Senator Syverson’s Week in Review: Feb. 22 – 26

SPRINGFIELD – Even as Gov. Bruce Rauner tours the state talking about his proposals to improve education quality and services in Illinois, Democrat lawmakers are actively working against Republican-led efforts to increase fiscal accountability at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Instead, these Democrat legislators have stood aside as their leaders call for a $500 million CPS bailout—at the expense of the downstate and suburban school districts many of these Democrat lawmakers represent.         

Gov. Rauner—joined by lawmakers—is traveling Illinois to talk about his proposal to fully fund the state school-aid formula for elementary and secondary education, for the first time in seven years. The Governor and Republican lawmakers are pushing to approve the funding plan for the coming fiscal year now, to ensure schools are not caught in political crossfire and to protect downstate and suburban schools from paying for CPS system financial failures.

In other action, new legislation would stop smugglers from using drones to drop contraband into state prisons, a former Chamber of Commerce leader lays out his case for a state turnaround, and a travel site ranks Illinois cities by residents’ happiness.

Democrat lawmakers reject reform in favor of CPS bailout

While Republican lawmakers and the Governor seek to provide the deeply indebted CPS with much-needed oversight, financial flexibility, and accountability, Democrat lawmakers are lobbying against these common-sense reforms as Democrat leaders continue to push for a $500 million bailout of CPS. 

A number of downstate and suburban Democrat lawmakers have opposed recent Republican proposals to ensure CPS is subject to the same financial oversight and elected school board requirements as other Illinois schools. They refuse to compromise on a GOP proposal that would allow the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to temporarily take over oversight of CPS—but never its debt or responsibilities—with the ultimate goal of making the system financially accountable to a school board elected by the people of Chicago.

Legislative Democrats also stood silent when Senate President Cullerton threatened to hold hostage the upcoming K-12 education budget for downstate and suburban schools until Chicago schools receive an additional $500 million in additional state dollars. This is on top of the $600 million in sweetheart deals CPS already receives, but which aren’t available to other districts. That’s the real Chicago bailout, say Republican lawmakers and Gov. Rauner.

With CPS facing a $480 million budget shortfall, the ISBE has initiated an investigation into CPS’ “financial stability.” These same concerns previously prompted Republican legislative leaders to push for an overhaul of CPS. Their proposal would allow the ISBE to replace members of the current CPS Board of Education until the district’s finances are fixed, and in the future allow for an elected school board at CPS. The current process allows the mayor to appoint CPS school board members. The plan offered by Republican leaders brings CPS in line with current state law governing all other school districts in Illinois. The legislation makes it clear the state is not liable for the school district’s debt.

Additional legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would give Chicago the financial tools to declare bankruptcy, if necessary, and to give CPS the power of bankruptcy protection as well. Two dozen other states have enabled struggling municipalities to file for bankruptcy.

Rauner continues education push

Gov. Rauner is visiting schools across the state—including stops in Lombard, Chicago, Peoria, Springfield and Belleville—to talk about his proposal to increase state K-12 general state-aid funding to record levels.

During his annual budget address, Rauner proposed fully funding general state aid to schools for the first time in seven years. The Governor wants to increase foundation formula funding by $55 million, in addition to increasing funding for early childhood education programs by $75 million. 

Mandate relief for school districts is also part of the Governor’s plan to help Illinois schools, and legislation has already been introduced by Republican lawmakers that would allow districts to decide whether to release students from P.E. requirements and would ease current restrictions on using outside contractors.

The Governor noted that many of his proposals to help schools control costs simply extend the same freedom of choice to downstate and suburban schools that Chicago schools have benefitted from for years. Estimates show his mandate relief bill could save schools $200 million per year statewide.

Rauner also recently used an executive order to create the “Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Youth,” commonly referred to as the “Children’s Cabinet.” The newly formed entity will help streamline and reorganize state services to more effectively work with kids, while strengthening partnerships with non-profit and private organizations.

Rauner said that, “It will ensure Illinois children are getting the resources they need and deserve, while expediting true reforms that will transform our education system to ensure a bright future for our students.” 

New legislation would ban drones over prisons

New legislation aims to help prevent drugs and cell phones from being smuggled into state prisons by prohibiting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” over prisons. The legislation was introduced in response to several incidents across the country where drones have been used to drop drugs, cell phones, pornography, and even escape tools into prison yards.

Sponsored by several Senate Republican lawmakers, Senate Bill 2344 adds one year of imprisonment to the sentence of a person convicted of bringing contraband into a prison by drone, in addition to any other penalty handed down by law.

Proponents of the law noted there are inmates willing to go to great lengths to smuggle drugs, cell phones or other banned items into Illinois’ correctional facilities. With the use of drones continuing to increase, the legislation is a proactive measure intended to send a strong message that those who use these tools to send contraband into state prisons will face serious consequences.

Former Chamber leader says Illinois is in bad shape, but poised for turnaround

In a recent op-ed, former Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doug Whitley paints a sobering picture of Illinois’ current economic outlook. Whitley noted that the state had a net population loss of 786,638 people between 2000 and 2013, and that the 2015 census showed Chicago had the 6th greatest population outflow among US metropolitan areas.

He pointed to that population loss as having a direct economic bearing on sales, construction, and tax revenue, while leaving fewer workers to assume the burden of the increasing cost of state government.

However, Whitley argued the potential is there for a strong turnaround, noting the state’s transportation advantages, successful businesses, economic opportunities, attractive quality of life, and having a world class city in Chicago. He pointed to the Chamber’s annual Foundation Report as an accurate snapshot of Illinois’ current climate, while laying out a roadmap and measuring stick for future success.

Whitley says a successful turnaround must focus on improving eight economic indicators, including Gross State Product, non-farm employment, median household income, the percentage of personal income allocated to state and local taxes, unemployment, private sector job growth, per capita personal income, and the percentage of persons living in poverty.

Read his op-ed here:

Website ranks the most- and least-happiest Illinois cities

The travel website is attempting to rank Illinois cities by their level of happiness, including the 10 most and 10 least happy cities in the Land of Lincoln.

The ratings were based on several factors including what percentages of adults are married, have a college degree, or own their own home, as well as things such as commute times, unemployment and poverty. The study included all Illinois cities with a population of more than 2,000.

According to the site, the most miserable city in Illinois is the Cook County village of Riverdale, where only 38.8% or residents are homeowners, and just 22.7% are married. The state’s largest city, Chicago, made the list as the 4th most miserable city, and Illinois’ Southernmost town, Cairo, ranked 10th on the unhappiness index.

The state’s happiest city? According to RoadSnacks, that honor goes to Forsyth, a small town with a population of 3,690 located in Macon County. According to the site, 89.9% of adults in Forsyth are married and 71.4% of them own their own home.

Illinois’ capital city, Springfield, ranked as either the 135th most miserable, or the 269th happiest, depending on your point of view. The capital’s neighbors may be smiling more, however, with bordering towns Sherman and Rochester coming in as the third and fourth happiest cities.

The secret to happiness? The website’s results seem to indicate a higher level of happiness in Central Illinois, with the top four towns located in Macon, Champaign, and Sangamon Counties, while the nine most miserable are all located in Cook County.

See where towns are ranked here:

Dave Syverson

Want to stay up to date with your Senator?

Sign up for the District E-Newsletter below: