SPRINGFIELD — A new study lists Illinois as the third most corrupt area in the nation, andChicago as the most corrupt city, and experts in the state say Illinois has earned those titles.
The report, released at a Wednesday statehouse news conference, details a study from the University of Illinois in Chicago, or UIC, and University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs in Champaign.
Only Louisiana and the District of Columbia have more corruption convictions per capita than Illinois. Chicago leads all cities in the United States in corruption convictions, where defendants are either elected officials or public money is involved, according to the report.
“For a long time, going back to at least the Al Capone era, Chicago and Illinois have been known for high levels of public corruption,” said UIC political science professor Dick Simpson. “But now we have the statistics that confirm their dishonorable and notorious reputations."
Only two other states have seen more of these convictions than Illinois in the past 36 years. California reported 2,345 convictions and New York had 2,522. Because the study makes the comparisons on a per-person basis and these two states have larger populations than Illinois, California and New York received lower rankings.
Illinois has around 12.8 million residents and averages 1.42 convictions per 10,000 residents.
Due to its significantly smaller estimated population of 4.5 million, Louisiana sees an average of two convictions per 10,000 people, making it the second most corrupt state.
However, the District of Columbia is the most corrupt; with well under a million residents, it has a per capita rate of 16.
Former federal prosecutor for Illinois' central district, Roger Heaton, said one reason Chicago and northern Illinois have seen so many corruption convictions is because prosecutors there take corruption cases seriously.
"There's a history of active investigations out of northern Illinois," said Heaton who has now moved on to private practice here. "And because prosecutions (of those investigations) were successful and resources were added to those forces, they grow and grow."
Heaton is quick to add that he "doesn't think Illinois is particularly corrupt, just that there have been a number of successful prosecutions."
Heaton served as the top federal prosecutor in central Illinois from 2005 to 2009.
Taylor Pensoneau spent nearly 12 years writing about Illinois government from the statehouse as a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis, MO, and has spent the past decade or so writing about Illinois as an author.
Pensoneau agreed with Heaton that Illinois has been successful in prosecuting corrupt politicians because of its aggressive prosecutors rather than an abundance of corrupt politicians.
"I think it's fair to say that if other U.S. District Attorneys in other parts of the country were as aggressive as Peter Fitzgerald, more indictments would be happening all around the U.S.," said Pensoneau.
Fitzgerald leads the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, and under his leadership, that office has secured convictions against former Illinois Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich as well as longtime statehouse power broker Bill Cellini.
Pensoneau acknowledged though that Illinois' recent history does not look good for the state.
"We have to face the fact that out of the last 10 governors, five were indicted," Pensoneau said. "And four of the last seven have been convicted."
Former Govs. Otto Kerner, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich have all been convicted of corruption charges. Former Gov. Dan Walker was convicted of bank fraud charges after he left the governor's office.
Heaton said the real message of the story is not that Illinois is more corrupt than almost every other state, but that abusing the public trust will result in harsh consequences.
"The main value of studies like this, they draw people's attention to an ongoing problem," Heaton said. "And it reminds voters that this is important. If people misbehave and misuse public resources, then we all suffer."
— Stephanie Fryer and Benjamin Yount
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is hoping to join the growing number of states that are being allowed to skirt the requirements of federal education reform known as No Child Left Behind.
The deadline to ask the U.S. Department of Education for exclusion from the program is Tuesday, and the Illinois Board of Education said it plans on submitting a waiver request. The waiver would take effect immediately.
President Barack Obama announced in September that he would use his executive authority under the law to exempt states from many of its provisions — including the requirement that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014, a benchmark widely deemed impossible.
The Obama administration has granted waivers to 11 states. Twenty-eight other states, including Illinois, are applying for the waivers, which will remain in place until Congress changes NCLB or passes new federal education policy.
NCLB’s main thrust was to tie student performance to federal funding. Under NCLB, students’ standardized test scores must show improvement every year.
Under the law, if students' test scores in a school fail to improve two years in a row, the school must develop an improvement plan. If, for a third year, the school does not improve, it must offer free tutoring and other academic improvement services to students, according to NCLB legislation.
Since NCLB went in effect, the majority of Illinois schools have not met the law's benchmarks. As of last year, only 1,259 of Illinois’ 3,810 schools were meeting the law’s yearly progress requirements, said Melissa Perez, an education researcher at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, which maintains a database of state education data.
Part of the criteria for obtaining a waiver is that the state still must provide a way to assess students’ academic process from year to year, but constant progress isn’t a necessity to get federal dollars.
Illinois' education officials say its plan focuses on accountability for educators and administrators, but also offers local districts more leeway for achievement gaps.
“We’ve really outgrown NCLB,” said Monique Chism, administrator of innovations and improvement at the Illinois State Board of Education, or ISBE, who helped write the state’s waiver.
ISBE is submitting its waiver application with a plan largely focusing on measuring student readiness for college and careers and targeting underperforming schools with individualized plans to improve student performance, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach that NCLB now uses, Chism said.
Illinois is part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which includes 24 states and the District of Columbia. Those assessments will be used by 2014, and will track student progress from grades 3 to 12 in math and reading, Chism said.
In addition to the college and career assessment, other tests — shorter but more frequent — will provide teachers, parents and students with almost immediate feedback, she said.
The new assessments would begin in 2014.
Accountability was another one of NCLB’s goals, and Illinois’ new plan will emphasize that, said Chism.
ISBE’s new assessments will rate schools based on a five-star system, with five being the best and one the worst.
Schools receiving low ratings will be audited by a third-party research company approved by the state. The audit will include assessments of curriculum and school finances. The district will then work with the school to put together an intervention plan, with support from the state.
“We will and we are prepared to intervene in schools and districts that continue to show that they’re not making progress,” Chism said.
Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the ISBE, said the agency does not know exactly how many schools have closed or been turned into charter schools as a result poor academic performance under NCLB.
Illinois’ new plan includes provisions for closing a persistently failing school, firing its staff or converting it to a charter school, if it remains on a watch list for five or more years.
— Anthony Brino