to remain in his position caused her to drop the idea.

"I feel strongly that the state would not be well served by having a governor and speaker of the House from the same family and have never planned to run for governor if that would be the case," she told the media. "With Speaker Madigan planning to continue in office, I will not run for governor."

Her 71-year-old dad's unrelenting desire to maintain his grip on power is depriving the citizens of Illinois the potentially beneficial effects of a Lisa Madigan governorship. It's just one more reason for him to retire.

Speaking of political families, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon - daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon - was thought to be eying a candidacy for Attorney General if Lisa Madigan filed as a candidate against Quinn. She's already said she won't run for her current position - she will not remain as Quinn's "running mate" - in 2014.

But with no game of musical chairs, what job will attract Sheila next year?

Everything is just rumor at this time, early speculation, the least valid kind. She may seek a judicial appointment, we have heard. She might file as a candidate for treasurer, now that Republican Dan Rutherford has said he will seek to oppose Quinn in the 2014 general election. But Sen. Michael Frerichs seems to have called dibs on that office.

Currently, the only Democrat planning to challenge Quinn in the primary is Chicago businessman William Daley, also from a pretty well connected political family. Daley is charismatically challenged. Even Quinn would beat him, in my view.

In a three-way contest, I think Sheila Simon defeats Quinn and Daley. She'd have a gender advantage and could also win in a few counties that are not named Cook. She is a lot more like her father than Lisa is like hers (to Lisa's credit).

It could be like the time Carol Mosely Braun defeated two guys named Al.

There's a 17-minute news clip you really need to watch.

Thinking about Sheila Simon reminded me of her uncle Arthur Simon, Paul Simon's brother. Like Paul, Arthur writes a book every now and then, on themes beneficial to the poor and vulnerable. He founded Bread for the World, an organization combating hunger.

I don't recall ever having met Arthur. But on an occasion a couple of years ago, I heard his voice on National Public Radio. He sounded so much like Paul. He was being interviewed about his career of seeking to feed hungry nations.

I'll never forget his answer to the profound question: If you could do one thing to benefit the poorest developing countries of the world, what would it be? He responded, "I'd make sure the girls get educations."

As he explained it, the more educated the women of any country are the better things go in general - for the children, for the economy, for the citizens' enjoyment of peace and prosperity - and of course for the women themselves.

But in many countries, women are not given educational opportunities. In some, like Taliban-infested Afghanistan and Pakistan, being an educator of women can get you killed.

It was in Pakistan last year that Malala Yousafzai, 15, of Pakistan was shot in the head by the Taliban - they took "credit" for doing so - solely because of her outspoken support for educational opportunities for girls.

Last week, on her 16th birthday, she made a stirring speech at the United Nations, expressing her determination not to give up her aspirations for herself and for her gender. I've posted it on the State School News Service home page.

Teachers should watch this clip. They should show it to students. Malala's cause is the "right" to be educated, a right not enjoyed in all parts of the world, a right perhaps taken for granted here in the United States.

Pension Update: Speaking of clips, the "We Are One Illinois Coalition" has posted a brief video explaining its position on public pension reform - and urging citizens to contact legislators on behalf of SB 2404 "with no amendments."

Meanwhile, the conference committee on SB 1 - a horribly harsh model of pension reform favored by Quinn, Madigan and the Republican causes of the House and Senate - have no meetings scheduled at this time.

Word going around is that the committee has asked actuaries to "score" a version of a proposal offered last week by a group representing university employees, a proposal that was described as "applicable" to others' pension systems.

The House and Senate are not scheduled to return to the Capitol until October 22, although they could be called back into session by Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton if a pension "agreement" is reached.

We'll keep an eye out for that, but it seems most unlikely.

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