IL News Network: Comptroller - State to start paying early intervention providers; Preliminary PARCC exam scores released; and more from INN Radio

By Greg Bishop

September 17, 2015

Comptroller: State to start paying early intervention providers
The state will immediately begin setting up a process to pay providers who help infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities. That’s the latest from Comptroller Leslie Munger. A statement from the Republican says her office and the Department of Human Services agreed that early intervention services were covered by several active consent decrees and will start making payments as soon as vouchers from DHS are received by the Comptroller’s office. The Comptroller had previously said that nearly 90 percent of state spending is already being decided upon by court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriation while there’s no budget in place and that the state is on pace to have a more than $8 billion deficit. Munger reiterated that the General Assembly should pass a balanced budget so the state can fund its critical priorities.

Preliminary PARCC exam scores released
Preliminary scores from the new standardized test for some of Illinois’ grade school and high school students aren’t great but it doesn’t indicate the state’s students or schools are failing. That’s the message from State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith. Early scores from only online tests show that a only a third of students did well in English and language arts with just over a quarter passing math. Smith said the numbers should provide a baseline and the tests will prove to be a good tool for teachers and parents alike.

“They want to know what can I do? When am I going to get information that’s going to help me help my kids? And that’s what teachers want too. So, I have every reason to believe that PARCC is going to get better the more we do this work.”

Though he said he’s not a staunch opponent of the tests, Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi said the exam is far too fresh a standardized test for the state to trust right now.

“There’s a lot that’s unproven about this test. There hasn’t been any publicly released validity studies of the test to show that it actually does, the scores actually reflect anything meaningful. I think we really want to see that kind of data from Pearsons before we trusted this test anymore than we already do.”

Guzzardi has a bill to allow for parents to opt their children out of the exam that passed the House but remains in a Senate committee. The Democrat hopes the State Board of Education can rework their rules to allow for an opt out system without the law. A letter Superintendent Smith posted late last week said principals and teachers should know the PARCC (park) results are only one of many factors in their accountability system.

Haine: Rule of law weakened by lack of death penalty
The lack of a death penalty in Illinois weakens the rule of law as a deterrent to murders and other crimes. That’s according to a state senator who wants to bring back the death penalty. Democratic State Senator Bill Haine, a former State’s Attorney, said that not having a death penalty, which was abolished in 2011, lowers the bar for all crimes, but most importantly murder. Haine said the death penalty will provide a powerful deterrent.

“That enhances the law in my opinion as a force to be reckoned with in a constitutional order.”

Haine said there still needs to be extensive appellate review of all sentences, including the death penalty. As to the deterrent factor of the capital punishment Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi isn’t buying it.

“Especially not the difference between a life sentence and the death penalty. I don’t think that’s gonna be a tipping point that gonna stop anybody from killing people. And that’s not just me saying this. There’s reams and reams of data.”

Guzzardi says the focus should be other reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, rather than what he characterized as a risky practice. Senator Haine’s measure has not yet been introduced however Republican Representative John Cabello’s House Bill 4059 has been held in committee since February. Former police officer and Republican Representative John Anthony says he supports Cabello’s measure.

Bourne: Millennials have role in politics
The youngest state Representative says the younger generation needs to be included in politics and she’s developing an advisory council to make that happen. Republican Representative Avery Bourne is hosting a Millennial Advisory Council in Litchfield, 50 miles south of Springfield, Saturday. The 23-year-old tells WMAY Springfield that government should have a forward-looking approach instead of just quote “managing”.

“I think the role of government is to create opportunities and that’s what I think my generation wants to see. Especially just give us the opportunity to succeed. Get out of the way for us to do what we think is best and also give us the opportunities to get involved and to be heard.”

Bourne was appointed to her position after former state Representative Wayne Rosenthal was appointed the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Out-of-state foul allowed at fairs
Birds of a feather, and from other states, can once again flock together after the Illinois Department of Agriculture announced the lifting of a ban on out-of-state birds at shows, fairs and exhibitions in Illinois. The ban on out-of-state birds was put in place in early June as a precaution due to avian influenza impacting several states. However, IDOA says no cases of bird flu has been reported nationwide since June 17th. IDOA says they will continue to monitor the disease and continue to educate commercial and backyard producers about the importance of following strict biosecurity measures.

The Illinois News Network is an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute.

Chicago Sun-Times: Counterpoint - Hit the breaks on PARCC

By Christopher Ball

September 16, 2015

Preliminary PARCC assessment results tell us what we already knew: If we test students against harder standards, their performance will be lower than on previous ones. Despite the state paying $40 million annually for the exams, they provide only minimal information. Why?

First, the exam itself has flaws. Practice tests featured ambiguous and poorly worded items. We do not know if those errors remained or how they affected scores. Spanish-language math questions were never field-tested before they were administered.

PARCC itself is frustratingly opaque. Technical reports on 2014 field tests were never published. Basic questions remain unanswered: How did device differences (e.g., iPads, Chromebooks, or PCs) affect results? How did students who experienced technical glitches perform versus those who did not?  We do not know because PARCC has released no relevant data.

Second, the exams cannot answer many questions parents have. Are school curricula properly aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? PARCC did not collect data on school curricula, so we cannot answer that question. Was the average score in a grade low due to a few students doing very poorly or most doing just slightly sub-par? Score distributions are not reported, so we cannot know. Because no test, even one as long as PARCC, can assess more than a limited range of what students know, the results cannot inform instruction much.

Third, the proficiency ranges or “cut-scores” — the scores that mark the thresholds between the levels of mastery on a test — are inherently arbitrary. If a different, equally qualified group set the cut-scores, the ranges would be different. Cut-scores are not psychometric properties but committee judgments, subject to political pressure, and PARCC has not released the range-setting rules. Setting proficiency bands now is unnecessary; the scores alone provide a baseline. Changing the ranges will be difficult, as pro-testing critics will say PARCC weakened standards.

We can, however, make some predictions confidently. Wealthier districts and students from richer families will do better on average than less fortunate ones. When Illinois adopted the CCSS and decided to use computer-based exams, it never provided sufficient funds to improve curricula or technology. General State Aid is over $530 million lower in real terms today.

Test-boosters will tell us that the exams will get better. This same promise has been made every year since test-based accountability under No Child Left Behind began. We’re still waiting.

Christopher Ball is a member of the board of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, an education reform advocacy group

DNAInfo: Kelvyn Park H.S. Cuts College Counselor, Social Worker as School Starts

By Paul Biasco

September 9, 2015

HERMOSA — The first day of senior year is usually filled with excitement and optimism.

But 17-year-old Sherilyn Flores spent her morning Tuesday outside Kelvyn Park High School describing to reporters her fear of the future due to $2.2 million in budget cuts at the school — cuts that resulted in the loss of Kelvyn's college counselor.

Flores said she is nervous about upcoming interviews and a lack of preparation heading into the college application process.

"I'm worried about college more this year than any other senior would be," she said.

In total, the school was forced to eliminate 19 staff positions, including its college counselor and only clinical social worker.

"Would you send your child to school without basic fundamentals like a college coach? Without a clinical social worker?" said Darrick Ivy, a junior at the high school.

The cuts have also impacted the school's newly implemented restorative justice program that seeks to move away from lengthy suspensions to keep kids on track and in school.

The neighborhood school, which has been facing declining enrollment for years, is expecting 782 students this year. Last year the enrollment was around 900.

The school has lost 698 students from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2015-2016 school year, according to Chicago Public Schools.

“While declining enrollment is a challenge for some schools, our priority is to make sure that dollars follow students so that we distribute enough resources to schools with increasing enrollment," said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner.

Bittner said CPS is working with leaders in Springfield to reform a school funding inequity that has resulted in CPS schools receiving more than $2,000 less per student than schools outside Chicago.

Because of student-based-budgeting, the declining enrollment has led to budget cuts at the school for a number of years in a row.

At Kelvyn Park in 2012-2013, the budget was cut by $3.5 million and last year the school had $1.7 million cut.

Those cuts were a result of a number of factors including decreasing enrollment, but also the loss of school improvement grant funding that totalled more than $5.5 million between 2010 and 2013, according to CPS.

"This is not a new thing. This has been going on since my freshman year of 2012," Flores said. "High school doesn't feel like high school anymore."

The group demanded that the Chicago Board of Education plug the budget gap and restore fundamental positions to the school such as the college counselor.

The school's clinical social worker, whose position was eliminated previously, led a weekly support group for girls who survived sexual assault and abuse.

“I am furious that without someone to speak to — someone with the clinical experience dealing with these deep issues — many of my students may fall into deep depression and chronic absenteeism," said Erin Matthews, the social worker who was cut. "I am the point where I just believe that no one cares about poor kids unless they are at Whitney Young.”

Michael Brunson, Recording Secretary for the Chicago Teachers Union, called the situation "destruction by design."

Students and teachers were joined by state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th), state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-20th) and Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) outside the school, 4343 W. Wrightwood Ave.

"For us to look these students in the eye and say we are providing them with the same opportunities as other students in the city, I mean, is frankly a farce," Guzzardi said.

Guzzardi cited the creation of charter schools as the main factor in declining enrollment and said that it "is not an accident that there are fewer students here.

"It's a result of deliberate policies that are draining this school of the resources that it needs to be successful," Guzzardi said.

Chicago Tribune: How erratic schedules hurt low-wage workers

September 6th, 2015

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

As campaigns to raise the minimum wage find success across the country, erratic schedules have become the next front in the fight for workers' rights.

Gap is among several retail heavyweights to promise recently to make employees' hours more predictable. Several legislative efforts seek to regulate scheduling practices that make it difficult for low-wage hourly workers to plan for child care, go to school, work a second job or have comfort that they will earn enough to pay their bills.

"I'm optimistic that it's going to change, because it has to change, it's just not right from a pure matter of human decency," said Anne Ladky, executive director of Chicago-based advocacy group Women Employed. But she isn't celebrating yet.

"What we are hearing a lot from workers we talk to, and what is deeply disturbing, is that they are being treated as if their families don't matter," she said.

One of the workers her group talked to was Carlisha Johnson.

Johnson, 27, had left a job at McDonald's for Old Navy, excited to work in fashion and not come home smelling like fries. She commuted two hours from her home in southwest suburban Justice to Chicago's State Street store. She loved the work.

But after a few months, the company started scheduling her to work nights even though she had signed up only for mornings, Johnson told the Tribune. With two children age 2 and 6 she had to pick up from day care and after-school programs in the evening, and the bus home not running late at night, Johnson found that life got complicated when her shift ended at 10 p.m.

She said she had to scramble to find friends or family members to help with her kids or search for co-workers to take her night shifts. When neither would come through, she would have to call in saying she couldn't work.

Johnson said she was laid off last month; she believes it was because she called in too many times. She said she has since moved in with a friend and sent her children to stay with their father.

"I wanted to be a normal mom, and I can't even be a normal mom," Johnson said. "I thought I did everything right, and every time it feels like a knife."

Gap, which owns Old Navy, declined to respond to Johnson's comments and instead reiterated a statement it made last week in announcing several scheduling changes.

"We recognize that flexibility, inclusive of consistent and reliable scheduling, is important to all of our employees," said Gap spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson. "Our goal is to provide the most stable and predictable scheduling system possible, while still meeting the needs of our business, driving productivity in stores and ensuring the satisfaction of our customers."

Gap, which has been working on the scheduling issue for a year, said that by the end of September its five brands — Old Navy, Banana Republic, Gap, Intermix and Athleta — will end their "on-call scheduling," which requires employees to call in before a shift to see if they will be needed, meaning they have to block off the time but aren't guaranteed a paycheck for it. It also said its stores would commit to providing employees with at least 10 to 14 days' notice of their schedules.

Abercrombie & Fitch made similar news in August, and Victoria's Secret in June. All three companies were on a list of 13 retailers that had been warned by New York's attorney general that certain scheduling practices might violate New York law.

The Illinois attorney general's office is watching the issue, a spokeswoman said.

While businesses have long had last-minute needs that demand workers to come in with little notice, the volatility has spread to more shifts and more workers, said Susan Lambert, an associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago who has been studying workplace scheduling for 15 years.

"They have taken a stopgap measure and made it into common practice," she said. News reports over the last few years have described just-in-time scheduling meant to keep staff as thin as possible to control costs, driven partly by technology that lets businesses match their staffing to real-time customer demand.

More than 40 percent of hourly workers across all age groups report getting less than a week's notice of their schedules, according to Lambert's recent analysis of data from the 2014 General Social Survey. The share was highest, at 68 percent, among workers age 18 to 22.

In a separate a analysis of 2011 data of hourly workers age 26 to 32 published last year, Lambert found that half said they have no input into their schedules and three-quarters said their hours fluctuate week to week.

The recent moves by retailers to give more notice and end on-call scheduling are "a wonderful step in the right direction" that sets standards for other companies to follow, Lambert said, though retail is not the only industry affected. Construction, janitorial work, food service and home care also are at high risk of precarious scheduling practices.

Meanwhile, legislators have put scheduling in their crosshairs.

The federal Schedules That Work Act, reintroduced in the Senate in July, would, among other provisions, give workers the right to request scheduling changes without fear of retaliation and guarantee at least four hours of pay to employees who show up for a shift and are sent home early. About 10 other states already have such pay requirements, though the details vary. Illinois does not.

At the forefront of scheduling rights is San Francisco, where the Retail Workers Bill of Rights went into effect in July. It requires that large retail chains pay employees if they're on-call or sent home early, give them at least 14 days' notice of their schedules and give existing part-time workers the chance to work up to 35 hours a week before hiring new people.

Some 6.2 million people in the U.S. work part time but want to be full time, down from the peak of more than 9 million during the recent recession but still well above the pre-recession level of 4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Illinois, Rep. Will Guzzardi earlier this year introduced a bill that would require employees to get at least two weeks' notice of their schedules. It has since been amended, after he got input from the business community, to give employees the right to ask for a specific schedule and not be penalized for doing so. If an employer denies the request, they have to provide a reason.

"I know this seems like the absolutely lowest hanging fruit," Guzzardi said, "but the approach I'm taking is to take it one bit at a time." Guzzardi hopes to pass the amended legislation next year to start the conversation about scheduling, which affects many low-income Latino families in his district who are struggling to juggle multiple jobs.

"Employees are really being treated very poorly, and their lives are being disrupted in a very meaningful way," he said.

That disruption appears to have consequences for their children too.

In a policy brief last month summarizing existing research, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute wrote that toddlers whose mothers work irregular hours demonstrate worse sensory perception, memory, learning, problem solving, verbal communication and expressive language than their peers. Preschoolers exhibit more negative behavior like depression, anxiety, withdrawal and aggression.

Irregular family mealtimes and bedtimes interfere with healthy development, as does not having a parent around to help with homework or read a book. Parents chasing fluctuating schedules are more tired, anxious, irritable and stressed, influencing negative behavior in their kids, and moms often must make inconsistent and poorer-quality child care arrangements, the brief said.

Some say low-wage jobs should be temporary steppingstones to something better. But Ladky, of the advocacy group Women Employed, said accelerating demand for low-skilled labor, thanks in part to rising tourism and home health care jobs, shows that it is a large and growing part of the labor economy. People supporting families are staying in those jobs for a long time.

"We cannot educate our way out of low-wage jobs," she said. "These jobs have to be made better and more stable."

The instability is not bad just for employees. Employers risk losing talented workers.

Consider Rachel Cooper, 22, who said she had hoped to climb the ranks at Just Salad, a fast-food chain that recently expanded to Chicago.

She moved to Chicago from New York six months ago with the hope of more hours, higher pay and a promotion to catering manager, she said.

The hours were long at first as she trained new cashiers, but soon they dwindled because the restaurant was not as busy as anticipated, she said. She was often sent home hours before her shift was supposed to be over, she said, after having spent an hour commuting to the Loop restaurant from her Rogers Park home. At $10 an hour, she said it was tough to make ends meet when her hours fell, at one point, to 17 hours a week.

Moving costs to the tune of $6,000, which exceeded the $3,500 plus a week at a hotel paid by Just Salad, wiped out her savings, she said. Cooper said she occasionally pawned her belongings, including her computer and PlayStation, and then bought them back on weeks with a better paycheck. Unable to afford a bed, she slept on the floor for a time and subsisted largely on packets of ramen.

"I just couldn't live like that," said Cooper, who quit after four months. She now works as a bank teller and gets a steady 30 hours a week.

Jason Rotter, Just Salad's team leader in Chicago, said the company has always provided staff with "static schedules allowing ample notice of any changes. However, schedules can fluctuate when you factor in the unpredictable weather, festivals, surrounding school schedules, and summer holidays. As a company, we always try to accommodate our staff's changing availability."

Rotter, in a statement, added that Cooper never voiced any issues. The company also said their records show Cooper worked an average of 36 hours weekly from April to July with just one week at 17 hours, and that employees are entitled to a free meal up to a $10 value on a shift.

While technology has been blamed for some of the hairy scheduling, makers of sophisticated scheduling software say their products, when used properly, should make life easier for employers and employees.

Steven Kramer, founder and CEO of WorkJam, a Montreal-based scheduling software company, said many businesses have antiquated systems based on spreadsheets that put a big burden on the manager. Many larger companies with metric-based shift management technology are missing a key piece: collaboration with their workers.

Businesses suffer when workers are less productive and less happy, he said.

Workplace Systems, a UK-based scheduling software company with North American headquarters in Chicago, is in the midst of a study with Harvard Business School to show that revenue, transaction value and talent retention improve with smart scheduling, said CEO David Farquhar.

On its platform, employers, whose goal is to maximize revenue per employee per hour, enter a budget, including target sales and costs, and the software takes into account a slew of metrics — including historic sales, weather, merchandising campaigns, pricing and foot traffic — to calculate how many people it will need at a given time. Employees, whose goal is to have predictability and regularity in their shifts, enter their shift requests.

The software runs 1 million iterations of a schedule in 30 seconds to find one that matches the needs of both the employer and employee. It can forecast a schedule 16 weeks in advance with 90 percent accuracy, giving employers little excuse for not giving employees plenty of notice, said Farquhar, who counts H&M, Warby Parker, Nike and Subway among the company's clients.

A mobile app lets workers check their schedules on the go and swap shifts with co-workers.

"If you collaborate with employer and employee, their happiness will go up and the level of churn on better employees will go down," he said.

Chicago Reader: State reps Guzzardi & Reaves-Harris talk the budget at the Hideout!

By Ben Joravsky

August 31, 2015

As the state's budget impasse heads into its third or fourth month—it's hard to keep track—Mick Dumke and I will be searching for clues to what it all means when we gather tomorrow for our First Tuesdays show at the Hideout.

First Tuesdays is the monthly political talk show that Mick and I host at a bar on the grounds that true enlightenment can only be achieved with a little liquid stimulation.

Though I don't think all the liquids in the world can make sense of the latest remarks by Tim Nuding, Governor Bruce Rauner's budget chief. 

Nuding thanked Donna Arduin, the governor's "superstar" $30,000-a-month budget adviser, for helping "engineer the elimination of  an inherited $1.5 billion deficit."

Arduin left her post last week.

I don't know how can anyone—even a paid flack—can say the deficit has been eliminated when the state still hasn't passed a budget and the state comptroller's in court telling a judge we're too broke to pay therapists to treat disabled toddlers.

As lawyers for state comptroller Leslie Munger are doing right now.

Disabled toddlers, people. That's pretty shameful.

I mean, I've heard of social promotions. But praising anyone who had anything to do with this morass is absurd.

On hand to try and help us make sense of the madness will be state reps Will Guzzardi and Pamela Reaves-Harris, who have had front-row seats for the lunacy.

Also, this will be Mick's first show since he moved down the hall—as he puts it—to make the big bucks writing for the Sun-Times.

Though I can assure you that whatever big bucks Mick makes at the Bright One won't be anywhere near $30,000 a month.

Congratulations on the new gig, Mick.

The show starts at 6:30 PM. It's $5 at the door. And the Hideout is at 1354 W. Wabansia.

ABC 7: Illinois House Approves Temporary Budget Plan

By Charles Thomas

July 9, 2015


The Illinois House voted Thursday afternoon to approve a temporary budget plan that would fund the state until August 1.

Super-majority House Democrats passed the one-month budget bill, 71-19.

House leaders amended the Senate-approved bill by adding the salaries of all state employees to ensure that they get paid in July.

Also on Thursday, a Saint Clair County Judge ordered the Illinois Comptroller to fully pay state workers despite the budget impasse. That ruling counters a Cook County judge's decision on Tuesday that ordered the comptroller to pay only some workers who are covered under federal minimum wage laws.

Since the House amended the bill, it now goes back to the Senate, which will be back in session Tuesday and Wednesday.

If the Senate approves the bill, it will go to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk. There is no guarantee that he will approve the temporary plan.

After the vote, Rauner's spokesman Lance Trover said: "Voting to spend money the state doesn't have is the cause of Illinois' financial crisis. Today, Speaker Madigan and the legislators he controls irresponsibly voted for yet another unbalanced budget plan."

Rauner has 17 days to sign or veto the measure. If he doesn't do anything, state employee salaries and program funding would be in jeopardy.

"Perhaps the concern is going to be that this is wrapped up with all sorts of other measures," said State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago. "Well, God forbid we should vote on spending a little money on human services while we're down here. God forbid we should vote on 30 days of funding for people with disabilities and people with mental illness and children who are sick.

Republicans wanted a separate bill that would only address salaries for the fiscal year, while Democrats wanted a comprehensive measure that would cover all government expenses, including those for social programs. Republicans voted against Thursday's approved budget plan and likened it to kicking the can down the road month-to-month.

"If you vote for this amendment, it's going to land on a bill that the governor is going to veto, which means you are keeping state employee pay in limbo," said State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville.

Earlier Thursday, Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs announced that state workers who are likely to miss paychecks during the ongoing budget standoff will be able to get interest-free loans to help pay their bills.

Chicago Sun-Times: Mihalopoulos - It’s all in the family for Acevedo political clan

By Dan Mihalopoulos

June 30, 2015

Just 29 years old, Alex Acevedo wants to become a state representative.

His resume consists largely of being a registered nurse and a month’s stint this spring as a Springfield lobbyist.

Still, the young man’s chances of winning probably are strong. After all, his father is veteran state Rep. Eddie Acevedo, D-Chicago, and Alex Acevedo is the designated heir.

Amid all the financial woes and partisan dysfunction in Springfield, Chicago’s Acevedo clan already is looking ahead to next year’s election. In 2016, the Acevedos hope to become the next Illinois family to benefit from the time-honored local tradition of dynastic politics.

“Huge announcement today!” Alex Acevedo posted Saturday on Facebook. “I have decided to run for state representative of the 2nd District. My father Edward Acevedo and I will be having a formal press conference soon! I am grateful for this opportunity and looking forward to the hard work #peoplenotpolitics #Ace4All”

As he appears set to pass the torch to one of his five sons, it’s worth recalling how the elder Acevedo grew in power with the support of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Hispanic Democratic Organization.

HDO was the biggest patronage army in the Daley machine until a federal investigation into fraudulent city hiring killed its clout. Although he was never charged with any crime, Eddie Acevedo’s name came up in the corruption trial of HDO leader and Streets and Sanitation Department boss Al Sanchez.

Former Daley administration official Jack Drumgould told a jury all it took for someone to get a job at Streets and San was for Sanchez to tell him, “This is Eddie’s guy.”

One of Eddie’s gals who got on the city payroll in that fashion was a truck driver named Denise Alcantar, who was a friend of the state rep and had worked in his office. Hired despite lacking any experience — her test scores were rigged — Alcantar seriously injured a city worker, pinning her between a garbage truck and a telephone pole.

The demise of HDO didn’t end Eddie Acevedo’s efforts to help his friends or family. After he supported giving a $98 million school-construction grant to the United Neighborhood Organization, the group used some of those taxpayer dollars to hire Acevedo’s brothers’ security company.

Neither Alex Acevedo — who recently worked on the campaigns of former Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — nor his father returned calls seeking comment.

To win dad’s seat, Alex Acevedo might not need anything more than what he’s likely got already — the support of Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic boss Michael Madigan.

Due to his reliable votes for Madigan’s agenda, Eddie Acevedo has risen through the ranks in Springfield. As assistant majority leader, he’s the highest-ranking Hispanic in Madigan’s House leadership team.

It’s hard to think the Acevedos would put their succession plan in motion without Madigan’s blessing.

Lately, though, Madigan’s organization hasn’t been enough to carry every second-generation Democratic loyalist in Chicago. A daughter of Madigan ally Joe Berrios lost her House seat last year to Will Guzzardi, who managed to unite hipsters and Hispanics in a diverse Northwest Side district.

Eddie Acevedo’s South Side district might not be ripe for a Guzzardi-style challenge from the left of the status quo.

But voters there should demand good reasons to back Alex Acevedo and not just let the House seat get passed down like a family heirloom.

Progress Illinois: As Illinois Government Shutdown Looms, Calls For Progressive Revenues Intensify

By Ellyn Fortino

June 29, 2015

As Illinois moves closer to a government shutdown, a coalition comprised of community and labor groups, clergy, service providers, elected officials and others called for progressive revenue options to tackle the state's pressing fiscal issues at a "people's budget" meeting on Monday.

As the budget impasse in Springfield continues and Illinois moves closer to a government shutdown, a diverse coalition of "fair share" revenue advocates unveiled a "people's budget" plan on Monday that they say would bring in billions in new funds for the state. 

Spearheaded by the Grassroots Collaborative and its partners, the coalition held an emergency meeting in Chicago at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, 4622 S. King Dr., to discuss a list of progressive and sustainable Illinois revenue solutions it says are needed to avert deep cuts to crucial social services.

"While Gov. Rauner and political insiders continue to blame each other for the budget crisis today, we're bringing together social service providers, clergy, labor unions, community organizations and elected officials to talk about solutions that address the real crisis facing Illinois -- the revenue crisis," Grassroots Collaborative's Executive Director Amisha Patel said at a press conference ahead of the "people's budget" meeting. "On July 1, just a few short days away, hundreds of critical state services are slated to be shut down. Now is the time for action not just to Band-Aid the budget gap, but to move our state and our people forward."

The coalition -- which has the backing of labor leaders such as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and elected officials like Cook County Commissioner Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia -- supports a graduated income tax, a financial transaction tax and a sales tax expansion to cover various business and professional services.

Among other revenue options, the coalition is also advocating for the closure of corporate tax loopholes, a freeze on new corporate tax breaks and a variety of banking and financial industry reforms designed in part to "end bad public finance deals with big banks."

The meeting comes ahead of Tuesday's deadline for state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to reach an agreement on a new budget before the 2016 fiscal year begins on July 1. 

Rauner and Democratic leaders remain at odds over how to close a $6 billion deficit, due mostly to the January rollback of the 2011 temporary income tax hike. 

The governor's proposed spending plan includes no new revenue and would slash funding from a host of budgetary items. He wants lawmakers to adopt various items on his controversial Turnaround Agenda, including workers' compensation reforms and a property tax freeze. 

Democrats, who have described Rauner's proposals as extreme, passed a spending plan containing fewer cuts. They have been hoping that they could negotiate with Rauner on new revenues. 

Last week, however, the governor vetoed all but one component of the legislative spending plan, signing only a budget bill for K-12 and early education funding. In vetoing the larger Democrat-approved budget, Rauner cited the $4 billion shortfall and called on lawmakers to pass a scaled back list of his "structural reforms."  

At Monday's press conference, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law President John Bouman argued that it's the state's revenue system that should be reformed. 

"We have a system that doesn't produce adequate revenue, and it never has. It is not fair," he said. "We are one of the least fair taxing states in the whole country, putting an unrealistic and unfair burden on the people least able to pay, and simultaneously avoiding focusing the revenue system on the people who are able to pay."

Also speaking to reporters was state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago), who brought up the January rollback of the state's 2011 temporary income tax hike.

Guzzardi explained that the wealthiest income earners in Illinois benefited the most when the income tax rate dropped from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals. The income tax rate also decreased from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for corporations.

Illinoisans received $5 billion in tax relief after the higher income tax rates expired, with the top 1 percent of earners in the state capturing over $1 billion of that amount, Guzzardi explained.

"The bottom 50 percent of earners, half of the people in this state, got half a billion dollars," the state representative said.

The average amount of tax relief was $17,000 for a family in the top 1 percent and $170 for a family in the bottom 50 percent, Guzzardi said.

"We're digging deeper into the pockets of working families while giving more money to the very top," the state representative stressed. "This has been a massive transfer of wealth from poor people and middle-class families to the 1 percent. That is what has happened, and that's why we're in the position that we're in at as a state right now. The good news is that means there's a very obvious solution ... Tax the 1 percent at a fair rate."

Asked by reporters where the coalition sees potential areas of compromise with Rauner regarding his list of demands, Guzzardi pushed back on the question. 

"This is a false dichotomy that we can't allow ourselves to buy into," Guzzardi stressed. '"The governor is saying, 'I refuse to compromise about the budget until you enact a series of widely unpopular reforms that no one in this state wants' ... [F]or him to hold working families and poor people and disabled people and seniors in this state hostage until we do things that no one wants done, that is not something that we're going to accept as Democrats or anyone in the legislature."

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) was among other elected officials in the audience. Reporters asked Harris why Democrats, who control both chambers with super majorities, have not passed legislation for new state revenues. 

"We need every single one of the 71 Democrats (in the House), and I'm not sure that all 71 Democrats are going to vote for revenue," Harris responded. "We're gonna need Republican votes also. And if you look at which districts will really benefit from continuing operation of the state, it's a lot of Republican districts that include our universities, our state institutions and so many thousands of state workers."

Harris said he's concerned that seniors, people who rely on child care assistance and families with autistic children will be among those who are "going to be the first to suffer" if a government shutdown occurs.

"I hope the governor really sits down and says, 'Ok look, I know I'm not going to get everything I want, and the legislature (is) not going to get everything it wants, but we need to figure this out together,'" Harris added.

Meanwhile, the Illinois House will be gathering for a two-day Committee of the Whole meeting starting Tuesday to discuss agency preparations in the event of a state government shutdown.

"We want the governor and his departments to come in and explain to the people of Illinois how he's gonna shut down government on Wednesday," Harris said. "If you're a senior in a nursing home, or that depends on home care services to survive, if you're the parents of an autistic child what do you do Wednesday morning when there are no more services? The governor needs to explain how he's gonna do this." 

Illinois activists also held a "Moral Monday" protest in Chicago to call for fair share revenue options to tackle the state's fiscal issues. Check back with Progress Illinois for our coverage of that event.  

Chicago Reader: Best signs that the lakefront liberal is dead

By Ben Joravsky

June 24, 2015

The most liberal-voting neighborhood in Chicago is more than two miles from the lakefront. Logan Square, once home turf for the Mells, Berrioses, and other Democratic powerhouse families, has become the city’s progressive bastion. In contrast, lakefront communities such as Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast—neighborhoods from whence the “lakefront liberal” coinage came—have been trending conservative for years. In 2014, Logan Square voters elected then-27-year-old Will Guzzardi, one of the most progressive state representatives from Chicago. This year they followed up by electing 26-year-old Carlos Ramirez-Rosa as 35th Ward alderman, who would join four of his out colleagues in forming the first gay caucus in the City Council. Just in case Guzzardi or Ramirez-Rosa gets tempted to sell out, the area has no shortage of ancient activists who’ve been fighting the machine since the days of old man Daley to keep them in line.

Chicago Sun-Times: Editorial - Let parents call the shots on PARCC test

By Sun-Times Editorial Board

May 21, 2015

If things go right, parents soon will be able to inform schools if they don’t want their kids to take the standardized PARCC test.

That sure would beat the status quo, in which the kids themselves must inform their teachers, no matter how awkward.

It is absurd that parents can’t do this already. Requiring kids to deliver the news is nothing more than an inexcusable form of intimidation by school officials who really don’t want anybody opting out of the test.

As it happens, we would rather that every kid took the test, too. There is value in it all around. But let’s not play games. Let Mom or Dad fill out some opt-out form, if that’s their choice. Leave the poor kid out of it.

We support a bill in Springfield that would allow parents or guardians to opt their children out of PARCC in writing without a threat of penalties. It also prohibits teachers and administrators from pressuring parents and students to take or not take the test. The bill passed in the House this week and is pending in the Senate.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened to veto the bill, and the State Board of Education is warning that Illinois could lose more than $1 billion in federals funds if less than 95 percent of students take the test. Last month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that if states fail to get districts to get enough students to take mandated tests, his department is obligated to step in.

But the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, points out that no state has had money withheld, and Illinois has a waiver from the 95 percent rule and the No Child Left Behind Act.

The larger issue for parents is that kids are fried from taking too many standardized tests. Opting out is becoming a national movement. This year in New York State, one of every six eligible students opted out of at least one of two standardized tests, according to the New York Times.

That’s a trend that cuts both ways. Standardized tests serve many purposes, including helping schools determine which students — including subgroups of minorities, special education and low-income kids — need more resources.

But, as Guzzardi says, don’t stick kids in the middle of the fight. His bill, he says, is simply to make sure “kids get treated right.”

Treating kids right, by the way, also means that those who don’t take the test will get supervised classroom time instead of being told to sit and stare during testing, which has happened to some.

Galesburg Register-Mail: Editors Roundtable - Allow opt out for school tests?

By Lisa Coon

April 26, 2015

Question: Should Illinois pass a bill to allow students to opt out of mandatory state tests?

Give Common Core/PARCC testing a chance

I don't support the bill by Rep. Will Guzzardi to allow parents to request their kids not take mandatory testing. Sure, if there is a medical or psychological reason for a student to opt out of the test, then the parent should present a note from the respective professional and the school district should honor that. But that should be the same guiding principle for previous testing as well as the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test.

Schools have to be accountable and testing has long been our metric for determining success. If not tests, then what? Before the highly politicized PARCC testing, there was the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

What's new here is the federal connection to funding and the politics of Common Core curriculum. And the belief by many teachers that the results will be used to judge job performance.

There's too much energy here being put into fighting Common Core and PARCC tests. Let's give it a try and adjust as we go. — Tom Martin, editor

Legislators need compromise to best serve students

As a recent story in the Kansas City Star reported, school testing is at a crossroads as students take standardized exams.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing — or FairTest — has been watching America’s assessment habits for three decades, said its public education director, Bob Schaeffer. “And never,” he said, “have I seen this level of grassroots assessment reform activism.”

I believe teacher assessments — not standardized tests — are still the best way to test children to see if they are making progress.

The PARCC tests being implemented by Illinois can be stressful for the students to take, and stressful for the teachers to prepare for and administer. There is a growing sentiment against standardized testing. And groups like FairTest are championing the opt-out movement that is spreading strongly in several states, including Illinois.

Though it’s not widely publicized, parents can already opt out of their children taking the tests. I think this option should remain, without penalty.

While allowing entire districts to opt out of the current standardized tests would seem legitimate, loss of federal funding as a penalty for doing so is a real concern. Federal penalties of up to a billion dollars a year for non-compliance seems a bit extreme.

I hope our state legislators can come up with a fair compromise that best serves our children. —Jay Redfern, assistant editor

Rep. Will Guzzardi’s bill has got to be one of the dumbest pieces of legislation proposed lately. Let’s start with the potential loss of up to $1 billion in federal funding. That’s money intended to help low-income students.

The merit of standardized tests, PARCC in particular, is hotly debated.

Consider this note from “93% of studies have found student testing, including the use of large-scale and high-stakes standardized tests, to have a ‘positive effect’ on student achievement, according to a peer-reviewed, 100-year analysis of testing research completed in 2011 by testing scholar Richard P. Phelps.”

Then again, also states, “A May 26, 2011, National Research Council report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working.”

The war rages on. The conclusion can only be that the culture of standardized testing needs to change. For now we need to play the hand we’ve been dealt and work on improving the system. We must develop an equitable way to evaluate student learning and educator performance. Opting out is not the answer. — Rob Buck, local news editor

No favors for education with this bill

I find it mind boggling that lawmakers would even consider this bill.

This is fallout from the recent PARCC testing, which is tied to the new educational standards most states have adopted, Common Core.

I wonder, was there this "opt out" question raised when students began being tested via the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and Prairie State Achievement Exam, which included the ACT?

How else is a state to evaluate the achievement of its students? How else can the "achievement gap" we hear so much about be dealt with if there is not test data to use to compare Illinois students via demographical information? How else is education to receive federal funding to help those most in need if you don't have the data to prove there are students in need of additional services?

A member of Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration sent a letter to lawmakers this past week, noting that the state has entered an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that it will test 95 percent of public school students in third through eighth grade and high schools in order to receive funding for low-income students. A reduction in federal funding for the state is a "possible consequence" of not meeting that threshold, lawmakers were told.

I don't think legislators should be testing the feds as to what those "possible consequences" may be. Education funding has already taken a hit in this state, to put federal funding at risk would be irresponsible.

The Chicago Tribune, in an editorial from March of this year, stated it best:

"It should be harder to avoid this test (PARCC) than a note from home. ... A parent who interferes with a state test, who by whim or conviction substitutes his judgment for that of educators', may think he is doing his child a favor. He is not."

I agree.

Progress Illinois: Testing Opt-Out Bill Passes Illinois House

May 20, 2015

Legislation that would allow Illinois students to opt out of state assessment tests with written permission from a parent or guardian cleared the state House Tuesday.

The vote was 64-47-1.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) introduced the opt-out bill, HB 306, which still needs Senate approval. Gov. Bruce Rauner opposes the legislation and has said he would veto it.

The opt-out policy set by the state for standardized tests was a source of frustration for many parents across Illinois during the recent rollout of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test. Under current Illinois State Board of Education policy, parents cannot opt their children out of the PARCC test. Instead, students have to refuse to take the test themselves.

"This bill wouldn't take PARCC away. Opt-out's happening, it happened last year, it happened this year, it will happen next year whether we pass this bill or not," Guzzardi said, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. "All this bill does is create a clear process and take the student out of the role as the decision maker."