Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ophra on Chicago schools

National Disgrace: Oprah Highlights Illinois Education Gap
- posted by Yellow Dog Democrat

Today's Oprah Show featured a ballyhooed interview with Bill and Melinda Gates and a segment which focused on the education gap here in Illinois. Oprah organized a student exchange which allowed kids from Chicago's Harper High to spend the day at a high school in Naperville and brought the Naperville kids to Chicago for a day. Here's what they learned:

When the Harper students arrived at Neuqua Valley, they were stunned to see what the suburban school offered—an Olympic-size swimming pool, a gym and fitness center, an award-winning music department, a huge computer lab, and a rigorous course curriculum. When they arrived at Harper, the students from Neuqua Valley were shocked immediately by the difference between Harper and their own school. For starters, students have to enter Harper through a metal detector. They have a pool at Neuqua Valley, but the Harper pool hasn't been filled with water in a decade. The Neuqua Valley students have an award-winning music department, while Harper doesn't have enough instruments for a music class and relies on improvised instruments—like banging on desks. At Neuqua Valley, students can enroll in more than two dozen advanced placement courses, compared to the two offered at Harper. "It's so mind-blowing to think that there's such a difference and we're both in the same state, an hour away from each other," one Neuqua Valley student says.The difference between the two schools can also be seen in their scores on state exams. At Neuqua Valley, 78 percent of students meet Illinois' reading standards, 76 percent meet the science standards, and 77 percent meet the math standards. At Harper, 16 percent meet the reading standards, 1.5 percent meet the science standards and just .5 percent meet the math standards. Meanwhile this little nugget from the Sun-Times' Ralph Martire is bound to catch the attention of Oprah and civil rights leaders across Illinois:

The Illinois data are as bad or worse. In K-12 education, Illinois ranks as the third most segregated state for blacks, with 82 percent of black children attending majority minority schools. Latinos don't fare much better, as 76 percent of Latino children attend predominantly minority schools. Ninety percent of white kids go to virtually all-white schools. Clearly, the Illinois school system is still separated by race, but is it now more equal by race? Not from a funding standpoint. Minority school districts in Illinois start out with $1,154 less per child to spend on education than do predominantly white school districts, the second worst funding gap nationally (emphasis added).Too bad Senator Meeks didn't have that newsclip in his pocket when he marched on the Mayor's office last week. He might have marched to Governor Blagojevich's office instead to find out why the state is spending nearly $14,000 more on average on the public education of white children. I'd love to hear the Governor explain that one.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Speaker Michael J. Madigan comments on McKeon's retirement

Like many, I was saddened to hear that my friend and legislative colleague, State Representative Larry McKeon, has announced his retirement from the Illinois House of Representatives. Larry’s career in the General Assembly has been the capstone to a long and distinguished career in public service.

Whether as a U.S. Army infantry officer, lieutenant in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, educator, social service manager or executive director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, Larry’s life has been defined by a dedication to serving others. His earlier work as Mayor Richard Daley’s liaison to the city’s gay, lesbian and trangendered community did much to advance the cause of equality in our city. He continued those efforts in the General Assembly and was the tenacious sponsor of landmark legislation to expand the protections of the state’s human rights act to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In addition to his work on equality issues, Larry has been a champion for legislation to increase access to affordable health care, help senior citizens to remain independent, improve education and protect the environment. As the Chairman of the Labor Committee, Larry has shepherded numerous measures into law that have improved working conditions, wages and benefits for millions of Illinois residents. While he has been broad-minded as a legislator, working in the best interests of the state, he has also remained focused on the needs of his district and secured millions of dollars in grants to benefit local community organizations and rebuild local infrastructure.

Larry has always carried himself with tremendous degrees of reserve and humility – no small feat in the world of politics and rather uncommon traits for someone who is also rightly called a trailblazer. These qualities helped him to pass legislation that would otherwise have remained stalled and earned him the respect and admiration of colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

He will be greatly missed at the state Capitol and the General Assembly will be a little bit diminished by his absence. I wish him well in his retirement and know that when he is not enjoying his well deserved leisure time, he will continue to be an active community volunteer, committed as always to doing what he can to improve life in our city, state and nation.

An outstanding candidate

Jim Snyder

For more than 20 years attorney and community advocate Jim Snyder has for fought for stronger neighborhoods and communities. Through personal and professional experiences, Jim has developed insight on community problems and the experience to produce results. Snyder is committed to building community by serving individuals, community organizations and small businesses including:

- Developing individual and family economic opportunities and neighborhood businesses,
- Enhancing consumer rights, disability rights and health care,
- Addressing the role of addiction and recovery in crime, homelessness, and as a barrier to individual and family economic opportunity,
- Fighting for personal liberty and against discrimination.

Snyder received both his Bachelor of Arts in History (1985) and Juris Doctorate (1988) from Northern Illinois University and was admitted to the Illinois bar that year. Snyder is admitted to the United District Court, Northern District of Illinois and the United States Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit.

For five years following law school, Snyder served as an attorney for the Chicago Housing Authority where he worked to evict gang bangers and drug dealers to improve the quality of life of CHA families, helped develop resident management initiatives and job skills training for residents to achieve self-sufficiency and independence. Snyder then opened a neighborhood law office in Ravenswood serving small businesses, individuals, families and not-for-profits.

As his practice developed, so did his advocacy work. As a gay man living through the 90s, Snyder saw the AIDS crisis close-up. As a founding member of the board of directors of AIDS Care, he raised money, helped build the organization and aggressively worked to build a facility to assist those living with advanced HIV/AIDS achieve a higher quality of life and independence through housing, health care and supportive services.

Recognizing that lawyers are uniquely positioned to serve, Snyder increasingly worked in pro bono advocacy and with government organizations on behalf of his clients. His work was recognized by his alma mater in 2000 as Snyder was named NIU Law Alumni of the Year. That same work led him to leave private practice and accept the position of general counsel for the Illinois Human Rights Commission, the state agency in charge of helping victims of discrimination in employment, housing, or credit and individuals and businesses unfairly accused of discrimination.

The day after joining IHRC, the Chicago Tribune ran an investigative story detailing systemic problems with the commission and its leadership. For the past five years, Snyder has devoted himself to cleaning up the agency, an effort that dramatically accelerated with the election of Governor Rod Blagojevich. Snyder was appointed co-chair of the Governor’s Civil Rights transition committee and the committee on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Recovery.

With a mandate to clean up the commission, he has successfully worked to improve professionalism, eliminate the backlog of administrative hearings and restore fairness to this critical agency.

While his professional life continued, Snyder had a parallel career as a volunteer advocate for numerous causes and campaigns.

For nearly a decade, he struggled to amend the Illinois Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The revised act was finally passed and signed into law this past year.

Snyder served as campaign manager to State Representative Larry McKeon and County Commissioner Mike Quigley, and has fought to elect candidates that share his commitment to community development and civil justice.

In 2006, Snyder was honored to be appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee. He has served on numerous boards and been active with many additional organizations including Equip for Equality, Stonewall Democrats, the Illinois Federation of Human Rights (now Equality Illinois), the Illinois Council against Handgun Violence, the Chicago Bar Association Civil Rights Committee, the Illinois State Bar Association Labor and Employment Section Council and Attorney General Madigan’s Civil Rights Transition Committee.

Snyder lives in Chicago’s Buena Park with his partner of 7 years, Scott Plummer.

Well, I made a decision

Representative Larry McKeon Announces Retirement
Recommends Jim Snyder as Replacement

Chicago, IL: State Representative Larry McKeon, (D-Chicago) announced today that he will retire at the end of his current term in January, 2007 after 42 years of public service. He has recommended to the five Democratic committeemen that represent portions of the 13th representative district that attorney and community leader Jim Snyder be appointed to replace him on the November general election ballot. Snyder is currently general counsel at the Illinois Commission on Human Rights.

On July 28th McKeon notified the state Board of Elections that he is withdrawing his nomination for the General Election in November. Illinois state law requires the Democratic Committeemen representing portions of the representative district meet within 30 days of the vacancy to elect a Democratic nominee for the November general election ballot. Their nomination and candidate documents must be filed at the Illinois Board of Elections office in Springfield by August 31st.

Representative McKeon communicated his recommendation that Snyder be given strong consideration in their deliberations to elect a Democratic nominee for the November ballot. McKeon stated “I don’t have a vote; I can only make a recommendation. I feel very strongly that Jim is an outstanding candidate and that the elected Democratic Committeemen give him strong consideration. If nominated and then elected in the General Election by the voters of the district he will be an outstanding state representative.”

Representative McKeon indicated that he will begin a “working retirement” advocating for community organizations and public policies involving housing, jobs, economic development, human rights and health care. “After 42 years in public service, I am looking forward to taking some time to travel and enjoy myself” said McKeon, who added, “But for me, retirement won’t mean sitting still.”

“Serving as state representative for the last ten years has been a privilege and special honor. I hope that in some small way, I have made a difference in the lives of my constituents and for all people of Illinois. There remains much to be done; a lot of unmet needs for countless people. One of the most important lessons I have learned over the last ten years is, the importance to remain teachable. Second, that for me personally, it’s often damned hard to be a politician and remain humble. I think my nature is to be somewhat shy and reserved. I truly believe that what ever people may credit me for accomplishing as a member of the General Assembly is in large part the result of the many outstanding people that I have been privileged to work with. The credit belongs to the residents of the 13th district, community leaders, the many volunteers and donors and my colleagues in the Illinois General Assembly for their generous support and counsel,” McKeon added.

McKeon currently serves as the chair of the Labor Committee and vice chair of the Housing and Urban Development Committee. In addition, he is a member of the House Aging and Executive committee's, a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) and is a commissioner on the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Prior to his election to the Illinois House of Representatives he was a director at the City of Chicago's Commission on Human Relation and Mayor Richard M. Daley's liaison to the Chicago's Gay and Lesbian communities. He served as a director at Metropolitan Family Services and as a faculty and staff member at the University of Chicago, Roosevelt University, University of Southern California, and California State University at Los Angeles. For over 12 years he was a law enforcement officer and administrator in Los Angeles County serving as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and watch commander.

Over the years, McKeon has been active in numerous community and advocacy organizations in the 13th district and surrounding area, including the Ravenswood Community Council, Ravenswood Industrial Council, chambers of commerce including the Ravenswood, North Center, Uptown, Lincoln Square, and Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian communities. In addition he serves on the Advisory Council of Horizons Community Services (now the Center on Halsted) and has served as a board member of Horizons and the Alexia Brothers Bonaventure House. McKeon is an active member of the Association of Retired Persons, National Organization of Women, and serves on the Policy Council of Citizen Action Illinois. Larry is also a founding member of Equality Illinois (formerly the Illinois Federation for Human Rights) as well as the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence and a lifetime member of the Illinois Coalition of Persons with Disabilities. McKeon has also been active with many community-based organizations that serve people living with HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse issues.

Some of McKeon's recent legislative accomplishments include: consumer protection legislation protecting home and condo buyers from unscrupulous developers; protection of workers from unfair labor practices; Scotts Law, which provides fines up to $10,000 and driver's license suspensions up to 2 years for drivers who, by failing to yield to an emergency vehicle at an emergency scene, cause property damage or injury; chief sponsor in the House of an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act adding sexual orientation to the laws prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing; establishment of a 7% cap on assessed value of homeowners property in July 2004; sponsored legislation that helps keep seniors in their homes; secured more than $52 million in funds for roads, public transit and community infrastructure and services in the 13th District; sponsored legislation that made changes to the organ transplant laws in Illinois to allow for the transplantation of organs between patients who are HIV positive or living with viral hepatitis; secured a commitment from the Chicago Transit Authority of more than $45 million for the Wilson “L” Red Line station redevelopment subject to final funding; led efforts to insure transit accountability across the state; worked with several colleagues to obtain $6 million in funding for the Center on Halsted, and secured almost $15 million to build a new student/faculty center, freeing up classroom space so that Harry S. Truman College can expand course offerings and better serve its 32,000 students.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Taking a break from things political

I need a break from things political. I need to step away for awhile and make some personal decisions. I will be back. Soon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Session ended; issues remain

The session did end last week. A budget approved by the House and Senate. Republicans on the war path. I would be too if I was totally locked out of the budget process. As always there were winners and loosers.

After 10 years of work, Harry S. Truman Community College received 1.5 million dollars earlier this year for the design of a 2-story student/faculty building to be constructed at the rear of the current building. Moving student services, administrative and faculty offices to a new building will free up space for 15 or more classrooms to expand course offerings for the over 32,000 students at Truman. I negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the Governor that the constructions costs of an additional 13.5 million dollars will be provided in the 2007 budget.

Next week I will post a detailed report on the budget and identify the winners and loosers, kids, seniors, state workers and others in dire need of the state's safety net.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Extended extended session extended

As expected the extended session of the General Assembly has been extended to Tuesday, April 18th, to allow more time to develop the 2007 budget.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Extended session likely to be extended

Budget negotiations continue to drag on. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones continue to meet with members to identify budget priorities in a lean budget considerably smaller than the one billion dollars of new spending proposed by the Governor.

The Governor's "jobs bill" appears dead lacking the supermajority vote needed to pass a capital budget bill. Republican members of both the House and Senate will not vote for a capital bill prior to the November general election. The Governor proposed a 3.4 billion dollar capital construction bill for roads, school construction and other infrastructure improvements that, according to Guv, would produce over 200 thousand new jobs.

Widly rumored that the budget would not be complete by Wednesday, April 12th. The rumors suggest that the House and Senate will adjourn Wednesday for the Passover and Easter holidays and return Monday, April 17th to finalize the '07 budget.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Session fails to appove budget

Members of the Illinois House of Representatives were sent home for the weekend while the 2007 budget is prepared for consideration next week.

The Governor finally showed up in Springfield this week to meet with Democratic House and Senate leaders to discuss the '07 budget. Members left Springfield today with the House scheduled to return at 4:00 p.m., Monday, April 12th.

The House Democrats have refused to consider 1 billions dollars in new spending proposed by the Governor in his annual budget address. The Governor's spending spree was considered frivolous considering that new revenues are predicted to be only $220 million. In addition, the Governor's so called "Jobs Bill" is considered dead because of the lack of resources to pay for the proposed capital spending of 3 to 4 billion dollars.

What's the best way to judge transit performance?

Illinoiz - April 6, 2006 - posted by Dan Johnson-Weinberger

Mass transit systems (the CTA, Metra and Pace, not to mention the dozen or so other mass transit agencies in Illinois) are just about out of money. They aren't making a big stink about it like they did in 2005 (and they were remarkably successful at framing the entire debate over the state budget, at least in Chicago, where the headlines after the budget was passed in 2005 read: CTA won't shut down), but they are broke.Why are they broke?

The federal government has money to pay for the invasion and occupation of Iraq for years to come, but no money to help cover the cost of buses and trains. As of 1993, the feds stopped paying for any operating support for mass transit. That was a dumb idea. But, what can you do?They are also broke because the source of their income -- the local sales tax -- is not rising. As you savvy Internet readers go buy things online, you dodge the local sales tax. And, as we move more towards a service and tourism economy, the sales tax (which is for the sale of goods, not services) generates fewer dollars. Ridership is up all over the place, but fares only cover half the cost of the service, and the taxes (the local sales tax) that supports mass transit is flat or shrinking.We should raise the tax on gasoline or parking so that people who drive pay more of the cost of transit, since really, fares on the CTA or Pace or Metra should be a lot closer to free than they are, as every rider on transit makes life better for everyone else, while every additional driver makes life a little more congested and thus a little worse for everyone else. Ideally, drivers would pay a lot more, and riders, well, maybe they'd even get paid a little something for making life better for everyone else. Or at least they'd ride for free.

Illinois took a good step in that direction in the late 90s with Illinois FIRST, a big capital bond that paid for a lot of CTA capital needs like new buses and train stations that is financed by a higher fee for a license plate. That means drivers paid for the cost of infrastructure (lots of roads, but some transit). Our operating budget should move in that direction as well.In any event, we've got a state policy debate on how, sometime before early 2007 when the FY08 budgets must be created and it becomes very clear and very public just how broke the transit agencies are, we can come up with a lot more money and (here's the fun part) make sure it is spent wisely.

Today's subcommittee hearing of the Mass Transit Committee of the Illinois House started that policy discussion. Triggered by Representative Larry McKeon's HB4663, the subcommittee on Transit Management and Performance discussed how to implement performance measures. This is an important and intriguing debate, because part of building the case for spending more money on transit (a very good thing, especially transit that's powered by electricity and not Saudi Arabian oil) is to get the best bang for the buck. And right now, the members of the Mass Transit committee, led by Chairwoman Julie Hamos, are looking for good ideas.Here are a few I have and I encourage you to add your own to the comments and send that over to Representative Hamos' office.1) All data collected by any transit agency should be available online. It should be open source. Every little bit of data gathered, especially the actual trip times of each run of each bus and train, should be available online.2) Employee data should be online as well, including salaries and benefit packages of every employee. There's a widespread suspicion that some agencies pay too many administrators too much money. If that suspicion is unfounded, then data will evaporate that objection. If it's true, then that needs to change.3) The state should set up somewhat arbitrary standards and force every mass transit agency to use them, so that comparing different agencies will be easy. Ideally, every agency in the country would use the same standard.What else should the state do to make sure that transit agencies work better?

I should mention that Representative McKeon's main point was that transit agencies should be planned according to a consumer-driven process. He wants to start the process by determining what the consumer expects (reliable, on-time, cheap and fast travel, presumably), and then work backwards from there in order to figure out what the agency needs to do to make that happen and what reporting processes need to be created to make sure the agency is executing the plan that leads to consumer expectations.