Clark: Legislature’s IHSA hearing raises more questions than answers

SHARE Clark: Legislature’s IHSA hearing raises more questions than answers
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It’s finally time for Round 2 of the Illinois General Assembly vs. the Illinois High School Association.

You may recall the first episode in this soap opera back in May in Springfield. That encounter between the House’s Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, and the IHSA generated more heat than light.

So many supporters of the IHSA showed up, the hearing — called to get answers on how the organization runs sports and activities for the state’s high schools – had to be moved to a larger room.

You might wonder how the Legislature had time to fit investigating the IHSA onto a calendar already full of pressing issues: pension reform, chronic deficits and tax rates among them.

It speaks to the dysfunction of Springfield that a body disinclined to have serious discussions of urgent problems would instead spend time looking into an alleged plagiarism incident at the IHSA Scholastic Bowl.

In any case, Chapa LaVia promised two more hearings, one in Chicago and another downstate. The former was scheduled for July 8 downtown, but then postponed. It is finally going to be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 3 at South Shore International High School on the Southeast Side.

The timing and location are curious. In politics, this is called a “news dump,” when someone in government schedules a press conference or releases information at the end of the work week in the hope no one pays attention.

Holding the hearing a few hours before football games kick off around the state — and while some are actually going on in Chicago — guarantees there won’t be as many IHSA-backing principals and athletic directors on hand as last time. The location, at a neighborhood school not close to any expressways, also discourages attendance.

Again, IHSA executive director Marty Hickman will be on hand to answer the lawmakers’ questions.

But it’s too bad the roles can’t be reversed with Hickman – who has bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in education along with experience as a teacher, principal and coach – asking some hard questions himself on a subject he knows a little something about.

Among them:

* When is state government – under firm Democratic control and therefore able to pass what it wants – going to come up with a more equitable funding formula for education less dependent on property taxes?

* When will that government consider other common-sense reforms, such as mandating unit districts — covering all grades from kindergarten through high school – in areas that don’t have them?

That model is employed everywhere from the state’s largest district in Chicago to its smallest ones in downstate Illinois. But separate elementary and high school districts, some with just one or two schools and a few hundred students, remain in the suburbs, relics of the past and luxuries a cash-strapped state can no longer afford.

The argument here is not that the IHSA is, or should be, above scrutiny. It’s not perfect and should be held to a certain standard of accountability as the quasi-public agency it essentially is.

But there already is a system in place to address any issues that come up. The IHSA is governed by a board of directors, made up of principals from schools big and small, public and private, Chicago-area and downstate. That’s whom Hickman answers to, or at least whom he should be answering to.

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