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Speak Up! Link Up!
By Ken Andersen

Is this the year the Illinois Legislature and Governor will address the structural deficit and backlog of economic shortfalls covered by smoke and mirrors that characterize recent legislative activity? Hope springs eternal. . . But this year there may be grounds for hope.

The Chicago Tribune has run a series of editorials on education along with responses by individuals such as Gretchen McDowell, past president of the Illinois PTA, and Sharon Voliva, Chair of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition (read the entire series at http://www.ieanea.org/chicagoTribuneSeries.aspx). National and local newspaper and magazine articles have commented on the pension problems and underfunding in Illinois.

HB/SB 750 has been reintroduced in the legislature with its trade off of higher income and corporate taxes and reduced property taxes yielding an increase in revenue for the state. Discussion by an informal group under the rubric of the “Saturday Morning Dialogue Group” is seeking to build a coalition of stakeholders focused on improving education quality and accountability while suggesting use of a Gross Receipts Tax adopted by such states as Delaware, Washington and Ohio. It would sharply reduce or eliminate a number of other taxes and since it is not an income tax might meet the Governor’s standard of no income tax increase.

If individuals such as you and I sit back and depend on the kindness of strangers, it will not happen. Only if we speak up and make the needs for higher education funding and tax reform known will it happen. We need to contact legislators, preferably one-to-one, write letters to the editor, and otherwise make this a concern to all Illinois citizens to make it happen.
National attention continues to be focused on improving educational quality in an increasingly competitive world economy. Business is calling for college graduates with better critical thinking skills, better communication skills, and greater ability to work as members of a team. Improving the quality of teachers is a key concern nationally and the subject of a recent paper by the Faculty Advisory Council to the IBHE.

Recent changes in the Illinois Board of Higher Education might lead them to follow former University of Illinois President Stanley Ikenberry’s advice to them in October of 2005 to serve as an advocate for higher education. Newly appointed Board Chair Carrie Hightman, former president of AT&T Illinois, stated: “Creating and advancing higher education programs that promote an educated workforce is of critical importance to Illinois’ long-term economic viability.”

We need to form coalitions with other groups just as was the key to success back in previous campaigns. Remember, we are doing this for all of Illinois citizens. Education is not a private good—it is a vast public good in every sense. Think what the GI Bill did to enhance the quality of life in this country for all individuals. Where is that awareness of the value of higher education to the public good today?