Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Updated May 11, 7:30 pm-- Ron Gidwitz, Member, Illinois Board of Education, is featured on the Suburban Edition of "Public Affairs," this week. (See airing schedule, by suburbs, below),

Included, below, is a partial transcript of the portion of the show dealing with education and Gov. Blagojevich's attempt to put the State Board of Education under his thumb-- and that of the teachers' unions? We discuss, you decide. A partial transcript regarding the business climate and politics portion of the show will be posted as a separate entry later tonight or tomorrow.

This Week's (May 10) suburban edition of "Public Affairs," features Ron Gitwitz, State Board of Education member, founder of Students First and leader in the Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity, discussing and debating with show host and legal recruiter Jeff Berkowitz Mr. Gidwitz's opposition to the Governor's plan to transfer the state Board of Education into the Governor's office, how to improve teacher quality, school vouchers, No Child Left Behind, Students First, the business climate in Illinois, tort reform, mimimum wages, federal/state regulation of overtime and how to stimulate or retard job growth in Illinois.

Next Week's (May 17) suburban edition of "Public Affairs," features Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D) debating and discussing with show host and legal recruiter Jeff Berkowitz (1) Bloat and Patronage Jobs in County Government, (2) County Board President John ["He’s no Harold Washington"] Stroger under siege and (3) Did Clout kill six County Employees in the County Building Fire?

The suburban edition of "Public Affairs," is broadcast every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:30 pm on Comcast Cable Channel 19 in Bannockburn, Deerfield, Ft. Sheridan, Glencoe, Highland Park, Highwood, Kenilworth, Lincolnshire, Riverwoods and Winnetka.

The suburban edition also is broadcast every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on Comcast Cable Channel 19 in Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northfield, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and Wilmette and every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on Comcast Cable Channel 35 in Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Glenview, Golf, Des Plaines, Hanover Park, Mt. Prospect, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Schaumburg, Skokie, Streamwood and Wheeling.
Please send any comments about this blog or the Public Affairs show to
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of "Public Affairs." He can be reached at JBCG@aol.com

Jeff Berkowitz: Why do you suppose [Governor] Rod Blagojevich wants to transfer the Illinois State Board of education to his control?

Ron Gidwitz: I guess I can only speculate. Since the time that the Governor was elected, the [State] Superintendent [of Education] and others on staff have been receiving resumes of people who he [Gov. Blagojevich] apparently would like to see appointed to various positions in spite of the fact that there was a hiring freeze in State Government-- and the State Board of Education observed that as well-- so that may well be one of the reasons. Another reason is that we do have a considerable amount of money that is dispensed by the State Board, some of which could be done discretionarily. We have open meetings; We have very clear yardsticks by which we dispense money, but as a Cabinet Department, many of these decisions can be made in camera and behind closed doors and then who would know how those moneys were being dispensed and I can only imagine what might cause the Governor to make or not to make particular grant decisions.

Berkowitz: So, you are talking about that 6.7 billion dollars ... of which you oversee the disbursement. You are saying that if the Governor oversaw the disbursement, the allocation may change?

Gitwitz: ...The preponderance of both the Federal and the State [education] money [about 9.2 billion dollars] is prescribed by law (by the federal government, by the state legislature). They tell you how you are going to spend [the 9.2 billion dollars][There is another 11 billion dollars, or so, that are raised by local property taxes and is spent on education, but that is probably unreachable, for now, by the Governor].

Berkowitz: He [the Governor] wouldn't have that much discretion, but he would have some.

Gidwitz: But there is 500 million to a billion dollars, which adds up. We had a senator, once upon a time, Everett Dirksen [R-IL] who said when you get up to a billion dollars, you are talking about real money.

Berkowitz: Yeah, a billion here and a billion there, and before you know it, it's real money-- I think that is what Ev said.

Gitwtiz: Yeah, that is what he said.
Berkowitz: So, what do you suppose is the likely outcome. Make a prediction-- is it a compromise where all of you folks [the State Board of Education members] are removed and other people are placed on the State Board [by the Governor], but it stays "independent," so to speak from the Governor?

Gidwitz: Sitting here today, I think that is probably where we will end up...
Berkowitz: Would you be concerned to place teacher certification issues more under the control of teachers' unions than is currently the case [as the Governor seemed to propose]?

Gidwitz: ...It looks to me like what you end up with when you do that is something like a medieval guild, if you go back to the 14th, 15th, 16th Centuries, the trades controlled those-- they had monopolies over the labor [supply].

Berkowitz: Which they [the teachers' unions] do, to some extent now. There are a lot of certification requirements in terms of whether somebody can teach in the Illinois Public Schools. Formally, that is set by the state legislature-- but we know that the Illinois Education Association [a teachers' union very prominent in the suburbs], The American Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union have enormous power over those legislators, right?

Gidwitz: Yeah, but by the same token, it is also all negotiated in a labor contract together with the school board. You [do] have certain broad elements and some significantly important elements-- like tenure-- which are a part of legislation, but there are also a lot of elements that are negotiated.
Gidwitz: The whole idea of "Students First," [a Foundation started by Gidwidz a year ago] is to help educate and activate local citizens to support education and help them understand what is important and how to get more money from the state legislature for the schools.

Berkowitz: You want that, you want more money spent per year, per student in the city of Chicago as well as across the State of Illinois on public schools.

Gitwitz: Yes, I do.

Berkowitz: And, that is what the Foundation is about?

Gidwitz: Yes.

Berkowitz: And, that is what the grass-roots organization is about?

Gitwitz: In good measure, that is exactly what it's about [see www.studentsfirst.us].

Berkowitz: And, currently, we are spending in the City of Chicago about $11,000 per year per kid.

Gidwitz: I think it is a little less, but

Berkowitz: [the budget] is about 4.9 billion dollars and there are about 430,000 students-- that [budget] number includes capital costs. You divide one number into the other and you get more than $11,300.

Gitwitz: Separate the capital costs.

Berkowitz: If you separate the capital costs, it is about $9,000 to $10,000 in operating costs per kid per year, that sounds like a lot of money.

Gidwitz: It is a lot of money.

Berkowitz: Well, then, why do we need to spend more?

Gidwitz: ...if you take a look at the student population in Chicago, we have a very large percentage of very difficult to educate youngsters...they are very much more expensive to educate...that isn't to say that is the only [aspect of the] solution to Chicago's problems...clearly we need schools with high quality leadership and high quality teachers...
Gidwitz: ...if you don't have a demanding consumer, you are going to have a shoddy product.

Berkowitz: But, they [the parents] have no [school] choice. You know, under No Child Left Behind, recently it was announced that 190,000 K-8 Chicago Public School students are eligible for transfer, or should be [indeed, it should be 270,000 students, but that would include high school students and CPS says it has no open high school stots, so transfer is not even lottery possible for those 80,000 high school students in failing high schools]. In the City of Chicago, the CPS announced there were only 500
K-8 slots open, so esentially they are holding a lottery for you folks who have kids in the CPS who woould like to improve your plight, that is, you will have a 1 in 400 chance, that is a 1/4 Percent chance, should you apply for a transfer, in getting it. Now, did I get that right and is that any way to run a railroad.

Gidwitz: I think you got it absolutely right. That's a serious problem. I am not sure in places like Chicago having choice between one bad school and another--

Berkowitz: It doesn't make any sense, why bother filling out the application...?

Gidwitz: And, then if you go back to last year, a significant number of students who were selected-- had the opportunity-- chose not to take it, for one reason or another.

Berkowitz: Because it was all done very late [relative to the start of the school year] and perhaps the choice was not going to be much better. They in general could not transfer outside a three mile radius, so they might go to a school that is marginally better--but when you consider the inconvenience, it doesn't mean they wouldn't like to move to a better school. They may have rationally decided that the choice they were given wasn't much better than where they were.

Gidwitz: I think you are absolutely right.

Berkowitz: So, why not give these people [true] school choice, school vouchers... You live in the City of Chicago, right?

Gidwitz: Yes.

Berkowitz: Do your kids go to the public schools?

Gidwitz: No, they don't.

Berkowitz: They don't?

Gidwitz: Nope.

Berkowitz: And the reason is?

Gidwitz: Because the schools are not good enough.

Berkowitz: So, you choose to exit the public schools. I don't criticize that. In fact, I think you are exercising a rational consumer choice. But now, Ron Gidwitz, wouldn't you like to give other parents who may not have the means that you have-- give them the $9,000 [voucher], put it in this backpack, and strap the backpack on each kid in the public schools, the parents will decide if they want to exit the public school and go to a private school. Give them that school choice. Here is the backpack.

Gidwitz: I'll take it.

Berkowitz: You would love to do that. You would love to give those kids in the City of Chicago that choice?

Gidwitz: For the second year in a row-- since you reminded me that I was here just a year ago-- I told you that in schools that are overcrowded or underperforming I would make that choice and I would give you that opportunity.

Berkowitz: You would like to do it?

Gidwitz: I would absolutely do it, because it isn't fair[not to do that]

Berkowitz: Have you told the Governor that? Maybe that is something that he could do that would actually provide a real choice for these parents [in failing schools].

Gidwitz: I would certainly be happy to tell the Governor if the Governor were interested in listening, but so far the Governor--

Berkowitz: Have you told Brenda Holmes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Education, that?

Gidwitz: I have not had a conversation with Brenda?

Berkowitz: Have you sought to have a conversation with Brenda?

Gitwitz: Not with Brenda, No.

Ron Gidwitz, interviewed on "Public Affairs," filmed on April 26, 2004, and as is being cablecast this week [Week of May 10] in the suburbs and as will be cablecast next Monday night [May 17] at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21 through-out the City of Chicago.