Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

It's been 118 years since Virginia O'Hanlon sought the truth about Santa from the New York Sun.

In over a century, the lives of children — and their parents—have increased in complexity by a factor of ten.

Man landed on the moon, communism rose and fell, countries changed names and borders, Elvis begat Jagger, who in turn led to "gangsta rap". The kidnap and murder of children, which made world headlines for the Lindbergh family, now touches the lives of hundreds of families annually. Children begin learning at ages two and three about "stranger danger," AIDS and sexual abuse.

The age of innocence is gone.

But that doesn't mean that Virginia O'Hanlon's innocent question to an anonymous editor is irrelevant in today's world. Far from it.

Today, more than ever, we all need to be reminded of the good that dwells in even the meanest spirit, of the hope that fires our most ambitious dreams. That, yes, there is a Santa Claus, and he lives in all our hearts.

So here, as a Christmas gift to us all, is Francis Pharcellus Church's editorial response to Virginia, first printed in The New York Sun on Sept. 21, 1897. Merry Christmas. Read More

Leaving No Child Left Behind Shifts to Every Student Succeeds

MikeBrothers•December 16, 2015•

By Mike Brothers

Every Student Succeeds is the new federal education act that promises to leave No Child Left Behind, behind.

Using a barrage of federally imposed testing No Child Left Behind tried to improve education by forcing rules from the Department of Education on local school districts.

Every Student Succeeds leaves the U.S. Dept. of Education out and moves those decisions to the state and local level.

Testing will still be a part of the way education progress is monitored, but the states may choose the testing methods.

Grades 3-8 still will take annual tests with one testing required in high school.

nochildThe testing, along with other factors, such as graduation rates, school climate and teacher engagement, determine a school district’s ranking.

The state, and not the federal government, will be required to intervene where schools score in the bottom five percent with less than a 2/3 graduation rate.

Every Student Succeeds also changes the funding formula. Programs such as the $500 million School Improvement Grant are folded into a $1.6 billion federal block grant administered through Title 1.

In the past Title 1 had helped fund technology with Sullivan using Title 1 funds to purchase ibooks for students. That funding option is still included in the new Education Act. Read More

Keep Dreaming of a White Christmas

•December 16, 2015•

Who will have a white Christmas in Illinois this year? Historically, northern Illinoisans are most like to see snow fly on Christmas Day, according to Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, Illinois State Water Survey, University of Illinois.

A “white Christmas” is defined as having at least one inch of snow on the ground on December 25. It should come as no surprise that the highest odds are in northern Illinois. In general, the odds are about 40-60 percent in the northern third of Illinois, 20-40 percent in central Illinois, and 0-20 percent in southern Illinois.

There can be large differences between nearby sites, however. Snowfall is notoriously difficult to measure with blowing, drifting, and melting. Two nearby sites may have different results due to exposure to the sun and the wind as well as the dedication of the observer to report on Christmas Day. Read More

Learning an Important Lesson on How Not to Handle a Bully

MikeBrothers•December 9, 2015•

By Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

While at the Sullivan School board meeting this week Student Council President Austin Minnigerode reported on the success of anti-bullying efforts at Sullivan High School.

It made me think about the whole bullying thing and what it was like when I was growing up.

In the south there were a lot of larger families, so bullying was kept in check by older siblings many times in grade school.

I remember in first grade this one guy was getting picked on by a fourth grader every day at lunch.

He was getting shoved around and his lunch money taken from him on a regular basis.

Until his older sister in the sixth grade found out who the bully was. The sister had done her homework and knew exactly how the bully went home from school every day.

So she waited for him. Needless to say the fourth grade bully was never able to look my friend in the eye after that.

It was a self-correcting society in our small town, but high school came along and the old big brother, big sister protection concept went by the wayside, especially if you didn’t have any older brothers or sisters.

Steve Knight and I had been friends since junior high school. We would hang out after school occasionally as freshmen.

Steve was shorter and susceptible to an occasional barb about his height but he took it in a good natured manner. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Will Illinois Let a Good Bicentennial go to Waste?

Nowlan•December 9, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

To paraphrase Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, we should not let a good bicentennial go to waste. But we may.

The Prairie State celebrates its 200th birthday in 2018, which is like the day before yesterday in planning terms, according to Perry Hammock, executive director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. The Hoosier State celebrates its milestone in 2016, and state leaders have been hard at work on it since 2011.

Almost two years ago, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn appointed a bicentennial commission that includes former governor Jim Thompson and other distinguished Illinoisans. But the group has never met, and with the ongoing budget stalemate and abundant political conflict affecting the state, any commission action and funding for its work are uncertain at best.

We have to get cracking on this, and it looks as though it will require private efforts to get matters off the ground.

The Indiana commission has been meeting regularly for four years. The state has committed $28 million for bicentennial projects, and a staff of four plus many college-graduate interns has stimulated upwards of 800 “legacy projects” across just about every city and hamlet in that state.

Every Indiana county has a volunteer coordinator. The commission’s website receives more than one million impressions a month and, says Hammock, “We’ve got the buzz going across the state.” Read More

Thinking About Health: Medicare Makes It Easier for Doctors To Offer End-of-Life Counseling

•December 2, 2015•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

What a difference six years makes!

In 2009 at the height of the debate on the Affordable Care Act, New York’s former lieutenant government Betsy McCaughey appeared on television and made this startling remark: “Congress would make it mandatory-absolutely require-that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.”

McCaughey said the proposed law would help the elderly learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care…all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.”

Her remarks, though false, played well in the media. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin showed up on TV to talk about “death panels” that she and others claimed would ration care at the end of life.

“No death panels” became a rallying cry for opposition to the health law. A man I interviewed at a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart that summer brought up the so-called death panels. “If people are going to die, he [Obama] is going to put them to sleep,” he told me. “It’s like Soylent Green (a 1973 science fiction movie). That’s his health plan.”

Another man I met outside a church in Scranton told me, “I am against a panel of doctors telling you when you can live and die.” When I explained that wasn’t what the law would do, he said he didn’t believe me. Read More

Understanding Illinois: State Suffers from Rauner-Madigan Machismo

Nowlan•December 2, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan are taking themselves way too seriously over the state budget impasse—and in the process (or lack of it) they are seriously messing with the lives of seniors, the mentally ill, domestic abuse victims, and college students.

We can help resolve the stand-off by putting pressure on our local lawmakers to force their leaders to craft a budget now—if the lawmakers have the courage to stand up to their bosses.

I participated this past week on a panel discussion in Aurora on the future of Illinois with a savvy ex-legislator, a veteran political writer, and a budget expert. Their prognoses for the state’s future were grim.

The ex-lawmaker said he didn’t think the budget stalemate would be resolved until after the November 2016 election, which would mean a year-and-a-half without a state budget! He thinks lawmakers will not be persuaded to vote for the tax increases necessary to balance the budget until they are safely re-elected.

The budget expert—a moderate Republican—said that $8 billion in annual new revenue would be needed, at least for a few years, to balance the budget, pay off old bills and provide a stable, predictable fiscal future.

Eight billion dollars is the equivalent of an increase of two percentage points—from 3.75 to 5.75 percent—in the rate of the individual income tax, not that this is the only way to raise such revenue. Read More

Thinking About Health: Obamacare Policyholders Question Rising Deductibles

•November 25, 2015•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Is health insurance really affordable?  That’s the question thousands of Americans who signed up for policies under the Affordable Care Act are beginning to ask as third year open enrollment gets underway.

A few weeks ago a 63-year-old woman, a reader of these columns, contacted me about the health insurance policy she had bought through the Illinois exchange. She lost her coverage after her husband died and had been uninsured for nearly two years before Obamacare came along.  She had some health problems and worried, she said, that she was “playing the odds.” She was just the person the law was intended to help.

Realizing she could lose everything if she had a serious illness, she signed up for a Blue Cross Blue Shield bronze plan, the kind with the lowest premiums and highest deductibles. Her monthly premium for the first year was an affordable $93 because her low income—about $25,000 a year working part time at an insurance agency---qualified her for a tax subsidy of $451.

The catch, of course, was the $6,000 deductible. She also had to pay the full price of her drugs, which didn’t count toward the deductible, although once other medical bills exceeded the deductible, drugs were covered in full. She didn’t use the policy because she didn’t “have $6,000 lying around” for some recommended tests.    Read More