Pritchard's Perspective for August 29th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com 
August 29, 2016
In This Issue:
  •  How to Reform School Funding
  • Another Delay in Obtaining Fair Mapping
  • Illinois Health Exchange Takes Series of Blows
  • Delayed Payments for State Healthcare to Continue
  • Public University Investment and Enrollment Declining
  • Labor Day and Welfare Reform have Something in Common
  • Energy Assistance Now Available
  • Constitution Week; a time to Learn and Celebrate
How to Reform School Funding
The debate about funding our schools adequately and equitably has been ongoing almost from the time our state began.  The recently created School Funding Reform Commission is taking a fresh look at what other states are doing, educational research into best staffing practices and a better way of funding schools. 
There is general agreement that the way Illinois funds elementary and secondary schools is neither adequate (so that 90 percent of students are meeting state education goals) or equitable (so that all districts and students have a similar amount of resources, curriculum offerings, and activities).  
          The commission is currently discussing an evidence based model that looks at the staffing required for the number and needs of students in the school.  This model determines the resources (funding) to ensure that students are growing in their learning and can succeed in life after school.  It defines best practices based on research for things like class sizes, teacher training and coaching, counseling and technology.
Providing the funding for an adequate education will be the most difficult issue for the commission.  The current inequity of resources among school districts stems from the way education is funded; relying on local property taxes to fund over 2/3 of the cost in most districts.  Our goal should be to shift the school focus off of property taxes and on to state funding like nearly all other states.  Our discussions will undoubtedly include redirecting state spending, as we started doing in the FY2017 education budget, reducing spending for such things as interest payments and incarceration, raising taxes and of course in the long run growing our economy by attracting more jobs and the state revenue they will generate.

Another Delay in Obtaining Fair Mapping
Despite seemingly overwhelming popular support for changing the way Illinois draws its congressional and legislative maps every decade, the courts and legislature refuse to change the current politically-tainted system.  A second attempt in as many years at placing a constitutional amendment before voters has been blocked by a Supreme Court 4 to 3 decision along party lines.
The current system allows legislators to select their voters rather than voters selecting their legislators.  The Illinois 4th Congressional district (shown here in blue) demonstrates the gerrymandering that the majority party uses in creating districts so their candidate will win the election.
There is a nation-wide push among states to create independent maps as a way to prevent gerrymandering.  Even President Obama advocated for such a system before the Illinois General Assembly earlier this year.
Given the narrow interpretation of the Illinois Constitution by the courts, the only apparent way to change redistricting is through legislative action.  That will take a lot more public pressure on legislators than they feel today.  However, with the current voter dissatisfaction with both established parties, perhaps a miracle will happen.   

Illinois Health Exchange Takes Series of Blows
Illinois, and the nation as a whole, has seen significant shake-ups in the health insurance marketplace recently.  In Illinois, Land of Lincoln Health recently folded and now Aetna has withdrawn from the Obamacare marketplace.  An increasing number of Illinois counties are now faced with limited choices, some with only one health insurance provider willing to participate in the marketplace.  Only six companies will be selling plans for individuals and families in Illinois next year. 
Insurers around the country are facing higher than expected costs and dropping profits.  In addition to many going belly up, others are being forced to raise premiums to stay afloat and still other insurers are raising premiums because with less competition they have more power to dictate terms.  The Illinois Department of Insurance announced that rates for typical plans are set to increase by an average of 43 percent in Illinois.  In some cases, depending on household income, Illinois residents can file for a federal tax credit that may partly offset the costs of their premiums. 
For most Americans who haven’t had a significant life event (i.e. baby, marriage, etc.), the ‘Open Enrollment Period’, when people can enroll in a healthcare plan for next year, is November 1, 2016 — January 31, 2017.  The DeKalb Co Health Department offers assistance in obtaining health insurance coverage, call 815-748-2498 for an appointment or click here
Hopefully the new Congress will reform the ACA so citizens can have access to affordable healthcare from their local providers without all the red tape and hassle.

Delayed Payments for State Healthcare to Continue
State employees and retirees continue to ask questions about the long delays in the state paying providers for their healthcare.  I recently shared these concerns with the Acting Director of the Central Management Services Mike Hoffman.
Hoffman said that CMS has recently visited with all providers to explain that the state appreciates their patience in getting state reimbursements due to its fiscal crisis.  That said he indicated payments will only be made when the state has the cash flow. 
In the meantime, the state is obligated to pay an interest charge of 12 percent to providers or clients—when they pay for the approved insurance portion of the bill.  The acting director said that rate of return is not expect to change anytime soon and these interest payments for late payment will continue to add about a billion dollars to the state’s expenses.

Public University Investment and Enrollment Declining
According to the New York Times, states have reduced spending on public higher education by 17 percent since the 2008 recession, which forced universities to make deep cuts and raise tuition.  In many cases tuition has risen by 33 percent, which has resulted in more students looking out-of-state for a more affordable education.  The result is the map below which shows students leaving their home state to pursue higher education elsewhere.
In 2014, the most recent year with available data, 30,143 Illinois freshmen students attended college out-of-state compared with 37,736 attending public universities in Illinois.  Most of the students leaving Illinois went to Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Indiana schools.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of out-of-state freshman at public universities has doubled since 1986.  More recently, in 1998, a little more than a quarter of freshmen moved out-of-state to go to college and as of 2014, that number is now 31 percent.  Out-of-state students usually pay more in tuition than in-state students, leading many public universities to favor them in the admissions process.
2016 fall enrollment numbers will be released shortly, but since the Great Recession most public Illinois schools have seen declining enrollment rates (U of I and Illinois State being exceptions).  The uncertainty over Monetary Award Program funding for low income students, uncertain state funding, departing faculty and closing of some college programs all have an effect on enrollment.
Higher education institutions are more than just an opportunity for students to advance in the world, they are a huge state economic engine, employing tens of thousands and generating billions in the state economy.  Further, research shows that when students go to school out-of-state they are less likely to return home, which leaves us with a less skilled workforce that drags down our economy. 

Labor Day and Welfare Reform Have Something in Common
Next Monday is Labor Day, a national holiday to celebrate the value of work, reforms in the workplace and putting people to work.  It’s fitting that we also recognize the 20th anniversary of welfare reform efforts that pressured individuals off long-term dependence on government welfare and back to work.  The numbers are impressive; going from over 4.4 million on welfare, to 1.6 million in the last two decades. 
In Illinois, however, jobs have been hard to come by especially since the Great Recession.  The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) indicates 11,600 net payroll jobs were created last month and our unemployment rate of dropped to 5.8 percent.  This is a significantly slower rate of job creation than in other states and higher than the nationally jobless rate of 4.9 percent.
Over time, however, welfare has become less and less available to families who are unable to find work.  They turn to the federal food stamp and federal disability aid programs.

Energy Assistance Now Available
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance on September 1.  The program makes heating bill payments on behalf of qualifying seniors and persons with disabilities. 
The LIHEAP program is operated by the Office of Energy Assistance within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. For more information on LIHEAP and the application process, click here. Feel free to contact my office at (815)748-3494 with any questions.

Constitution Week; a Time to Learn and Celebrate
I recently presented a Certificate of Appreciation to the DeKalb Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for drawing public attention to the United States Constitution and the freedoms it gives to all citizens.  The Daughters of the American Revolution were instrumental in the United States Congress declaring September 17 to 23 in each year as Constitution Week.
This is a time to emphasize each citizen’s responsibilities for protecting and defending the Constitution.  It encourages public study and discussion of the historical events leading to the framing of the Constitution in 1787.  It also encourages a better understanding of the American heritage and the Constitution’s foundation for our way of life.
Representing the General John Stark Chapter of the DAR are Dawn Wexell, Jan Berning and Judy Dettloff.

Another DeKalb Corn Fest ended this weekend and organizers should be proud of their efforts.  I enjoyed serving corn and visiting with constituents. 

 The next big event is the Sandwich Fair which opens September 7.  Hope you are planning to come out for the exhibits, food, entertainment and visiting with friends.  See you at the fair!