The Illinois General Assembly welcomed President Barack Obama to the Capitol February 10—nine years to the day he announced his candidacy for President in downtown Springfield—to speak about the need for bipartisanship and reforms to the political process.

Obama is the just the fourth sitting president in Illinois history to speak to the General Assembly.

Occasionally joking about his time as a former State Senator, from 1997 to 2004, and reminiscing about memorable moments with colleagues from both political parties, the President stressed the need for compromise and encouraged state leaders to set aside rancor and embrace bipartisanship to accomplish good things for the people of Illinois.

President Obama called Illinois the “microcosm of America, where Republicans, Democrats, Independents and good people of every faith and ethnicity share certain bedrock values.” He called on the General Assembly to listen to all of these diverse voices to help “bridge differences” and find common ground on the state’s most important issues.

Republican lawmakers and the Governor have consistently expressed their willingness to compromise on a budget and reforms in order to end the state’s current budget impasse. To date, the state’s legislative Democrat leaders have refused to come to the negotiating table on any reforms.

It is my hope that the President’s message of bipartisan cooperation and compromise will resonate so we can work together to address the significant challenges Illinois faces.

President emphasizes need for redistricting reform

In his speech, President Obama not only called for Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve our state’s problems, but also stressed the need for redistricting reform.

Redistricting reform is an initiative proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner and long supported by the Senate Republican Caucus, which has spent years introducing proposals to change Illinois’ current process that allows elected officials to draw the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries. We have long underscored a point the President made during his Wednesday address, when he declared that, “American politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians.”

School districts statewide waiting for Senate President’s next move

School districts across the state will be nervously watching Senate President John Cullerton’s next move after he told WBEZ during the week, “I don’t think any school should be funded until Chicago schools are funded fairly.”

Such a statement makes some wonder if legislative Democrats plan to hold hostage funding for downstate and suburban schools in an attempt to bail out Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with nearly $500 million in additional funding.

President Cullerton has proposed a state bailout of Chicago Public Schools, which are facing a $480 million budget shortfall. Senate GOP lawmakers have stressed that they will not bridge the gap for the ailing school system at the expense of downstate and suburban communities.

Chicago schools already benefit from sweetheart deals that suburban and downstate schools don’t receive. A recent report from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) confirmed serious inequities exist in the state’s system of education funding, which Senate Republicans first highlighted in a 2013 report. According to ISBE, during the 2014-2015 school year, Chicago Public Schools received $256 million more from a special block grant than they would have if they were treated like every other school district in the state.

According to the report, “CPS received $474,870,400 from FY 15 and FY 16 appropriations….CPS would have received $219,301,959 had the district been reimbursed in the same manner as other districts.”

When looking at Chicago Public Schools enrollment numbers, despite only serving about 19 percent of the state’s student population, CPS receives approximately 36 percent of the combined statewide appropriations for special education; free lunch and breakfast programs; low-income students; early childhood education; and through a windfall from the Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax and the PTELL adjustment. 

In the 2015-2016 school year, Chicago Public Schools’ overall funding for these six grant lines provides $565 million more than CPS would receive if funding was consistent with student enrollment.  Partially balancing that, though, is the fact that Chicago Public Schools are responsible for their own pension costs.

Illinois Senate Republicans Go Red in February

During the month of February, my colleagues and I are working to raise awareness about ways to prevent heart disease in recognition of National Heart Month.

While heart disease certainly affects both men and women, the risk factors are much higher in women between the ages of 18-55. Heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined. The good news is that 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action.

Senate Republicans will be joining members of the Conference of Women Legislators and health officials in wearing red for the annual Go Red Day at the Capitol on Feb. 17. The goal of the event is to spread awareness of heart disease in women, and to encourage them to schedule a Well-Woman Visit with their doctor to get a full overview of their heart health.