Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Make governor accountable The education bucks have to stop somewhere. Property owners in Illinois cannot be expected to continue paying big bucks to support a public education system that promises A+ educations only to children lucky enough to live in wealthy communities. For that reason, we are glad to see Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Democratic leaders in the Illinois General Assembly have proposed a deal that ensures the biggest education buck of all-responsibility for the system-stops at the governor's desk.
The proposal was still being kicked around the Legislature as we went to press. We hope that by the time you read this, it will have passed.
That's because this is a much better option than the governor's original plan to take control of education by setting up an entirely new bureaucracy-the Illinois Department of Education, which would have reported directly to him. The pesky state constitution prevents him from disbanding the Illinois State Board of Education. Instead, he would have eviscerated it, leaving a shell that would do little with taxpayer dollars. Hardly a good system in a state flush with cash. Utterly unacceptable with a state budget crisis.
We continue to believe the state's public education will be fixed only when we revamp the way we pay for it, shifting the burden from individual property taxpayers to state income taxpayers. Taxpayers would still be footing the education bill, but the money would be distributed more equitably. The governor says he wants to tackle the accountability crisis before taking on the fiscal crisis. So be it.
As we all know, personal accountability made a difference in Chicago. Giving Mayor Richard M. Daley control of the city's schools-along with significant financial flexibility- improved many Chicago Public Schools. It's not an A+ system yet, but grades are on the rise. And when Chicago's efforts at reform falter, taxpayers know whom to blame.
The proposed state system would allow the governor to replace all current State Board of Education members on July 1 and appoint nine new members. The terms would be staggered, with five expiring in 2007 and four in 2009. In addition, the local school districts would have the option of participating in the state's prescription drug-buying plan and pooled purchasing program, saving them "hundreds of millions of dollars," the governor says. (Frankly, it makes no sense at all why the schools aren't already part of these money-saving efforts enjoyed by other state programs. But then we never understood why the Chicago Public Schools, pre-Daley takeover, didn't get city services, such as garbage pickup.)
The key is accountability. We demand it of students, teachers and principals. This plan allows us to demand it of our political leaders as well.
To those who worry this gives the governor too much control over schools we say: What the Legislature giveth, the Legislature can taketh away.
But if knowing where the buck stops is the first step toward reforming the system of collecting those bucks from weary property taxpayers, then we're ready to try.
Breastfeeding needs support This month, reporter Eryn McGary writes about a new study that shows breastfeeding may reduce infant mortality. Last month, she profiled Kasey Madden, whose crusade led to a bill in the Illinois Legislature that would ensure the right to breastfeed in public.
At press time, that bill appeared to be headed to the governor's desk. Legislators, however, get only one cheer for their efforts because they refused to pass a portion of the bill that would have offered help to women who struggle with breastfeeding.
Not everyone is able to breastfeed, but some women can succeed with the help of a lactation consultant. Legislators rejected a proposal to require insurance companies to pay for breastfeeding consultants-despite a wealth of research showing that breastfeeding is better for babies.
We are glad legislators understand that breastfeeding in public is not about exposing breasts a la Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl. This is about exposing a child to short- and long-term health benefits. We should all want that. It shouldn't require a law.
Unfortunately, it does.
A few weeks ago, we received a letter from a mother of two-an infant and a toddler-who was asked to move from the reading area in the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library to breastfeed her baby because a patron complained. The library says it has to balance the interests of everyone. "It is not our job to advocate," a spokesperson says.
Well, it's our job to advocate. And we say lawmakers should have done more for nursing moms.