Senate Week in Review: September 16 – 20

Politics
September 26, 2013

While the Legislature is still in the midst of its summer recess, there were some interesting revelations on two critical issues facing the state: Medicaid reform and education funding, according to State Sen. Kyle McCarter. This week also marked the 226th anniversary of one of the most remarkable documents in the history of the world: The US Constitution.

Medicaid Reform
A joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee met Tuesday, Sept. 17 to take up the issue of Medicaid Reform or more specifically to review issues raised about a state contract with a company, Maximus, hired to review Medicaid rolls for ineligible recipients.

“The contract was a key component of the bipartisan Medicaid Reform plan we passed in 2012,” said McCarter. “At more than $8 billion ($8,000,000,000) a year and growing, the Medicaid program was simply no longer affordable. The reforms were needed to protect the program for those who truly need help and to protect taxpayers from a real and growing generational burden.”

At the hearing, legislators learned that Maximus has so far reviewed approximately 15 percent of the state’s Medicaid cases and has already saved taxpayers $44 million with about 125,000 ineligible individuals having been removed from the program.

However, the contract may be in jeopardy. In June, an arbitrator found that using a third party vendor to review Medicaid eligibility violates the state’s contract with the state employees union AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Department of Human Services officials said they plan to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling.

Education Funding Fairness
The bipartisan Senate Advisory Committee on Education Funding also met this past week. The panel heard testimony about an independent review of Illinois’ school finance system which revealed that over the past ten years or so Illinois has moved away from long-standing funding formulas, originally intended to equalize funding for Illinois schools.

The report indicated the state’s use of poverty grants has also increased dramatically, which has contributed to a funding imbalance between Chicago and downstate schools.

“I don’t think there is really any disagreement about whether the imbalance in education funding exists,” said McCarter. “The real question is how do we fix it? I give credit to the schools in my district which have taken every step possible in order to make their finances work including referendums and budget and staff cuts. There really isn’t much more they can do so I hope this bipartisan Senate Committee will provide the rest of the Legislature with a workable solution to the funding imbalance problem.”

Some of the funding inequities were highlighted at the hearing this week. One area in particular was poverty grants to schools. During the hearing, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) confirmed that over the last decade poverty grant funding has increased from $300 million each year to $1.8 billion annually, with the largest share going to Chicago city schools.

Earlier this year, a Senate Republican staff analysis showed while only 18 percent of the state’s students attend Chicago Public Schools (CPS), CPS receives 48 percent of the state’s poverty grants. While poverty grants can vary from school district to school district, some metropolitan schools actually receive nearly 8 and a half times the funding compared to some downstate schools.

“It’s understandable that high-poverty schools require greater resources than those schools with lower poverty rates but it’s also clear by our internal report and information from state school officials there is a considerable disparity in the allocation of this funding and that deserves greater review,” said McCarter.

During the hearing, Senate Republican members also questioned why CPS receives guaranteed block grants each year for special education and early childhood education dollars while downstate and suburban schools must submit paperwork to the State Board of Education for review.

Another interesting revelation to come out of the hearing this week was an admission by ISBE Superintendent Christopher Koch that overall education funding, from federal, state and local funding, has actually increased 55 percent during the past decade, while the more accepted popular notion is that education funding in Illinois has decreased.

The Senate Advisory Committee on Education Funding is tentatively scheduled to meet again in mid-October.

US Constitution – A Gift to Every Generation
Finally, this week was Constitution Week, marking the 226th anniversary of the adoption of the US Constitution on September 17, 1787.

“Never before in the history of the human race or since has any government been founded on the principle that those who govern, govern only by the consent of the people,” said McCarter. “The United States of America is unique in that regard and it is a great legacy and responsibility that we must live up to on a daily basis. But it’s also clear by the actions and writings of the Founders, that the rights and privileges spelled out in the Constitution were not in themselves created by the Constitutional Convention nor were they authored by the 39 signers. Instead, they proclaimed that each citizen was endowed with these rights by the ‘Creator’ and without embarrassment they acknowledged, ‘a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.’”

Sen. McCarter encouraged people to visit his legislative website at www.senatormccarter.com and review the Founding Documents posted there under the Your American Heritage tab. The US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are available.

“On the website you can read the timeless words first set to parchment more than 200 years ago,” said McCarter. “It’s an incredible legacy.”

Constitution Week was officially enacted on August 2, 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower from a congressional resolution petitioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but it wasn’t publically declared until President George W. Bush officially did so 11 years ago this month.

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