Editorial: Board of Ed needs more independence

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

In his 2004 State of the State speech, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich pronounced the Illinois State Board of Education a “Soviet-style bureaucracy” in desperate need of reform. The legislature subsequently turned over control of ISBE to him.

A bill passed by the House recently would restore some semblance of independence to the board. We urge the Senate and Gov. Pat Quinn to give it serious consideration.

Blagojevich's second State of the State speech occurred during his halcyon days, before anyone but political insiders knew the name Tony Rezko, before the governor was at war with the legislature each summer and before many began to see Blagojevich as an unmitigated liar.

Back then, the governor spent 22 pages out of a 29-page address attacking the ISBE, which was then an agency mostly independent from the governor.

“It’s a burden to the taxpayers,” Blagojevich said. “It’s a drain on local schools. It’s an albatross to our principals and teachers. It’s not helping our children.”

In retrospect, we believe our former governor’s desire to take over ISBE had more to do with its tendency to deliver news he (and other governors) didn’t like, mainly that Illinois’ school-funding system is woefully inadequate and unequal. It also may have had something to do with what we’ve come to learn were Blagojevich’s main preoccupations: politics and power.

The then-state superintendent, Robert Schiller, told reporters after the speech that the governor’s patronage chief and other top aides told him they were having a hard time finding jobs for campaign workers and other supporters and that he thought the plan was retaliation for not hiring more of them.

Schiller provided 27 names sent by Blagojevich’s office, including some campaign donors and two people who got jobs at other agencies after the board declined to look at their resumes.

House Bill 80, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, would allow governors to continue appointing ISBE members, but his or her choices would have to come from a three-person pool chosen by a nomination panel of seven education experts.

As Lang’s bill moves through the process, we’d like to hear more from school districts and other education advocates.

Now that they have observed how two different systems worked, they can talk about whether the bureaucracy the ex-governor complained about (he declared that the board’s 2,800 pages of regulations took up more space than the King James Bible, the Torah and Quran combined, and said, “This is a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions”). How much did the board streamline its procedures? And is the administration more accountable for what happens in education, as Blagojevich claimed it would be, or was ISBE’s former independence a more valuable commodity?

One of the dilemmas facing the legislature is how much to curb the governor’s power in light of Blagojevich’s abuses. Lang’s bill would put some political distance between the governor and ISBE, allowing the board to have its former independence back. This is one change we believe is worth further examination.

State Journal-Register