SB1. Bev Johns testifies today before the House Appropriations Committee.

Testimony of Bev Johns
June 22, 2017
House Appropriations – Elementary and Secondary Education

Chairman Davis, Spokesman Pritchard, Members of the Committee:

Special education in Illinois faces a crisis that will be made worse if you appropriate money according to the line items in Senate Bill 1.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1 say it will cost $3.5 billion or $350 million in new money each year for 10 years.

Now one of its main supporters (Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability: CTBA) states in a June 20 fact sheet that the Downstate [quote] “adequacy funding gap is $2.617 billion…40 percent of the state’s adequacy funding gap is downstate…” [end quote]

If 40 percent of the state’s adequacy funding gap is $2.617 Billion, the total for the State is over $6.5 Billion. (And $6.5 Billion TODAY is about $8 Billion in new money spread out over 10 years, and even more spread out over 20 years.)

The question is not where $350 million in NEW money EACH year will come from, but where $800 million in NEW money EACH year will come from.


SB 1 would eliminate direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers and for Summer School for students needing special education.

Meg Carroll, the president of the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of Illinois, just stated:

“Illinois has the proud history of requiring special education, even before there was a federal law, and of tying state money directly to both special education teachers and special education summer school.  Senate Bill 1 ends that tradition.”

She continues, “The most critical school factor for the success of students with learning disabilities is the specially trained special education teacher. Senate Bill 1 allows previously dedicated special education funds to be spent on anything that a school district chooses to call special education.”

“The definition of special education in SB 1 refers to an old vague part of Illinois law [Section 14-1.08 of the Illinois school code] that does NOT even mention the federal special education law, IDEA, or spending money as required by the individualized educational plan, the IEP, for each student.”

Therefore, the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois has recommended a VETO OF SENATE BILL 1.

Please appropriate money for next school year, Fiscal Year 2018, according to current law. Please fund direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers (Special Education Personnel Reimbursement), and please fund Special Education Summer School.

The ISBE recommendation for Special Education Personnel Reimbursement is $444,200,000, and for Special Education Summer School is $13,400,000.

Special Education Personnel Reimbursement is now directly tied to teachers – if a school district employs a special ed teacher, it receives $9,000 in State funds each year (in every school district except Chicago).

If it does NOT employ that special ed teacher, it receives nothing.

Money is now directly tied to specialized teaching.

Giving $9,000 to a local school district is NOT going to cause local schools to go out and hire too many special ed teachers as it is from less than 10 percent to at most 30 percent of a teacher’s salary and benefits.

Special Education Personnel Reimbursement is an efficient, clear, and accountable way to spend State money, and has some equity. $9,000 is a greater percentage of a salary in a poor school district than it is in a rich district.

In GA6, Russia wins another one.


Gary Ossoff.

The Democratic Party establishment is running out of excuses for failure.

Yesterday they put their money – and lots of it – on a horse who ran no better than the the one I picked in the 8th race at Belmont on Fathers Day.

That one finished last too.

I haven’t heard the Russian interference excuse yet. But it is only the morning after. Give them a few days.

The Party bosses can’t use the we were out spent excuse. They picked this race in a normally Republican district to focus on, then raised and spent $25 million.

They can’t blame Bernie bros.

No Green Party.

The New York Times came up with a new one: Too many of the district’s voters with summer homes.

Questions also lingered about whether the grass-roots coalition backing Mr. Ossoff — fueled by highly motivated anti-Trump activists who were, in many cases, new to political activity and organizing — could improve on its April showing in a runoff held at the beginning of the summer vacation season, in a district where people have the means to escape to the beach.

There could be truth in that.

If the Party leadership feels closer to and competes with the Repugs for Republican voters, this is what they get.




Middle school graduation and a travel day.

First there was the deluge.

Then came the rainbow over Coney Island as my granddaughter graduated with over 400 of her fellow middle school students last night.

And I mean the rainbow arched right over Coney Island.

In a covered open air arena a few steps from the Cyclone roller coaster and Nathan’s hot dogs.


The kids were great.

The school played a video tape of Nelson Figueroa, former Mets player, current sports announcer and alum.

“This past year has shown that anybody can be President. Anybody,” he told the students.

The assembled 1,400 parents and family members laughed.

Another DOE bureaucrat told the kids that they had just spent the last three years “mastering the standards,” only to be told by another that if they remembered just half of what they learned in middle school they would do fine.

A much lower bar. 

The DOE should make up its mind.

Of course, I may have been one of the few who was actually paying attention to what they had to say.

Among the students it was a mix of joy and sadness about moving on.

For a grandfather, it was a delight.

Worthy of a rainbow.

Now the plane home.


Confederate monuments, real heroes and Fathers Day.


My Dad’s house on Howard Avenue in Brooklyn with Lucy.

Fathers Day was a day with our kids, grandkids and friends at Belmont Race Track in New York. I was sure that Cosi Bella was the horse to put my hopes on in the 7th.

My hopes were dashed. Cosi Bella finished out of the money. It was not the only bad pick yesterday.

We ended the day at Belmont after the 8th race.

My horse in the 8th may yet spin out of the final turn. We didn’t wait to see.

Driving back, my kids had a surprise for me.

At the spot on Eastern Parkway where Brownsville meets East New York we turned on to Howard Avenue and pulled up in front of a brick house with a wrought iron gate painted white and a car parked in the front yard. The facade looked like it had seen several remodeling jobs over the past hundred years, most recently with faux stone over the original red brick and a tin awning over a second floor porch.

This was probably the house to which my Dad arrived from the hospital when he was born in 1918 and the house he left to go fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Hundreds of women and men from Brooklyn did the same thing. In 1937 it was mainly a neighborhood of working class Jews who recognized the Civil War in Spain as the first battle in a world-wide fight against fascism and were eager to get into it. Three thousand American would go to Spain. A little less than half would come home alive.

They were genuine heroes.

There is no historic marker on the house on Howard Avenue. There are no monuments to the veterans of the Spanish Civil War in Brooklyn that I know of.

All the American veterans of the Spanish Civil War are now dead.

Oddly, there is a memorial in Brooklyn to the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee.

When the city of New Orleans took down its last Confederate statue, of General Robert E. Lee, Representative Yvette Clarke, of New York’s Ninth Congressional District, had a local take. She tweeted, “We should do likewise with General Lee Avenue in Brooklyn.”

Clarke was referring to a street in Bay Ridge that is also named for the Confederate Army leader. Half a mile long, and two lanes wide, it is the main thoroughfare inside the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Hamilton, the city’s only active military base, which is fenced off from the surrounding neighborhood. All of the base’s streets are named for generals: Pershing Loop, for John Pershing; Marshall Drive, for George Marshall; Washington Drive, for George Washington. Lee served at Fort Hamilton in the Army Corps of Engineers from 1841 to 1846. This fact is memorialized on a boulder at the base’s entrance, which, an inscription notes, was installed by the New York chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Actually, there are two Confederate memorials to General Lee in Brooklyn.

General Lee Avenue is not the only Confederate memorial in Bay Ridge. Another can be found just a few blocks away, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, on Fort Hamilton Parkway. In the church’s front yard, there is a maple tree marked with an iron sign that reads, “This tree was planted by General Robert Edward Lee, while stationed at Fort Hamilton.” The sign was installed in 1912, also by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

And then recently I learned that making Confederate memorials was a profit center for Northern businessmen, including more than a few in my home town of Chicago.

Traditional bronze foundries were predominantly located in the North, and likewise produced figures of Confederate soldiers. The Hall County Confederate Monument, located in Gainesville, GA and produced by the Chicago-based American Bronze Company in 1909, bears a biblical inscription that reveals the impact on the local community intended by erecting these monuments: “Tell ye your children of it, and / let your children tell their children / and their children another generation.” This epigraph indicates the desire for a very specific telling of history, resisting the truth that both memory and our reading of history shifts over time.

Some readers may know that I have this thing about memorials.

A couple of years ago, at a National Education Association Representative Assembly I introduced a New Business Item that called upon the NEA to support the removal of Confederate memorials from all schools and public spaces.  I did it in response to the killings of nine parishioners at the African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The New Business Item was watered down and eventually adopted. Nothing was ever done in implement it

Winston Churchill is known to have said, “History is written by the victors.”

Not always.

Fathers Day Sunday.

When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that for all these years, there’s been schools named after the renowned union leader, Cesar Chavez, that resisted unionization and collective bargaining rights for teachers. Detroit’s Cesar Chavez Charter School was unionized back in 2013.

They called our arguments “preposterous”. DFER’s snarky response was, “No one’s holding a gun to their heads.” In other words, if teachers really wanted a union they would have one, or if they didn’t like the conditions at school like Chavez, they were free to leave and go elsewhere.

Turns out they really wanted one. Mike Klonsky’s Small Talk



Protesting against the verdict in the case against Philando Castile’s murderer in St. Paul, MN. Photo credit: Caroline Yang

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.11.29 AM



Chicago Puerto Rican Day parade. Division Street. Photo courtesy of Jesse Mumm.


Shortly after a special session of the Illinois General Assembly ended a couple weeks ago, Representative Daniel Biss described the failure to enact pension “reform” by the politicians assembled in Springfield this way:
“We all look like idiots.”
This line, widely reported, pretty much summed up the view held prior to the special session of roughly 800,000 working and middle class Illinois public employees who keep us safe, care for our sick and elderly, inspire our children, or generally ensure Illinois keeps working. But although this might be a great summation of a growing majority of those paying close attention to the actions of their elected representatives in Springfield, for me this line was more a glimpse into the esteem Springfield politicians hold the majority of people who elected them to office.
We look like idiots to them.
How else can candidates like Daniel Biss, who wants to be the next Democratic state senator from the ultra-deep blue north shore, think we won’t notice that his website describes “our promises of future Medicaid, pension, and retiree health benefits” – rather than an outdated flat tax system or corporate giveaways – as the focus of his “tough decisions” he’d make to fix Illinois’ structural budget deficit? Does he think we won’t notice that his five-point plan for “Jobs and the Economy” has as its first priority a corporate tax cut that subsidizes private sector labor costs with taxpayer dollars? Does he think we won’t notice there is no mention of the need for a graduated income tax, an end to corporate give away, or the reform of TIF district use?
Does Biss think we’re idiots? September 2012, Glen Brown’s blog


Keeping retirement weird. I retired five years ago from teaching. Here’s how that day went. A post from 2012.

June 8th 2012

We celebrated another end to another project at 9:30 this morning.

All of the students lined the main hallway. Then on cue the fifth grade girls and boys paraded down and out the front door to waiting parents taking pictures with their phones.

They are done with us. We are done with them. They are on to middle school.

In the span of ten weeks they will go from the mightiest to the lowliest.

As it has always been.

Most of them aren’t truly aware that this is the transition they are about to embark on. It may occur to them in early August. Then there will be a sense of terror for some as the realization sinks in.

But they will survive.

Some will return next year to say hi, seeking the feeling that you get eating comfort food.

Then they will disappear completely.

A few will come back their senior year in high school. They will show up and speak to their former teachers with a politeness we never thought possible when they sat in our classrooms.

However, they will not be speaking to me.

This year Karen, Cathy, Glenna and I paraded behind them.

We are the retirees.

Joining the parade was not our idea. The fifth grade teachers invited us. I thought it was a bit awkward. I felt this was the fifth graders’ moment. I had been honored enough with a series of retirement parties almost beyond count.

By the start of the parade Karen’s eyes were already red from a morning of tears. I was in no mood for tears, so I grabbed Glenna’s arm and like the Duke and Duchess of York we strutted down the hallway waving with fingers closely touching as we imagine dukes and duchesses do when they wave to their subjects.

The cheers and applause were loud and the giggling was contagious.

A fourth grader yelled, “You’re waving like a princess!”

“I am a princess,” I said.

And the giggles turned to laughter.

Usually there is music coming over the school’s sound system to accompany the parade.

But our principal screwed this up as she has screwed up everything that she has touched these past two years since she descended upon us like a plague.

Beware of those who give good interviews.

She is leaving too, having “resigned” in order to “pursue other opportunities in education.”

May my old colleagues get a new leader who is worthy of them.

May the parents and their children – those who next Fall will walk into a building that was my workplace for the past fifteen years – know how wonderful their teachers are. How wonderful all the adults who work at George Carpenter Elementary School in Park Ridge, Illinois are.

I’m ready for a new project.

Goodbye Elaine Nekritz. What about Dan Biss?


My 2014 cartoon of State Representative and pension thief Elaine Nekritz.

I have been in this fight against pension thievery for a long time. It goes back long before I was a retired teacher myself.

As my friend and fellow blogger Glen Brown always says, public employee pensions are a moral and legal obligation of the state.

And when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of the pension protection clause, they made another important point: If the state can take away the promised pensions of state workers based on a crisis that they themselves created, what rights and property of the people are safe from future thievery.

The two leading legislative proponents of pension theft – although not the only ones, for sure – were Representative Elaine Nekritz in the House chamber and State Senator Dan Biss in the Senate chamber.

I debated both these folks over the course of our successful defense of our pensions.

Here I am outside Dan Biss’ Skokie district office in 2013.

And here I am challenging Elaine Nekritz at a forum that same year at East Aurora High School.

There has been a lot of water under that pension bridge since then.

Most importantly, the highest court in the state has ruled in favor of the pension rights of current retirees, and I believe in favor of current employees.

Where are Biss and Nekritz?

Dan Biss is running for governor of Illinois as a Progressive. On many issues he certainly qualifies.

I have asked him directly about his current position on pension protection and pension reform proposals.

I’m not going to vote for anything I don’t think would be upheld by the courts,” he told me.

I find this to be a fairly careful and nuanced statement.

As my friend, Glen Brown put it, the pension promise was a moral as well as a legal obligation of the state.

Maybe it is too much to expect a politician to speak in terms of moral obligations.

As for Nekrtiz, she announced today she is not running for state representative again.

At one time Nekritz was seen as a possible successor to Speaker Michael Madigan.

But she never said she was wrong about pension theft.

I believe her reputation as a pension thief put an end to her political aspirations. Just as Pat Quinn’s defeat by Bruce Rauner can be laid at the feet of his views on pension reform and his signature on an unconstitutional bill.

Good riddance to Elaine Nekritz.

As to State Senator Dan Biss, I think he will have trouble with state retired workers and their families.

I think his change of mind about voting for unconstitutional laws is progress.

I think he needs to say more.

We asked him to come on Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers to talk about it. His people said maybe they could find time in September.

Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers episode #20.


Here is the podcast for Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers episode #20.

The in-studio guests are the Chicago Teachers Union’s political and legislative director Stacy Davis Gates and the President of the union of Chicago charter teachers, Chris Baehrend.

Sitting in as co-host this week was producer and master of all things Lumpen Radio, Jamie Trecker.

I am in Brooklyn this weekend, with family, attending granddaughter’s middle school graduation.

I missed a great show.

If you noticed, a common theme running through many of our Hitting Left discussions is the future of the city, who is the city for, who benefits and who suffers from the loss of schools and the loss of our industrial base?

It was the topic of conversation again on episode #20.

A brand new multi-million dollar high school is being built in the Englewood community of Chicago along with a Whole Foods and a Starbucks.

Meanwhile four existing high schools are being closed.

What does this mean for the people who currently live in Englewood?

That is a big part of this discussion.