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Complicated Calculus for Kankakee, IL Legislator Kate Cloonen

February 29, 2016

In a letter to the editor in the Herald News, a daily serving central Illinois, Kankakee legislator Kate Cloonen advocates against a State takeover of Chicago schools for fear that her community and other downstate communities will be on the hook for the bailout of their schools. Ms. Cloonen’s position on this issue is indicative of the kinds of complicated calculus that is coming to the fore as a result of the over-promising of elected officials at the bargaining tables in years past combined with the unwillingness of taxpayers to face the true costs of providing government services. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where gridlock might occur at the state level whereby legislators from hard-pressed urban areas decide to withhold funding to address costly issues like flood prevention in Kankakee in order to save taxpayers money… but that defies the spirit of community that undergirds democracy.

I share Ms. Cloonen’s concern for a State takeover. My concern is that Governor Rauner’s solution for Chicago will be to declare bankruptcy, withhold pensions of teachers, custodians, and other hard-working and low paid staff members, pay off bond holders, and close down the costly public schools with their legacy costs and replace them with privatized for-profit schools bankrolled by his donors.

State legislatures are responsible for providing a high quality education to every child in their state and when they allocate funds to school districts they have every right to ensure that they are spent wisely. The fiscal crisis in Chicago is not only the result of mismanagement and profligacy at the local level, the State bears responsibility as well. The state needs to accept its share of responsibility, pay its share to bail out the schools, and determine how it will oversee the fiscal management of schools more effectively going forward. Ducking the responsibility at this point could feed gridlock and harm the children in Chicago.

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