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Beverley Holden Johns: SB 16. Why so hard to change special ed funding?

October 23, 2014

- Beverley Holden Johns is an Illinois special education leader and advocate. She writes frequently for this blog.

Why is it so difficult to change the way Illinois funds special education?

Largely because special ed is different than all of the rest of elementary and secondary education. By law, the needs of an INDIVIDUAL student come first – a local school district must provide assistance in the general ed classroom, in a separate class, in a separate school, in a private school, or in a hospital or residential school depending ONLY on the individual needs of a student.

As Fred Weintraub, one of the architects of the original Federal special education law (now IDEA), stated in 2012, “This principle of building a program around a child, as opposed to fitting a child into a program, was a revolutionary departure from the traditions of general and special education in that it assumes there are no common outcomes or approaches. It requires that a school district have available an array of placement, service, curricular, and instructional options and that the IEP team has the freedom to select options that meet the needs of the child.”

Depending on how completely a local school district complies with the law, this means there is tremendous variance in how many special ed students a school district identifies.

In addition, poverty is tied to disability.

Also, parental knowledge of the law and the advocacy of parents varies dramatically across school districts.

So for these reasons, special ed costs vary far beyond regional variance in cost of living, and the identification rates for special ed vary.

In addition there is a relatively new problem. There is always a tension between the costs of special ed and administrators’ desire to focus on the majority of students.

This leads to efforts to NOT identify students under the Federal and State laws as that gives parents and students legal rights that other students do not have.

There is an effort to set up an alternative system, and then there is the need to fund that system. We are increasingly moving in Illinois to 3 types of classes: general ed, special ed and Response to Intervention (RTI) ed.

Part of the push to block grant special ed is to provide flexibility so local school districts can fund RTI ed.

A form letter being used by some school districts shows how far this RTI ed has progressed in Illinois.

The MacArthur Middle School (Prospect Heights, IL) letter says four (4) times, “RTI class” (for “all five days during the week”), and at the bottom, “Parent Signature Refusing Placement.” All of this is outside Federal and Illinois law.

The Federal special ed law, IDEA, was reauthorized in 2004 to say that RTI “may” be used (it was permissive, not mandatory) by a local school district ONLY as part of the process to identify Learning Disabilities (LD).

After a heated dispute, Illinois adopted rules mandating RTI, but again ONLY as part of the process for identifying a child as having Learning Disabilities, and therefore being qualified for special education.

The MacArthur Middle School letter does not even pretend that their five-day-a-week RTI class is part of any process to identify LD.

But some local schools are using RTI for almost anything and for almost anyone as there are NO Federal regulations on RTI, and no details in Illinois regs on what RTI is and is not.

Students have NO legal rights under RTI, so some school districts actively support RTI and do all they can to convince parents not to ask for an evaluation for special ed.

But schools have to get the money to fund RTI, and they can use only 15% of their Federal special ed money for it, which in most cases is only about $100 per student, and according to Illinois law, State special ed funds can only be used for identified special ed students.

For all of these reasons, changing special ed funding in Illinois is far more complex than just coming up with one block grant.

McKinney’s “Why I Left” letter is a classic Chicago story of right and wrong. Bad news for Rahm.

October 23, 2014


When I reposted former Sun-Tmes Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney’s Why I Left letter yesterday afternoon, I didn’t expect 3,000 6,000 page views  by this morning. But that is what I got.

I should not have been surprised. It is a classic Chicago story.

A stand up reporter doggedly follows a story that shines a negative light on gubernatorial candidate billionaire Bruce Rauner. Rauner goes to his friends who own the Sun-Times to get the story killed. The reporter gets gagged when Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk pulls him off the Springfield political desk. The reporter resigns and releases a letter that lets the world know what happened.

McKinney’s Why I left letter got so many internet hits yesterday that KcKinney set up his own blog to publish it.

It’s kind of ironic that famed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee died Tuesday. Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk is no Ben Bradlee. This guy caved to Rauner faster than the Cubs at mid-season. If you were looking for a Chicago version of All the President’s Men, you won’t find it in the Sun-Times newsroom.

If they ever make a movie, Kirk is more likely to be played by Pee Wee Herman than Jason Robards (I know. Robards is dead. But go with me on this).

This is all very bad news, not only for Rauner, but for Rauner’s BFF, Rahm Emanuel.

Let me explain.

It is no secret that Rahm unofficially supports Rauner in the race for Illinois Governor. When Obama came to Chicago this week for a Quinn rally on the south side, every Democrat was there except the Mayor.

Rahm and Rauner’s friendship goes back to the days when Rauner set post-Clinton Rahm up in the hedge fund business.

Plus their pro-business views are identical.

And they share friends among the Sun-Times bosses.

The role of the Sun-Times is very valuable to Rahm in the race for mayor.

We saw a taste of it when some Sun-Times reporters and gossip columnists wrote some stink pieces on Karen Lewis, claiming she was a real estate tycoon because she had a time share in Hawaii.

As I understand it, as soon as the November election is over, the plan was for the Sun-Times to go after Bob Fioretti with similar mud.

Following Karen’s withdrawal from the race due to her illness, Bob Fioretti is the progressive alternative to Rahm.

In some polling I have heard about since Karen withdrew from the race, Fioretti and Rahm are even.

The perception and reality for the Sun-Times is that its news coverage can be bought.

Already reporters like the great Carol Marin, who worked with McKinney on the Rauner story, are putting distance between themselves and the Sun-Times.

And others who behaved so badly in reporting on Karen will have Dave McKinney’s principled stand as a model of journalistic behavior.

It’s bad news for Rahm.

And bad news for Rahm is good news.

The latest from the Blue State Cowboys: Plutocrat: The Ballad of Bruce Rauner.

October 23, 2014


- The Blue State Cowboys (Matt Farmer)

Plutocrat (The Ballad of Bruce Rauner)

Some rich guys buy fancy cars
Some spend their money on old guitars
Some go in for private planes and boats

Well, I like houses — I own nine
And I drink $6000 wine
And I’m tryin’ hard to buy your November votes

Yeah, my wristwatch cost me eighteen bucks
I wear Carhartt clothes when I hunt for ducks
And I even drive around in a beat-up van

But I’m a straight-up, blood-suckin’ billionaire
Who hates payin’ taxes for Medicare
And I bank in the Cayman Islands anytime I can

So, Springfield, get out the welcome mat
What this state needs is a plutocrat
A slashin’, burnin’, union-bustin’ guy

I’ll hammer and shake that capitol dome
Like it’s a grandma stuck in a nursing home
Hey, grandma, it’s time to say goodbye

Well, I’m mighty proud of one thing I did
Tryin’ to educate my suburban kid
I had Arne Duncan lend me a helping hand

He took my call without hesitatin’
Then my kid got a spot at Walter Payton
And I gave that school 250 grand

I want charter schools in every town
where the kids are poor and black or brown
You know I’ve even got a school named after me

And I could have sent my own kid there
But I’m a wealthy man, and it’s only fair
That her school be largely white and bourgeoisie


Now I know it’s become the latest craze
But I try not to talk about marryin’ gays
Social issues bring my numbers down

Same is true for reproductive rights
I don’t want to pick any needless fights
I’ll be a blank slate until I win that crown

I’ve got my own economic plan
But like H.G. Wells’ “Invisible Man”
The details . . . well, they’re mighty hard to see

And I do my best to avoid the stage
If they want me to talk about the minimum wage
‘Cause I’d rather have those people work for free


McKinney’s “Why I quit” gone from Facebook. But here it is.

October 22, 2014

Dave McKinney is a stand-up reporter for the Sun-Times. Or he was.

His letter of resignation was all over the internet today. Bad news for Bruce Rauner who tried to get him fired by his pals at the Sun-Times. And by the way, Rauner’s pals at the Sun-Times are also Rahm’s pals at the Sun-Times.

By late today if you tried to find the Facebook link to Dave McKinney’s letter, you got this:

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 4.41.54 PM

Overload? Something fishy? You be the judge. Here’s Dave McKinney’s letter:

October 22, 2014

Michael Ferro
Chicago Sun-Times

350 N. Orleans St., 10th Floor

Chicago, IL 60654

Dear Mr. Ferro:

I’ve worked for almost two decades at the Chicago Sun-Times because it had a soul.

The home of eight Pulitzer Prizes, this newspaper once set up a tavern to expose graft at City Hall and later listened to a grieving mother who wanted justice for her late son after the system failed her miserably. It has stood for hard news. It has stood for independence.

The Sun-Times is stocked with dedicated reporters, editors and columnists, who work every day with integrity, long hours and not enough pay. They are more than colleagues. They are my friends. They are my family. They are the soul of the Sun-Times.

But today, I’m faced with a difficult decision due to the disturbing developments I’ve experienced in the last two weeks that cannot be reconciled with this newspaper’s storied commitment to journalism.

At issue is the Sun-Times/NBC5 report about LeapSource and its fired female CEO, a story for which I proudly shared a byline with Carol Marin and Don Moseley. The piece focused on litigation involving the former executive, who alleged Bruce Rauner, while a director of the company, threatened her, her family and her future job prospects.

With the backing of our editors and supported by sworn testimony and interviews, the piece took us nearly a month to vet, report and write. It was approved by the legal departments at both the Sun-Times and NBC5 and was posted online simultaneously with Carol’s Oct. 7 broadcast report on NBC5. It was a Sun-Times story done in the finest traditions of the paper.

Prior to publication, the Rauner campaign used multiple tactics to block it, including having campaign staffers vowing to “go over” our heads. We are accustomed to such tactics.

But what does not come with the territory is a campaign sending to my boss an opposition-research hit piece–rife with errors–about my wife, Ann Liston. The campaign falsely claimed she was working with a PAC to defeat Rauner and demanded a disclaimer be attached to our story that would have been untrue. It was a last-ditch act of intimidation.

Yes, Ann does political consulting work for Democrats. But she has not been involved in the Illinois’ governor’s race and has focused on out-of-state campaigns. She and her business partner have gone to great lengths to prevent potential conflicts of interest, including creating a legally binding firewall that prevents Ann from participating in, strategizing in, or financially benefiting from the Illinois governor’s race. For that work, her partner formed a separate corporation with its own bank account that didn’t involve Ann in any way. In January, before we were even married, I presented this information to Sun-Times management and received approval in writing to move forward.

Faced with the Rauner campaign’s ugly attack, Sun-Times Publisher and Editor Jim Kirk immediately told the Rauner campaign that this “assault” on my integrity “border[ed] on defamation” and represented “a low point in the campaign.” In other statements, Kirk called the campaign’s tactic “spurious” and “sexist.”

Yet despite such strong rebukes, two days later, I was yanked from my beat as I reported on a legislative hearing focusing on Gov. Pat Quinn’s botched Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. My reporting for that day was then removed inexplicably from the Sun-Times website.

I was told to go on leave, a kind of house arrest that lasted almost a week. It was pure hell. Kirk told me that his bosses were considering taking me away permanently from the political and Springfield beats. He offered up other potential jobs at the paper, all of which I considered demotions. Because of my unexplained absence from my beat, colleagues started calling, asking if I had been suspended. Or fired.

Through all this, I simply wanted to get back to my beat, but the paper wouldn’t let me. And, Carol and I were instructed not to contact you or Tim Knight about the Rauner campaign’s defamatory allegations.

For guidance, I called Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor whose name is synonymous with ethics in Illinois. His involvement brought about an abrupt shift in the company’s tone from penalizing me to reinstating me. Ultimately, the company pledged I could return to the job with “no restrictions.”

Yet, on the first day back, I was advised I shouldn’t have a byline on a LeapSource-related story “right out of the gate” even though it was a legitimate follow-up to our initial story. While later relenting and offering me a contributing byline after I protested, the newspaper had failed an important test: It was not permitting me to do my job the way I had been doing it for almost two decades.

Was all this retaliation for breaking an important news story that had the blessing of the paper’s editor and publisher, the company’s lawyer and our NBC5 partners?

Does part of the answer lie in what Kirk told me – that you couldn’t understand why the LeapSource story was even in the paper?

Days later, the newspaper reversed its three-year, no-endorsement policy and unequivocally embraced the very campaign that had unleashed what Sun-Times management had declared a defamatory attack on me.

Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper. They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times.

It’s had a chilling effect in the newsroom. While I don’t speak for my colleagues, I’m aware that many share my concern. I’m convinced this newspaper no longer has the backs of reporters like me.

I appreciate the recent, public statements of support by Kirk, an honorable man with solid news judgment who got the LeapSource story into print. But, ultimately, I don’t believe he called the shots here.

We reporters have a healthy suspicion of both parties and candidates. It’s our job. It’s regrettable that this issue has emerged in the homestretch of an important election in Illinois, but respectfully, this isn’t about either candidate or the election. It’s about readers and their trust in us. So my decision could not wait. I hate to leave, but I must.

And so, it is with great sadness today that I tender my immediate resignation from the Sun-Times.

- Dave McKinney

Waukegan update. End the curfew.

October 22, 2014


WTC President Kathy Schwarz (center).

I heard from Waukegan Teacher Council President Kathy Schwarz this afternoon:

Yet again, the District is making public statements that don’t reflect the reality of what’s going on at the negotiations table. The District’s side refused to discuss any proposals with us. Last night, they dropped off their last proposal and refused to answer any questions about it. Then they issued a statement to the public again filled with half-truths and snapshots of various proposals that do not tell the whole story.

When we returned with our counter proposal, District representatives informed us that they will only communicate with us through our mediator. This just adds another layer between the District and the Union. We now have to send a message through the mediator, who will relay it to the District representatives, who will then relay it to the Board. If the Board wants to respond, they have to go through the same three layers.

A lot must be getting lost in translation through this game of telephone.

If this is how they are going to conduct today’s meeting, we invite them to break their self-imposed bargaining curfew of 6:00 PM and join us for a marathon session.

Rats heart Rahm.

October 22, 2014


Damn kids. Stop painting on my lawn.

October 22, 2014


Rahm’s Race to the Art. The winners get a paint brush and a tray of water colors.

A month ago I posted information about a music teacher who had gone to Donor’s Choose to raise money for a class set of ukuleles.

And I was glad to publicize it. Four days later the money had been raised and the ukes were ordered.

I have mixed emotions about these fund-raising efforts. As a retired Art teacher I am always glad to help raise money for the Arts in public schools. And for this cause, my own pockets are deep as they can be.

It seems as though Rahm is going this route to fund what was his unfunded promise to increase Arts education in the Chicago Public Schools.

A prolific fundraiser with nearly $9 million in his campaign warchest, Emanuel has set a goal of raising $38 million to elevate music and the arts to the level he believes is needed to inspire academic performance and keep students motivated and involved.

I will not even get into a long discussion in this post about Rahm’s view of Arts education as inspiring academic performance. I have no idea what he means by that. As widely understood, it is a dubious concept, unsupported by research. If Rahm thinks math scores will improve if students have access to the Arts, I believe he will be disappointed. The Arts are domains of knowledge, valuable in their own right.

But Rahm is unable or unwilling to fund the Arts in the schools through public funds. So he promises to raise private funds to do it. He has made those promises before. His primary success at raising money, however, is for his own campaign war chest.

Whatever happened to the Infrastructure Trust, where private funds would be raised to pay for bridge and road repairs?

Tangent: It pisses me off that Rahm puts Building a New Chicago sign everywhere some City crews are working. Resurfacing Fullerton is not building a new Chicago. It is fixing stuff that is broken. Having a plumber come to my house and repair a leaking pipe is not building a new house. Streets and San is filling pot holes that were deep enough to go swimming in when it rains. Finally. But it is not Building a New Chicago.


The promise of private funds for Art in the public schools comes with strings.

Doesn’t it always?

School Board President David Vitale said the private donations, $11 million of them already in the bank, will be used to purchase musical instruments, cameras and scripts and fund “new assessment systems to track student learning in the arts.”

New assessment systems to track students. What will that cost? And what will be learned?

Individual schools that excel in the arts also will continue to compete for challenge grants — ranging from $10,000-to-$40,000 — in the arts education equivalent of the federal “Race-to-the-top” program, the school board president said.

Good lord! A Race to the Top for Arts funding.

Maybe we can have first graders thrown into a ring, gladiator style, with the winner getting a paint brush and a tray of water colors.

Vitale said he views the private fund as a “transitional step or bridge” to full public funding of the arts education plan — even in a school system grappling with a crippling budget deficit driven by a pension crisis.

Ah! You knew they can’t address any problem without blaming it on teacher pensions.

The lack of Art in CPS is because of us old folks.

Damn kids. Stop painting on my lawn!


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