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It's All About the Economy: Lt. Gov. Talks 5 Big Issues 

 

To hear ideas for increasing college admission and completion, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon toured Moraine
Valley Community College, meeting faculty, students and staff.


Tinley Park Patch
September 22, 2011
By Jesse Marx

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon visited Moraine Valley Community College on Wednesday to hear faculty, students and staff talk about how the state can work with colleges to improve readiness, admission, tuition and graduation rates.

As the Illinois governor’s point person on education reform, Simon embarked on a tour of all 48 of the state’s community colleges earlier this year and has seen more than 30 so far. She and other state legislators want 60 percent of working-age adults to hold a college degree or certificate by 2025, up from about 40 percent today, and believe community colleges are a vital stepping stone.

Simon took notes throughout the discussions, thanking some for the feedback and sharing her opinions with others, in what was her third college stop of the day. Notably, she said she wants to see schools publicize their complete results, so that the state can begin funding schools for their graduating body rather than their incoming class.

Many Illinois High School students complete their required math courses by senior year. Those students are “very poorly served by that” one-year break in math, Simon said, noting that it might be best to require math courses during every student's senior year.

“That’s an area we have real room for improvement, even in a time when we’re not talking about increased spending," she later added. "We can just think through this better.”

Simon will head a commission this fall and present the state legislature with a list of recommendations around January.

“I can’t guarantee that if you go to college you will get a job,” she said. “But I can almost guarantee the opposite, that if you don’t take advantage of higher education resources you’re really giving yourself a serious handicap in terms of securing a job that is going to be able to support you and your family.”

Before the tour went back on the road, Patch caught up with the Lt. Gov. Simon about five other topics affecting or soon-to-affect state and local economies.

Is the state’s current system of property tax-based funding sustainable, given what we’ve seen in the real estate market in recent years?

Community colleges are supported by property taxes, state funding and tuition. And different schools have different mixes of that. I think it’s something that we have to keep an eye on, but in some ways community colleges have an advantage, in that they have those separate (auxiliary) sources of income and maybe a little more stable footing than other institutions sometimes.

Unemployment is slightly higher in Illinois than the nation, almost a whole percentage point higher. Is this really what you’re aiming at and what else can the state government do to help the situation?

Yeah, and certainly the governor and Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity are working on making sure that employers locate here, that employers who are here stay here. But from my perspective, it keeps coming back to education. I’ve talked to people who do site development and help people locate bigger plants and things like that, and they say, ‘You know, you can get people to give away land, but you can’t always find a place where there are educated people to draw from in the workforce.’ That’s a longer-term investment but I think a really smart investment for our state.

The governor floated the idea last spring of cutting municipalities’ share of state income tax. Is that still feasible?

I don’t think it’s been discussed again since that came and went last spring.

What about Metra? They’re talking about raising ticket prices. How might that affect the job market, particularly those folks who commute from the suburbs to the city for work? Is that something’s that’s on your mind, too?

I think all the folks who have a hand in running transportation systems need to consider the impact and the cost of running these systems. There are some great ways to get around the Chicago area and it’s hard to see how they would become drastically less appealing.

Did you agree with the governor’s decision to veto the recent smart grid bill, and is there enough support to override his veto?

I support the governor’s veto. I think that a smart grid is a smart thing, but we don’t want to get it through a massive smart regulatory approach. We have a strong commerce commission, and we need to make sure they continue to take into account consumer needs, costs of doing business and the rate making process.