10 months ago By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
Illinois Week in Review: Lowered credit rating scuttles bond sale, lowered expectations scuttle confidence
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ pension inaction continues to haunt the state’s finances.
On Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn’s office delayed a $500 million bond sale because of an “unsettled market.”
Bob Williams, editor at State Budget Solutions, said Illinois is trying to borrow money while holding one of the worst credit ratings in the country.
“Frankly, I think rating agencies have too been generous with Illinois,” Williams said. “It should have junk-bond status now. But they haven’t quite grasped the depth of Illinois’ economic problems.”
Just last week, Standard and Poor’s downgraded Illinois credit rating to an A-, the worst in the country, because lawmakers still have not come to grips with the state’s $96 billion to $130 billion pension debt.
Expecting bad grades
Illinois school officials are telling some parents to expect their children to fail the Illinois Standard Achievement Test test this spring.
Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch says the state has raised the bar for the test. Every student between third and eighth grade will take the ISAT.
Koch said the test is getting harder to be more in line with national education standards, the Common Core goals.
Carbondale High School Superintendent Steve Murphy said the changes come at a strange time.
“The state is changing the test scores for a test that is going away in a few years,” Murphy said.
Koch said the state will have a new test for elementary school kids in two years, just in time for all schools to switch to the coming Common Core learning standards.
So, if kids are going to do worse on a test, could they do better in another school?
School choice advocates asked that question this week in Illinois.
But for Illinois families, charter schools are the only real choice, unless parents want to foot the bills themselves.
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said Illinois is in the middle of the pack when it comes to school choice across the country. Broy says Chicago has a huge demand for charter schools.
“Eight years ago we had 6,000 students in charter schools, and a wait-list of 3,000. Today we have 53,000 charter school students in Chicago, and a wait-list of 20,000,” Broy said.
But charter schools are the only choice that comes with any money. Illinois does not have a voucher program, and Sister Mary Paul-McCaughey, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said that means the state does not have “true school choice.”
In addition to providing a good education, McCaughey said, private schools could use public dollars to save the state money, particularly in Illinois, which is burdened with sky-rocketing pension debt for public school teachers.
Illinois did get high marks this week, but there’s still a catch.
Sunshine Review gave Illinois a B+ for government transparency, making the state among the best in the nation.
Sunshine Review issued a report showing Illinois has published volumes of public information on budgets, government transparency and government operations online.
But the Sunshine Review report only looked at the amount of public information, not whether that information actually answers questions about the effectiveness of government.
David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform sees a difference between making information public and making it useful.
“Putting big data dumps online is not the same as providing the info people want to have access to,” Morrison said.