Chicago Now | Kelly responds to Illinois Policy Institute's John Tillman on school choice

Jim Tobin, President of Taxpayers United for America, was mentioned in the following article by William Kelly at Chicago Now.

chicagonowkellyChicago, Illinois, June 24, 2013 – I read with some interest “The Fight for Educational Choice Lives On” by Illinois Policy Institute’s John Tillman on the Illinois Review. I, too, share the dream that is true educational choice.

My parents were both teachers; in fact, my father, William F. Kelly, who passed away in 2006, was principal of Abbott Elementary on Chicago’s South Side and spent his decades on Earth filling young minds with wisdom. In addition to his subscriptions to Smithsonian and American Heritage Magazine, teaching was my dad’s great passion and he did it well. He never tired of the written word and he consumed it voraciously. Consequently, education and educational choice has always meant a great deal to me.

For me, school isn’t a place you go to; it is a perpetual state of being. My father took every spare minute to teach life’s critical lessons and he relished the opportunity. I guess you could say I spent my entire childhood in the “principal’s office.”

That is why I take issue about what true educational choice is and what it is not.

In his piece, Tillman talks about the foes of educational choice: the unions. But unions aren’t the only ones opposed to true school choice. In the end, school choice is just another fight over property tax dollars. And the unions aren’t the only ones fighting for their slice of the taxpayer pie; there are wealthy private interests that are trying to get their grubby little hands on Illinois tax dollars too. Why do you think Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his donors are even involved?

I have been involved in the fight for taxpayer rights since the early 1990s; I learned from the best – Jim Tobin of Taxpayers United of America – the barracuda of taxpayer watchdogs in Illinois and one of the most ethical men I have ever met. Sadly, there aren’t very many real Jim Tobins left.

I learned some important lessons from Tobin, including: Always look beneath the surface and  never take an Illinois politician at his word. Of course, a politician isn’t just a person holding or running for public office; a politician is anyone involved in the political process for advancement or gain.

That is why it is important to look beneath the surface of this school choice debate and ask the critical questions. The recent controversy over online charter schools and the failure of the effort is a case in point. We have one year before the moratorium on publicly-funded online charter schools is lifted and there is still time to protect taxpayers and their families.

The key issues remain unresolved:

First, the Illinois State Charter School commission is flawed. The commission should not receive a 3% kickback for every new charter school it approves. That is an incentive to approve disreputable charter schools – virtual or otherwise. It also smacks of special interests and pay-to-play politics. It is a system ripe for abuse.

Second, if one of the benefits of online charter schools is to save taxpayer dollars, then save them.  K12, Inc., which was behind this recent 18 suburban school district virtual charter school play, asked for $8,000 in taxpayer dollars per student. Yet K12 has operated with far less per student in poorer school districts. Here, the school isn’t “brick-and-mortar” and yet wanted $8,000 per student. Why?

In the first eight months of 2012, K12, Inc. spent $21.5 million in advertising appeals and has been criticized for the millions spent on lobbying and executive compensation. There’s your answer.

Third, if students drop out of the virtual charter school, the school should be forced to give back a pro-rated amount of tax dollars back to the state. The charter school shouldn’t keep the tax dollars as a windfall for its failure to retain students. And drop-out rates for K12, Inc.’s schools are high.

Fourth, any school board of any publicly-funded charter school or virtual charter school should be accountable to the parents and voters who send their children to that school.

And lastly, true school choice means that parents should be able to send their kids to any school of their choice – religious or otherwise – and receive a tax voucher to pay for it. Their choice should not be limited to a bad public school and an even worse taxpayer-funded virtual charter school. Anyone who says this is school choice is pulling our educational leg.

Online or digital learning is a critical tool for the future of education – one my father would have appreciated. But publicly-funded virtual charter schools are not a substitute for real school choice in education. I’m not fooled by all the slick marketing without the practice. That is another lesson the taxpayers and real school choice advocates really don’t need to learn.

Cook County Property Taxes Increase to Pay Government Pension Millionaires

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Chicago—Taxpayers United of America (TUA) today released the results of its study of the Cook County Pension Fund (CCPF) top government pensions.
“There are 276 Crook County pensioners getting over $100,000 in annual pension payments taking the total for the state over 10,000”, according to TUA president, Jim Tobin. “The average retirement age of these 276 retirees is only about 60 with an average estimated lifetime payout of $4.7 million.”
“As Crook County property owners receive their property tax bills next week, they need to remember two things: 80% of the property taxes they are about to pay is used to fund the salaries and benefits of the government employees, and second, the legislators we elected have failed to reform the very system that siphons away our wealth for their own benefit.”
“Illinois House Speaker, Michael Madigan (D), and Senate Majority Leader, John Cullerton (D), have failed in their roles as leaders of the Illinois General Assembly and should be fired by voters. The government pension system has failed and it didn’t happen over night or without warning. Taxpayers can’t afford to pay people for the services they need today if we are paying millions to people who no longer work! How can we afford to staff Stroger Hospital with competent doctors today if we are spending all of our resources to pay the doctors who have retired?”
“We need to pay all government employees fair wages that allow them to save for their own retirement. Cook County taxpayers are slaves to their property taxes. Cook County has some of the highest property taxes in the country and government salaries and pensions are the reason.”
“Real pension reforms were proposed in SB2026 which was introduced by Illinois State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-25, North Aurora), but that bill did nothing to help the union bosses maintain favor with their rank and file and was quickly rejected by Senate ‘leadership’.”
“The purpose of our pension study is to put some perspective around individual pensions, to put them in terms to which the average taxpayer can relate. Illinois taxpayers, whose average household income is $54,598, and struggle with 9.7% unemployment need to know how much Illinois’ government retirees are being paid not to work and the astronomical accumulation of those payments over an average lifetime.”
View Cook County Government Pensions greater than $100k.
Alon Winnie collects a taxpayer-funded annual pension of $330,323 and will accumulate a stunning $4,698,522 in lifetime pension payments.*”
John Barrett has an annual pension of $321,854. Having retired at only 58 years of age, he will enjoy a staggering estimated lifetime payout of $10,037,135. His contribution of the estimated lifetime payout would be only 3.8%.* ”
“Without sweeping and immediate reform, Illinois’ government pension systems will collapse by 2015. It’s mathematically impossible to tax your way out of this problem. Illinois has more than 10,000 retirees collecting more than $100,000; in 2020, that will be over 25,000 six-figure pensioners. Real pension reform must include raising the retirement age to 67, increasing employee contributions by 10%, increasing healthcare contributions to 50%, eliminating all COLA’s, and replacing the defined benefit system with a defined contribution system for all new hires.”
*Lifetime estimated pension payout includes 3% compounded COLA and assumes life expectancy of 85 (IRS Form 590).

The Times | WRITE TEAM: Bankruptcy? Why not, Illinois?

TUA’s pension project on Illinois was featured in the following article at The Times.
timesILbankruptcyIllinois is in the red. It can’t pay its bills on time. The teacher pension plan is in a mess.
Maybe the solution to Illinois’ current money crisis is for the state to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. You might think I’m crazy, but hear me out.
Illinois’ line of credit has been downgraded; at the current rate, Illinois is losing its credit rating, Illinois won’t have any. Teacher pensions are at stake because certain organizations that shouldn’t be included in the teacher pension fund are, and people who only taught school for one month have access to a teacher pension.
According to former state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, the state should freeze all cost-of-living increases for 10 years on anyone receiving a $100,000 annual pension. When a person reaches the $100,000 mark, the freeze would go into effect. Anyone having a pension of between $80,000 and $100,000 should be under a simple interest system. Boland went on to say no retirees could receive full benefits until the age of 67, except those who work in public safety occupations.
Taxpayers United of America ( stated 17 Illinois State Police employees retired at the age of 50 and now have pensions greater than $100,000 per year. Taxpayers United reported in La Salle County, seven Ottawa municipal government employees who retired before the age of 59 will collect more than $1.5 million in pension payments over a normal lifetime.
La Salle County just settled a class action lawsuit brought on by a Freeport lawyer for improperly imposing taxes to pay for $5 million medical expenses per year.
There are plenty of ways Illinois could save money. The Chicago Sun-Times reported of a Chicago policeman who went on disability when he injured his shoulder in pursuit of a suspect in a crime. He collects $51,762 a year in disability, yet he went on to get a law degree and went on an African safari hunt in 2003.
This is not the only case. The Sun-Times reported several cases where Chicago cops were injured and went on to get a law degree or a different job. Why can’t the city put these people on a desk job if they can no longer be on patrol?
The Sun-Times also reported a $78,444-a-year Illinois Tollway garage supervisor had his photo taken sleeping on the job. In fairness to the Illinois Tollway Authority, they tried to fire him twice, only to have him win back his job.
The Sun-Times reported the Chicago Transit Authority could save money by ending paid coffee time, lunch and bathroom breaks, paying workers convicted of drunk driving 180 days to do nothing while they attempt to get their driving privileges back, paid holidays for birthdays and work anniversaries for bus drivers and motormen.
The Chicago Tribune reported about a deputy director of boxing who is getting paid for doing nothing. Why on earth do we need this job? The Tribune reported Illinois has paid $23 million since 2007 for 2,033 employees to stay home. Some 740 were off for more than 60 days. Sixty-eight were off for more than a year.
It seems Illinois has too many people on its workforce. Some 420 people were receiving unemployment while incarcerated. The city of Chicago could save $18 million a year by getting rid of 200 truck drivers who spend part of their workday loafing or sleeping.
By filing Chapter 11, Illinois could clean up the budget mess by eliminating unnecessary expenditures.
Stockton, Calif., recently filed for Chapter 11. I wonder how it made out?