By Rich Trzupek
There’s a run on winter-wear in hell today, because I find myself in complete agreement with the Chicago Tribune. A May 6 editorial in the Trib chided House lawmakers for failing to pass a vouchers bill that would have allowed parents to get their kids out of some of the worst schools in the state and into a school of their choice. In a typical Mike Madigan tactic, the vote wasn’t recorded, but the enterprising fellows at Capitol Fax took a photo of the tally board before it could be officially disappeared.
Among your representatives in Examinerland, only Tim Schmitz (R-St. Charles) voted for the measure. Democrats Fred Crespo and Paul Froelich, along with Republican Randy Ramey all voted against and everybody should remember those votes.
There are a couple of reasons, neither of them good, to vote against voucher programs. One is, as Democrat representative Kevin Joyce observed with surprising candor, is that this is a “union issue.” By that, Joyce of course means it’s a teacher’s union issue. If parents can get kids out of failing schools, the teachers at those schools are going to have to find other employment.
Obviously, we can’t have that. Protecting teachers’ jobs at schools that don’t work is far more important than, you know, the kids they actually teach, or creating jobs at schools that do work courtesy of freedom of choice. The Democrat-preferred solution to Illinois’ educational woes, as it is to every problem, is more money. Just a few more bucks and everything will be both hunky and dory.
But you know what? That won’t work, because it hasn’t worked. We’ve got over three decades of experience of pouring more and more money into public education in this state and our kids fall farther and farther behind. Yes, public schools have had to cut back of late and that has hurt, but we still spend far more – in terms of real dollars – per student today than we did thirty years ago for public education and far more per student than infinitely more successful private institutions of learning. Isn’t it about time we gave choice a chance? Isn’t it about time we give kids a chance?
While “protecting union jobs” logic, such as it is, explains the votes of the forty-four Democrats who voted “nay,” I’m baffled why an otherwise reliably conservative lawmaker like Ramey and twenty one other Republicans would vote against vouchers. There is an argument that vouchers are an added expense – you’re essentially funding public and private educational systems for a time – but it’s not really an expense, it’s an investment.
Yes, the failing public schools will stumble along for a while on the taxpayer’s dime, but after a while they’ll be forced to either: a) clean up their acts, or b) close up shop. Either way, the tax-payers and most importantly the kids win in the long run. If GOP lawmakers voted against this investment on account of cost, they’re being terribly short-sighted. If they were courting the teacher’s union vote, they should turn in their party credentials.
Don’t assume that the twenty-two Democrats who voted for vouchers are actually in favor of vouchers either. By and large, they represent “safe” districts that are, have been and probably always will be controlled by Democrats. They’re not going anywhere, so it doesn’t matter if they annoy the unions or not.
The cynicism that percolates through Springfield is mind-boggling. One wonders how legislators can look themselves in the mirror each morning, much less face their constituents. That’s why there’s a tsunami heading downstate in November and everybody knows it.
It would be a mistake to view Republican gains in Illinois this election cycle as mere repudiation of Democrats. It’s more than that. Voters are sick of politics as usual here and it’s pretty clear that we haven’t been governed properly since Jim Edgar left office. If the GOP in Illinois is given the chance to govern in November, they better heed that message or they’ll soon find themselves on the outside looking in – again.