Simon unveils new white paper on higher education in Illinois at Chicago's Union League Club

CHICAGO - February 12, 2013. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon was the featured guest speaker today at the Union League Club in Chicago. Simon released a white paper on game-changing reforms that will make college more affordable and increase graduation rates.

"We need to make sure that our high school students are ready for college and complete certificates and degrees on time and with less debt," said Simon, Governor Quinn's point person on education reform. "The return on educational investment is proven for graduates seeking living-wage jobs and a state seeking high-quality employers. College is worth it."

According to Simon, affordability is the most significant barrier to students seeking degrees at public universities. Simon's white paper includes game-changing reforms, such as dual degree programs that enable students to enroll simultaneously in community colleges and universities. Students are able to pay lower community college tuitions rates and later transition seamlessly to a university.

Reverse transfer programs enable students who have transferred from community colleges to continue earning credits toward an associate degree when their university classes overlap with community college requirements. Simon also suggested targeted income taxes waivers for students who earn bachelor's or advanced degrees and choose to live and work in Illinois post-graduation.

The paper follows Simon's College Affordability Summits for students, teachers and administrators held this fall at the state's 12 public universities.

As the state's leading voice on education and chair of the Joint Educational Leadership Committee, Lt. Governor Simon is charged with increasing to 60 percent the proportion of working-age adults in Illinois with college degrees or certificates by 2025.

This goal is critical to the economic future of Illinois and its families. Without an educated workforce, Illinois will be unable to attract and retain employers requiring highly-skilled workers to fill current openings and sustain their future growth.

Lt. Governor Simon's white paper can be found here.


SPRINGFIELD - February 6, 2013. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon today issued the following statement applauding Governor Pat Quinn for addressing key issues including pensions, ethics and firearms, in his 2013 State of the State address.

"The state of Illinois is at a critical juncture, and lawmakers will be asked to make many difficult decisions in the coming months. I applaud Governor Quinn for calling attention to the state's pension crisis and urging the General Assembly to work together on a solution. Reforming our state's pension systems will enable us to fund priorities like education, health care and social services.

"This spring the General Assembly will have the opportunity to improve the public's trust in government by passing new ethics measures. To help identify conflicts of interest, I have proposed a new financial disclosure form to show public servants' outside income and lobbyist relationships. I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to pass that bill and improve government transparency. 

"I thank Governor Quinn for directing our attention to public safety, a matter that I am addressing through a Firearms Working Group. Today our diverse group of freshmen lawmakers held its first meeting with gun rights and anti-violence advocates. We will work to understand all perspectives on gun issues and help establish a common sense concealed carry law in Illinois to keep our communities safe."


Group will meet with hunters, law enforcement, mental health experts and crime victims on concealed carry, gun issues

CHICAGO - January 29, 2013. As state leaders debate concealed carry legislation, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon is convening a Firearms Working Group comprised of new members of the General Assembly to learn about different perspectives and bridge the geographical divide on gun ownership and use in Illinois.

The working group includes Republican and Democratic State Senators and Representatives elected to the General Assembly for the first time to represent urban, suburban and rural districts. They will meet with stakeholders on all sides of the gun control debate as the legislature considers a law that could allow Illinoisans to carry concealed firearms.

Currently Illinois is the only state in the nation with a law banning concealed carry. The law was declared unconstitutional in December by a three-member panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the state was ordered to pass a law allowing concealed carry within 180 days. Attorney General Madigan has asked the full 7th Circuit Court for review, but lawmakers are working on legislation in response to the court order and other high-profile gun control issues such as an assault weapons ban.

Simon's Firearms Working Group intends to dialogue with stakeholders on all sides of the gun control debate and work toward consensus on components of the pending legislation. Meetings will be held in Springfield and communities around Illinois, where members will meet with gun owners, hunters, families impacted by gun violence, domestic violence prevention advocates, mental health experts, law enforcement officials, among others. Members will also learn to safely operate a firearm at the Sparta World Shooting Complex.

"State leaders need to engage in honest discussion about concealed carry, but it is difficult to have that honest discussion without fully understanding all the perspectives on gun issues," said Lt. Governor Simon, a former Jackson County prosecutor and law professor. "By bringing together new members to learn about deeply held - often regional - perspectives, I believe we can set fair policies for the state and keep guns from falling into the wrong hands."

Simon's Firearms Working Group includes:

·         Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake)

·         Sen. Thomas Cullerton (D-Villa Park)

·         Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago)

·         Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Orland Park)

·         Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill)

·         Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield)

·         Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford)

·         Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon)

·         Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood)

·         Rep. Charles Meier (R-Highland)

·         Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago)

·         Rep. Mike Smiddy (D-Hillsdale)

·         Rep. Emanuel Welch (D-Hillside)

·         Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison)

·         Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach)


The Illinois State Rifle Association and the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence plan to meet with the Firearms Working Group in the coming weeks to outline their priorities for concealed carry legislation.

"The Illinois State Rifle Association looks forward to participating in the Lt. Governor's Firearms Working Group," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "The input of law-abiding firearm owners will help frame the debate by clearing up misconceptions about private firearm ownership."

"The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence applauds Lieutenant Governor Simon for bringing people from all sides of the gun debate together to work on this complex issue," said Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence. "As the General Assembly considers commonsense gun control measures in the coming session we think it is important for all legislators to understand all sides of this debate. We look forward to working with the task force and thank the Lieutenant Governor for her efforts."

For more information on Simon's Firearms Working Group, please visit

GRANITE CITY - January 16, 2013. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon is calling on Illinois' newest Congressional members to join the federal Defense Communities Caucus, a group tasked with protecting military installations and surrounding communities nationwide. Simon's call came as she convened the state's military base retention committee at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) today.

"The military bases and installations across our state provide a great service to our country, and are also fundamentally important to our local economies," Lt. Governor Simon said. "At every level of government, we must advocate to keep our installations active and make sure the voices of our troops, their families and our defense communities are heard."

Simon serves as the chairperson for Illinois' Interagency Military Base Support and Economic Development Committee (IMBSEDC), which coordinates the state's activities and communications relating to current and former military bases. Simon said the state committee could work with the federal caucus to support policies to keep Illinois bases strong.

In an effort to encourage Illinois' newest Congressional members to join the caucus, Simon will send letters to new Reps. Cheri Bustos, Bill Enyart and Brad Schneider to highlight the importance of our state's military bases and their impact on the local economy and invite them to participate in defense community listening posts later this year. These three Representatives' districts include Illinois' largest military installations: Rock Island Arsenal, Scott Air Force Base, and Naval Station Great Lakes, respectively.

Simon said the Defense Communities Caucus can act as a unified, bipartisan voice for communities nationwide with active, closed or closing military installations. The caucus' advocacy could help pave the way for partnerships among the private, public and military sectors that could create jobs or ensure federal tax dollars are used efficiently. 

"As the federal budget is considered, we must keep in mind the value that our defense communities bring to our local economies and work to ensure that they remain strong and efficient to meet our state and country's needs," Simon said. 

The IMBSEDC holds quarterly meetings across the state and selected SWIC as the location for its first meeting of the year because of its proximity to Scott Air Force Base.


ANNA - Lt. Governor Sheila Simon and Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Borggren will highlight the importance of veterans' facilities that provide needed care to the men and women who have served our country by visiting the Anna Veterans Home on Thursday to celebrate the holidays with its residents.

"Our veterans deserve the thanks and appreciation of a grateful state and country, and I am proud to celebrate the holidays with residents in Anna," said Simon, chair of the state's military base retention and reuse committee. "Despite our state's fiscal climate, it is important that we make sure veterans continue to receive the care they have earned."

There are four veteran homes throughout Illinois, located in Anna, LaSalle, Manteno and Quincy. Each home provides residents with a sense of community, as well as medical care and support. Given the state's serious fiscal climate, veterans homes have not been immune to annual budget cuts. During fiscal year 2013, the homes housed 44 fewer veterans, and 36 staff positions were cut.

DATE: Thursday, December 20

TIME: 2:30 p.m.

PLACE: Anna Veterans Home, 792 N. Main St., Anna


SPRINGFIELD - Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will celebrate the holidays with two volunteer events on Tuesday that reflect her roles as the state's point person on education reform and chair of the Governor's Rural Affairs Council.

Simon will visit Lee Elementary School on Tuesday morning to celebrate the holidays with students in an all-school assembly. The students, of varying abilities age 5 to 21, will sing along and play instruments as Simon leads the songs with her banjo.

Tuesday afternoon, Simon and members of her staff will volunteer time at the Central Illinois Food Bank. The volunteers will bag potatoes to be distributed to food pantries throughout central Illinois.

About 15 percent of Illinois' population is "food insecure," meaning they don't have access to enough food to sustain a healthy, active life for all members of the household. A family might not be food insecure at all times, but could forgo other necessities in order to purchase food. Statewide, 22.2 percent of children are food insecure.

"The holiday season is a wonderful time to spend time with family and friends and reflect back on the year, but also an important time to give back to the community," Simon said. "I encourage everyone to make an effort to do something to give back to their community this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18


EVENT: Musical assembly at Lee Elementary School

TIME: 11 a.m.

PLACE: Gymnasium, Lee Elementary School, 1201 Bunn Ave., Springfield

NOTE: This event will be for photos and b-roll only.

EVENT: Volunteering at the Central Illinois Food Bank

TIME: 1:15 p.m.

PLACE: Central Illinois Food Bank, 2000 E. Moffat Ave., Springfield


Colleges call for a vote on Choice Reports bill

CHICAGO - December 12, 2012. Calling for a vote on a key college affordability and transparency bill, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon marked her 12th and final College Affordability Summit today with a visit to Northeastern Illinois University.

Simon said that transparency is one of three basic tenets that will help students afford and complete college. She is backing legislation requiring all degree-granting institutions to publish an annual College Choice Report. The report would help students compare information, such as total costs and completion rates, across all degree-granting institutions in the state and make more informed decisions about where to spend their college dollars.

All 12 public university presidents and the Illinois Community College Board presidents' council submitted letters recently to the House calling for Senate Bill 5248 to be released for a vote before this session ends.

"College Choice Reports will be easy to access and easy to use, helping students find the facts they need to make an informed decision about an institution that will best fit their needs," said Simon. "I appreciate the great support we have received for Senate Bill 5248, and I look forward to working with Speaker Madigan to bring this bill to the House floor for a vote."

While increased transparency will help students discover more information about the state's higher education institutions, Simon has outlined two additional ways stakeholders can work together to make college affordable:

·         Targeted assistance: To better use state resources, Simon wants to strengthen the Monetary Award Program and insure MAP grants promote college attendance and completion, and reduce the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students. MAP grants are currently awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to students based on financial need, but that means state funding reaches only about half of eligible students. Simon currently serves on a MAP Eligibility Task Force that is evaluating ways to improve distributional equity and encourage timely degree completion. A task force report to the General Assembly is due Jan. 1, 2013.

·         Tax credits for tuition payments: More than 9 million students and families are taking advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, saving them up to $10,000 over four years of college. Simon supports making this federal tax credit permanent and preventing it from expiring at the end of this year.

"Cutting investments directly related to economic growth doesn't make sense. We should work together on policies that prioritize education and employment, not shortchange Illinois students and quality employers," Simon said."Together we could stabilize the cost for public universities and community colleges, following tuition and fee increases that have outpaced inflation, family incomes and available aid over the past 20 years."

According to a College Board trends report published in October, costs at public and private universities nationwide increased more than 4 percent this school year, while the cost of community college increased more than 5 percent since last school year. Compounding the burden on students, federal aid declined for the first time in three years.

"In order to retain and attract high-wage and high-skill jobs in Illinois, we will need 60 percent of our working-age population to hold a college credential by 2025," Simon said. "We cannot expect students to complete college if they cannot afford college. I urge our state, federal and higher education leaders to work together to ensure college is not only accessible to the privileged, when it will be a prerequisite for a good job in our state."


Final Affordability Summit to be held at Northeastern Illinois

CHICAGO - Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will convene her final College Affordability Summit on Wednesday at Northeastern Illinois University. Throughout the fall, Simon has met with students, faculty, staff and administrators at each public university campus in Illinois to urge state, federal and higher education leaders to keep college affordable for all students.

Simon says that transparency is key to helping students afford and complete college. She is backing legislation requiring all degree-granting institutions to publish an annual College Choice Report. The report would help students compare information, such as total costs and completion rates, across all degree-granting institutions in the state and make wise choices about where to spend their college dollars. Each of the 12 public university presidents recently signed a letter of support to House Speaker Mike Madigan, requesting the bill's release from the House Rules Committee. 

An October report from the College Board indicates that public and private universities nationwide have increased costs more than 4 percent this school year, with community college costs up 5 percent. To make ends meet, students have taken on more debt, carrying an average of $26,682 in student loans in 2010 according to the Pew Research Center. 

"As a state, we want to increase the proportion of working-age adults with a college degree or credential to 60 percent, up from 41 percent, by 2025. The only way we can achieve this goal is if college is affordable," said Simon, a former Southern Illinois University law professor and a member of a state task force evaluating MAP Grant eligibility. "We must work together to rein in the costs of higher education."

DATE: Wednesday, December 12

TIME: 10:15 a.m.

PLACE: Golden Eagle room, Northeastern Illinois University Student Union, 5500 St. Louis Ave., Chicago


Stakeholders to monitor Mississippi river levels; aim to prevent halt in barge traffic

CARLYLE - December 7, 2012. One day after sending a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging it to protect Mississippi River commerce, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon convened a quarterly meeting of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council (MRCC) today to address low water levels that are jeopardizing barge traffic along the river.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has previously rejected requests from state and local officials to allow increased flow from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River to offset low river levels in the Mississippi. Simon is asking officials to continuously monitor river levels and reconsider this decision if necessary.

"Extreme drought earlier this year has caused dramatically low water levels across the country, which is particularly noticeable in the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Cairo," said Simon. "I asked the Army Corps to closely monitor this situation and intervene if necessary to preserve this essential economic resource and keep barge traffic moving along the Mississippi."

Officials representing the USACE attended the meeting today and highlighted the impact the 2012 drought has had on water levels of both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The USACE is bound by law to annually reduce the amount of water flowing from the Missouri River in order to preserve the upper Missouri River basin. Revised forecasts show the Mississippi river water level isn't falling as fast as first projected, and the Army Corps is ready to remove rock pinnacles that could stand in the way of some barge traffic.

Lt. Governor Simon will maintain close contact with the USACE and state and federal leaders as they monitor the situation and take further action. Already water levels are approaching 1989's record drought levels, and barges are currently required to carry lighter loads. Proceeding to cut off water flow from the Missouri River could completely halt barge traffic as early as this month. The Corps continues to monitor water levels and will start blasting rock structures that could obstruct barges along the Mississippi River early next month.

"The Corps of Engineers has to consider the different needs of people, economy and the environment when making decisions about our water resources," said Colonel Chris Hall, commander of the St. Louis District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "That is a challenge in years with typical water levels; it is critical in a drought. We've been able to maintain an authorized channel that keeps commerce moving on the middle Mississippi River despite historic low levels. This is only the first year of what could be a persistent drought, so we need to look at the impacts of our decisions with that in mind."

Mississippi River commerce is estimated to be a $180 billion a year industry. If water levels drop below nine feet, barge traffic from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. could be shut down. Corporation heads from Caterpillar, ADM, Navistar and others have joined Lt. Governor Simon in writing to Assistant Secretary Darcy. Governor Pat Quinn's administration also continues to work with federal officials to keep the river open.

Lt. Governor Simon chairs the Mississippi River Coordinating Council, composed of a diverse group of citizens, not-for-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies. The Council coordinates initiatives, projects and funding to promote the ecological health of the Mississippi River and its tributaries by addressing the issues in the watershed.


SPRINGFIELD - December 5, 2012. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon today issued the following statement regarding pension reform legislation introduced by members of the Illinois House of Representatives.

"Today we are one step closer to strengthening our pension system and restoring fiscal stability to our state. Without action, the strain pension payments place on our budget will crowd out funding for other priorities like education, public safety and health care. I would like to thank members of the House for their work to come up with a solution, and I look forward to reviewing this proposal and bringing everyone to the table to move forward," Simon said.

Today's legislation builds on Governor Pat Quinn's call for pension reform. The Governor has urged lawmakers to take action that will save the state's critical programs and services while preserving the pension system for future generations.