Sunday Letters: Chicago schools need help from state

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Chicago school leaders and students, parents and community members from around the state rally for fair education funding in the rotunda at the state Capitol on Thursday in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

The League of Women Voters of Chicago is alarmed at the size and significance of the cuts facing the Chicago Public Schools. Cuts of this magnitude will quickly destroy much of the improvement that has been made, slowly and painstakingly, in educational outcomes for nearly 400,000 students, over the past 25 years.

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Without significant help for the Chicago Public Schools, there will be serious unintended consequences: skilled teachers and principals will find work elsewhere; families who can move to the suburbs, where they do not have to face these disastrous cuts, will do so; parents who have stayed in or moved to the city for its diversity will not sacrifice the education of their children for a school system that has class sizes of 40 or more, no extracurricular activities, no art, music, or other enrichment courses, and fewer AP classes.

The fallout from destroying the current, hard-won potential of the Chicago Public Schools will not leave the city unscathed, nor the State. As go the Chicago Public Schools, so goes the City of Chicago. Chicago, as the economic and cultural engine of Illinois, will take a severe blow to its reputation as a good place for new business and new employees. Everyone loses.

But even with all those negative outcomes for the State, the City, and CPS parents, there is a more basic question: How can our governor and legislative leaders allow the state to break faith with 397, 000 students, from kindergarten to high school seniors, who have trusted them?

Margaret Herring, president,

League of Women Voters of Chicago

Hire more police

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with all the money he receives and pays out to friends, should hire more police.

Rick Gagne, Canaryville

Why doesn’t Rauner lead?

Illinoi’ governors possess “line-item veto power” and 60-days in which to wield it. So, Gov. Bruce Rauner has — and has had — the power to veto any items in any budget with which he has an issue, yet he has not used it.

Why not? He is the CEO of the state. While he campaigned on his leadership and “shaking things up” in Springfield,” he has yet to have exhibited any leadership nor done anything but spout bumper-sticker-style responses to the budgets he’s received.

People can say whatever they wish about House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and the budgets sent to the governor, which are open for debate. But the fact remains no matter how bad he or anyone may think, or have thought, they were, the governor has had ample opportunity to have staked out his position on taxes, social programs and his business agenda by exercising his line-item veto power, though he has yet to have done so.

Rich Rzadski, Portage Park

Remembrance question

When will Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit Pearl Harbor to lay a wreath?Larry E. Nazimek, Logan Square

Enact a budget

I want it to be known that as a PTA member and as a member of your reading community, that I stand with the Illinois PTA in asking the Legislature and governor to sponsor an Illinois budget that provides the necessary funding for programs needed by Illinois children and families. The State of Illinois has gone over 280 days without a budget and this is having a profound and detrimental impact on our children, families and the economic future of Illinois. The failure to pass a budget has resulted in de facto budget cuts that have occurred without public debate or hearing. Voices for Illinois Children has documented many of these cuts in the March 2016 report, “Budget Impasse Continues to Devastate Illinois Families and Communities.”

These cuts include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

– Teen REACH After School Programs ($13 million in FY15): At least 18 programs have closed and 94 staff members have been laid off, resulting in 14,000 teens now having nothing to keep them busy and off the streets after school.

– Higher Education ($1.9 billion in FY15): There is no current funding provided by the state for Illinois colleges, universities, or community colleges. Included in this is funding for the Monetary Award Program grants that provide up to $5,000/year for tuition and fees for low-income students. The lack of MAP funding was generally covered by colleges and universities for the fall semester in anticipation of a state budget passing. This spring, most are now telling students that the MAP grants will not be covered by the college or university and that these students may need to pay back the MAP grants if a state budget is not passed. Colleges and universities have seen their credit ratings downgraded, and accreditation groups have warned that those institutions who cannot demonstrate that they have the resources to provide a quality education may have their accreditation pulled.

– Redeploy Illinois ($4.8 million in FY15): 23 counties are no longer providing these diversion programs for non-violent juvenile offenders, and three counties are reviewing closures. Those 23 counties served 275 youth through Redeploy Illinois in FY15 at a cost of $1.6 million. The cost to incarcerate those same 275 youth is $30.5 million. The failure to fund this program costs Illinois even more money, and increasing our budget problems.

– Illinois State Board of Education: While ISBE employees are being paid and school districts are receiving non-grant funds from the state, ISBE itself is not funded. This means that Illinois will not be offering every high school junior a free college entrance exam (ACT in years past, currently the SAT) this year. While some school districts are able to pick up this cost for their students, most do not have the funds to do so.

– Teen Pregnancy Prevention: While contracts have been put in place for FY16, these contracts are: lower than for FY15; capped at $50,000; and further, are not actually being paid by the state. As a result, sex education programs in areas with high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) cannot be offered. In addition, staff cuts and reduced hours of service (often only open one day a week) have made it more difficult for Illinois teens to access the services that are available, especially downstate where those in need may need to drive for an hour or more to reach an open facility.

– The Autism Program or “TAP” ($4.3 million in FY15). TAP, previously a nationally-recognized network of autism support services for Illinois families, is not currently being funded. The elimination of funding for TAP has resulted in program closures in Chicago and Charleston and reduced programs in Rockford and elsewhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum, and earlier intervention with support services is crucial for helping these children become productive adults.

– Substance Abuse and Prevention Programs ($67.5 million in FY15): There is no state funding for non-Medicaid services, which has resulted in at least 1,000 mental health and substance abuse workers being laid off. An estimated 47,000 individuals have been denied services, been placed on increasingly longer wait lists, or provided reduced services. For many of these people, the lack of services mean that they are more likely to end up in the justice system at a higher cost to the state.

– Child Care Assistance: While child care assistance funding was agreed to in December 2015, the income eligibility was reduced; the previously income eligibility level was 185 percent of the poverty level — it is now 50 percent of the poverty level. What’s the result of this reduction? A person working a 20-hour part-time minimum wage job makes too much money to receive child care assistance.

Additional facts to keep in mind about education funding: Education is truly is an investment. Higher education levels in Illinois means: lower welfare and criminal justice system costs; higher tax revenue; lower Medicaid costs; lower child care costs; better health and child development; and greater economic growth.

Walter W. McMahon, an emeritus professor of economics and of education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign calculated the return on investment of education spending in Illinois in the Journal of Education Finance, “Financing Education for the Public Good: A New Strategy”, (see Volume 40, Number 4, Spring 2015). Essentially, it was found that education spending in Illinois out-performed the stock market as an investment. In fact, Illinois education spending pays for itself every 2.3 years in state budget savings alone. These are only a few areas where the budget impasse has impacted the children and families of Illinois. I stand with the Illinois PTA in asking that your editors support the passage of a budget that provides equitable, adequate and sustainable funding at the robust level needed for the operation of programs that support health, education, and welfare of all Illinois children and families.

Kenisha LeSure, Matteson

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