Bravo for budget that puts kids first

Gov. Rod Blagojevich deserves praise for his bold statement that kids come first, even when the state needs to fill a $5 billion budget hole.

His budget proposal, delivered in mid-April, (two months later than normal due to the change in leadership and the huge budget gap), says clearly that Illinois believes educating its children is Job One. We couldn’t agree more.

There is much to applaud in the governor’s plan. Chief among them: a $29.9 million increase in early childhood education funding he says is the first installment in a three-year program that ultimately will provide pre-kindergarten services to 25,000 needy children. And at least one of his proposals deserves special praise: The plan to stop paying for unneeded regional school superintendents. This job, a political holdover from a county-based education system, costs $20.2 million a year. Finally, we like the idea of consolidating special grant programs into one general grant, giving districts the flexibility to spend the money in the most effective ways for each local school.

Having said that, it is important to note that much more is needed. Illinois ranks a dismal 48th nationally in state support of public education. Still, based on the governor’s plan, we prefer to see the education funding glass as half-full.

In the final analysis, it will raise the base funding level by $250 per public school student. Even at $4,810, the level remains well below the $5,665 that is generally accepted to be the minimum funding level necessary to provide a quality education in this state. But at least the governor is moving the state in the right direction.

Now, as the Legislature chews over Blagojevich’s proposals, constituents weigh in with their assessments and lobbyists make their demands, we are looking ahead.

What happens in 2004 and beyond? Eighty percent of Illinois’ 892 school districts are cash-strapped; an unknown number are on the verge of bankruptcy. And property tax payers are tapped out. More than half of the school referenda failed in April. Revenues are stagnant, but costs continue to increase, leaving schools searching for how to pay for materials, teacher salaries, skyrocketing health insurance costs, even school repairs. And this is not a short-term problem. Tax caps, tax-increment financing and fickle state and federal budgets make it impossible for district administrators to plan for the future.

Once the Legislature finishes this budget, it must begin to take a long-term look at education funding. First on the agenda is finding a way to raise the per-pupil spending level to $5,665. To do that, the state must step up to its responsibility to shoulder a greater portion of school funding—even if that means raising the state income tax or sales tax. We are all for fiscal restraint in government agencies. But schools already have cut spending to the bone. Children deserve better.

For years, education advocates have lobbied for a hike in the state income tax or sales tax to fund education. They walked away empty handed and predicted that only an education funding crisis would make that happen. The crisis is here. We don’t like paying taxes any more than you do. But we believe we all benefit from quality education.

Pedophiles should be shunned, not rewarded Those people in Hollywood. They’re always protesting something at the Academy awards—the war in Iraq, the treatment of Tibetans, the portrayal of gays and lesbians. But we didn’t notice anyone at the 2003 show protesting pedophilia.

Perhaps that is because they were too busy giving an Oscar to a convicted child rapist. Roman Polanski, who fled the country after his 1977 conviction for raping a 13-year-old girl, was named Best Director for his film, “The Pianist.”

We protest.

In Chicago, R & B singer R. Kelly is accused of 21 counts of child pornography for allegedly taking videos of himself having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Kelly was freed on $75,000 bond and, unlike your average criminal, was allowed to travel to Florida to make a video for his newest CD. While there, he was arrested again for possession of photos of himself and a girl having sex. He was so busy working and being arrested in Florida that he forgot to check in with his court-appointed supervisor while he was out of town. Was he thrown in jail for violating the terms of his bail? No. The judge told him not to do it again.

Meanwhile, fans are clamoring for R. Kelly’s music. His new CD debuted at No. 1.

We protest.

In the name of sexually-abused children everywhere, we protest a popular culture that honors men who take advantage of children. And we urge those who agree with us to vote with their wallets. Don’t patronize popular culture—movies, CDs or anything else—created by pedophiles.


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