Understanding Illinois: The Complicated, Exasperating Matter of School Funding

Nowlan•February 17, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

First, I want to apologize for playing fast and loose with some misleading factoids last week in a column about Texas and Illinois. I know better; surface statistics can as often obfuscate as illuminate.

I noted that Texas spends about $8,000 per pupil annually on it public school kids while Illinois spends $12,000 and change, a huge difference. This is fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, which surveys such matters and should be a credible source.

This does not mean, however, that Illinois pupils have on average that much more in financial support. Illinois does pay its teachers, on average again, about $10,000 more per year than do Texas schools, and this amounts to about $600 per pupil of the $4,000 per pupil difference I noted last week.

Much, maybe most, of the rest of the difference apparently results from the dramatic growth in Illinois pension payments in recent years, including those for teachers. This year Illinois will put $3.7 billion into the teachers’ retirement system in an effort to reduce unfunded liabilities, five times as much as the state contributed just a decade ago.

Of course, pension payments don’t go into the classroom, so my factoid about spending differences was misleading. Sorry.

All of which brings me to my topic for the week: Illinois school funding disparities, which are worse than for just about any state in the nation and have been thus for decades. Read More

Growing up in Sullivan: Farming as a Hobby

Ginther•February 17, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
New Progress Columnist

Many years ago during the late 70s and early 80s, I took some pleasure in the business of farming.  Having enjoyed the erg classes in Sullivan and belonging to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) during my high school years, I later engaged in the occupation on a small scale, relatively speaking.  I say relatively because when comparing 100 acres to today’s farming operations, it would be considered less than peanuts.

However, it wasn’t my “bread and butter” job but mostly an expensive hobby. My father and brothers all farmed so I thought it was in my DNA. I truly loved it, but due to my more reliable full time job with the railroad, there was no expanding the acreage.

Often, I would have to do my fall plowing at night on my days off.  Moonlit autumn nights were my favorite times to plow. The fragrance of the newly plowed earth hung in the cool, night air. The brilliantly scoured moldboards reflected the moonlight like mirrors when they were raised out of the ground at each end of the field. So bright was the light from the moon that I could plainly see the furrow ahead without using the headlights on the little model A John Deere. Preferring not to use them because of the fog of bugs they attracted, they were only switched on at each end of the field to illuminate the headland for the drive to the other side of the plowed ground.

Of course, with each pass through the field the area of plowed ground increased in width, making the drive across the ends longer. Once the right rear wheel of the tractor was in the furrow and the trip rope pulled, the plow settled back into the ground, and the headlights were extinguished until needed for the next turn around. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Texas Culture—Individualism on Steroids

Nowlan•February 10, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Texas culture is that of tall-in-the-saddle individualism on steroids. And to paraphrase the late General Motors CEO Charlie Wilson, “The business of Texas is business.”

If you want to start a business, whoever you are, Texas is here to help—and otherwise stay out of your way.

Are there any lessons struggling Illinois can learn from a state that is on target to grow its population by 20 percent yet again this decade?

There are elements we can’t replicate: the weather, oil, and maybe Texas pride, among them. And state government is of course but one factor, maybe a minor one, in the vitality of a state’s economy.

California has, for example, higher taxes and equally burdensome regulations to those in our state, yet in Silicon Valley these negatives are trumped by a concentration of genius, a highly talented techie workforce, and copious amounts of venture capital.

In the past couple of weeks, I have interviewed Texans about what has caused heir state to grow so steadily over the decades. The Texas Model as I understand it can’t be transported whole cloth to the Prairie State, yet there may be some lessons of value.

In its annual surveys of state business friendliness, the marketing company Thumbtack consistently finds that Texas receives A+ for ease of starting a business, its tax code and regulatory environment, and overall friendliness. Illinois received F grades last year in all these categories.

Texas also goes very light on the taxes. In 2012, according to the Tax Foundation, a D.C. business-oriented group, Texans paid on average $2,332 per capita in taxes to their state and local governments, versus $3,238 for the U.S., and $4,015 in Illinois. Read More

Children’s Museum of Illinois Announces Access Program for Low-Income Families

•February 10, 2016•

Children’s Museum of Illinois in Decatur has joined Museums for All, a signature access program of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to encourage families of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. The program will enable low-income families to visit the children’s museum at a reduced rate of $3 with the presentation of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Families may also visit any participating museum year-round for free or reduced admission.

Children’s Museum of Illinois is located at 55 South Country Club Road, next to Scovill Zoo on the shores of Lake Decatur. September through April hours are Tuesday–Friday, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday 1-5 p.m. Closed Mondays and major holidays. Open on some Mondays for school holidays. Admission is $5 for everyone ages two and older.

“One group that we want to make sure is able to use the museum frequently is our at-risk families. However, $5 per person can be difficult if that family is near or below the poverty line. Children’s Museum of Illinois is proud to join hundreds of other museums across the United States in the Museums for All Initiative, which provides a discount for attendees that present an EBT or LINK card,” says Kate Flemming, Executive Director. The EBT /LINK discount is available for families of up to four people per card and would lower admission costs to $3 per person aged two and older. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Dueling Visions for Illinois’ Future

Nowlan•February 3, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I decided “to get outta Dodge” for a couple of weeks and set down in Austin.

Texas has been booming. The state’s population has grown by more than 20 percent a decade since it became a state in the 1840s and is on course to do so this decade as well.

State capital Austin is really hot. On average, 100 new people settle in the city—every day!

Apple is building a new campus here that will employ 4,000, I am told. Google, Oracle, Samsung, they are all here in this high-tech boom town.

Texas would be characterized as a low tax/low service state, ranking 46th among the states in state and local tax burden, according to the Tax Foundation, a business-oriented group in D.C.

Although its business taxes are relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation, Texas has no income tax. And any lawmaker who ever whispered the words would be tarred, feathered and run out of the state, or assassinated.

On the other hand, Texas spent almost $4,000 less per pupil in 2013 on its school kids than did Illinois: Texas, $8,299; national average, $10,700; Illinois, $12,288. (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Education Division.)

Back to Illinois.

Two think tanks in our state are highly visible to state policymakers. Both are Chicago-based groups, each about 15 years old, and have almost diametrically opposed visions of how Illinois should be operated and funded. Read More

Thinking About Health: Future of Social Security Closely Tied to Healthcare Affordability

•February 3, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

When the presidential race begins to focus seriously on issues, you’re likely to hear a lot about Social Security and to some extent Medicare. The nub of debate will center on two questions: Should we cut Social Security or expand it? Should Medicare beneficiaries assume more of the cost of their healthcare and reduce the government’s obligation over time? The questions are connected.

In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-of-center think tank, argued that a broadly expanded Social Security program is not necessary and nor can the country afford it. He used a lot of numbers to show the case for expansion “rests on misunderstood data and a willingness to ignore Social Security’s rising unfunded liabilities.” One study he cited showed “about 71 percent of individuals ages 66-69 are adequately economically prepared to retire, given expected consumption.”

Others such as Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor at The New School in New York City, challenges that thinking. Ghilarducci says that income declines with age. As assets are used up, she says, it’s not uncommon for people in their mid and late 70s to make ends meet by skimping on food and medications. She adds that her own studies show “there’s a generation of near retirees, age 55 to 64, who will be worse off than their parents or grandparents in terms of maintaining their standard of living in retirement. Sources of income are more limited and less secure (than they were in the days of fixed pension plans) because they are attached to stock and bond markets.” Read More

Don’t Mail Money to Facebook Strangers

•January 27, 2016•

By Jeri C McFarland
NP Guest Columnist

Facebook, like everything else, has its pros and cons.

For lonely, single people in a small town such as Sullivan, Facebook helps connect you to the entire world.

Fran had had a computer for some time but had not joined a Social Network.  Sooner than later her curiosity and loneliness got the best of her, and Fran posted her profile pic on Facebook and began seeking friends.

First, she only befriended school classmates and neighborhood acquaintances.  Then she began getting friend requests from people she didn’t know and some of them were single men.  Fran had been married for a brief time right out of high school, and no children were born to this union.

There weren’t many single men in her small town so she became more enamored with her Facebook relationships.  Fran had started communicating with two different men who were keeping her more than interested.  One was from Pennsylvania and one, a guy from the Chicago area, was in the military stationed in Nigeria.   Read More

Moultrie-Douglas Farm Bureau Update

•January 27, 2016•

By Tyler Harvey
Douglas-Moultrie Farm Bureau Manager

Greetings Moultrie County! The New Year is off and running, and the Farm Bureau on a county, state, and national level is staying very active. On a national level, The American Farm Bureau Federation is in the middle of their Annual Meeting which is held from January 8-13 in Orlando, Florida. Just like the Illinois Farm Bureau, the AFBF meets once a year to look and decide on policies and resolutions that make up the organization. The AFBF is made up of all the state Farm Bureaus in the United States. The Board of Directors for AFBF are comprised of 27 directors from across the nation. The United States itself is broken into four different regions with a certain amount of directors coming from each region. Bob Stallman from Texas is the current AFBF President. This is President Stallman’s last year, and delegates from across the country will be voting on a new president this week. This is the same position our very own Charles Shuman held from 1954-1970. President Shuman was the president of the Illinois Farm Bureau before his tenure as AFBF president.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Rauner Doesn’t Seem to Know What He’s Doing

Nowlan•January 20, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I have covered much of this ground earlier, yet the dysfunctional state of our state is so dire that I feel compelled to rant yet again, to add my ever-so-faint voice to the chorus calling for action on the stalled state budget.

There is now widespread speculation that the budget impasse won’t be addressed until the November elections are in lawmakers’ rear-view mirrors, more than 18 months after the fiasco began. This is sickening irresponsibility.

The strategy of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is to hold out support for a tax increase until Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan caves to the governor’s “turn-around agenda.”

The strategy apparently rests on the premise that the speaker needs a budget to provide funding for the poor and dispossessed, who comprise much of Madigan’s political base.

The flaws in this strategy are, first, that every close observer knows Rauner will have to support a tax increase regardless, as there is no other way to balance the state’s budget. So where is the leverage in his threat?

Second, Madigan cares less for the poor than for his power as speaker, so he will wait until the cows come home before knuckling under to the first-term governor.

[Nor does the larger public care much. I chatted recently with Eddie Webster in Connie’s Country Kitchen, just down main street from my home office in Toulon.

[“Jim,” observed Eddie, a good citizen farmer, “I see we haven’t had a state budget since last summer, yet I haven’t seen how it affects me. What’s the big deal?” Read More

Letter to the Editor: 1-20-2016

Thanks, Deb

Sometimes life puts us in a situation that makes us feel lost and in need of special help. She tells me it happens often when you become a senior citizen.

If you ever need extra help with insurance coverage or need some reliable advice about nursing homes and the coverage that you qualify for in our area, we have this help exclusively in our hometown of Sullivan. Read More