Lt. Governor to meet new General, lend support to federal workforce act

ROCK ISLAND - May 28, 2012. In advance of a visit to the Quad Cities on Wednesday, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said Congress is on the right track in efforts to increase the workload at and ensure the long-term health of the Rock Island Arsenal.

Simon, who chairs a state committee on retention and reuse of military bases, is backing bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois and Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin of Iowa. It would require the Army to create a strategic plan for awarding government contracts that would ensure arsenals receive the workload they need to keep workers' skills sharp between military engagements.

"The Rock Island Arsenal is a valuable national security resource and an economic engine for Illinois," Simon said. "Our federal government has a responsibility to protect this resource. Allowing the arsenal to compete for more government contracts could help contain production costs at the national level and keep people employed at the local level during peacetime and times of conflict."

For more than a decade, the arsenal has produced critical weapons, parts and material for use on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, including armor for Humvees that were vulnerable to improvised explosive devices. With the military engagements winding down, lawmakers are seeking ways to maintain a vibrant workload at the arsenal through government and public contracts.

As introduced, the Army Arsenal Strategic Workload Enhancement Act of 2012 would make arsenals around the nation eligible for military contracts from all U.S. Department of Defense agencies, rather than just within the Army. This builds on federal legislation passed last year that allows for unlimited private-public partnerships at arsenals, which could translate to more domestic manufacturing work.

Simon serves as chair of the state's Interagency Military Base Support and Economic Development Committee (IMBSEDC), which was established in 2005 in response to U.S. Department of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommendations to close and realign military bases nationwide.

On Wednesday, Simon plans to meet with Major General Patricia McQuistion, the arsenal's first female commanding general, and other support staff. McQuistion oversees operations on the island and leads a global organization responsible for providing front-line logistics support to combat units. During the visit, they will discuss the importance of the Strategic Workload Act and its value to the arsenal and surrounding community.


Farmers Market Promotion Program helps fund farmers markets, local food projects

SPRINGFIELD - May 3, 2012. An advocate for local foods, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon is urging local food producers to apply for a federal grant that promotes farmers markets.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced the availability of $10 million in competitive grants for FY 2012 through the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). Grants are targeted at projects that help improve and expand farmers markets, community supported agriculture and road-side stands. The deadline to apply for FMPP funding is May 21.

"I encourage Illinois' local food producers to take advantage of this opportunity to grow and gain access to new markets," said Simon, the only statewide elected official from Southern Illinois. "As a state we spend more than 95 percent of our food dollars on products grown outside of Illinois. Strengthening our local food system will keep dollars in our local communities and help grow our economy."

Priority status will be granted to those projects that expand healthy food choices in food deserts or low-income areas where the percentage of the population living in poverty is 20 percent or above. Entities eligible to apply for grant funding include agricultural cooperatives, local governments and nonprofit corporations.

As chair of the Governor's Rural Affairs Council Simon has advocated for expanded use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets. SNAP sales at farmers markets totaled nearly $70,000 in 2011, an increase of over 522 percent since 2009. The number of farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers certified to accept the Link cards that access SNAP benefits has increased from 35 in 2009 to 49 in 2011.

"SNAP use at farmers markets benefits the health of SNAP recipients, local economies, and farmers," said USDA Food and Nutrition Service Midwest Regional Administrator Ollice Holden. "These grants will put resources into rural and urban economies, and help strengthen efforts to provide access to nutritious and affordable food."

In 2011, four grants from the FMPP were awarded to organizations in Illinois: the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees, Food Works of Carbondale and Chicago organizations, Growing Home Inc., and Faith in Place. The SIU board is using a $81,000 grant to establish the Illinois Farmers Market Association, which will provide professional development, resources and support for farmers, markets and community members, including a farmers market manager training manual and a statewide database to connect farmers to markets. The association expects to start accepting members in January 2013.

"The Illinois Farmers Market Association will help provide resources and solutions to the challenges markets face in administering federal nutrition programs such as SNAP, WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs," said Pat Stieren, coordinator of the Illinois Farmers Market Association. "With over 20 percent of the population in Chicago living in 'food deserts' without access to fresh, healthy foods, and with 1 in 10 Illinoisans receiving SNAP benefits, creating a Farmers Market Association is a crucial step toward helping markets learn how to expand fresh food access and improving health outcomes while supporting local agriculture."

For additional information on grant eligibility and how to apply, visit


CHICAGO - As ambassador to the Illinois Main Street program, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon on Wednesday will designate the Six Corners business district in Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood as the newest Main Street community, the second such designation in Chicago.

"I'm excited to designate the Six Corners business district as an official Main Street community. This means access to technical assistance and training on economic development. The designation will compliment what the Six Corners Association has already done to revitalize this historic part of Chicago," Simon said.

The Six Corners business district is a historic commercial center at the intersection of Milwaukee and Cicero Avenues and Irving Park Road that used to be among the busiest in Chicago according to Ed Bannon, the executive director of the Six Corners Association. The business district includes The Peoples Gas Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Portage Theater, which was recently given preliminary landmark status by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

According to Illinois Main Street coordinator Mitzi Brandenburg, Six Corners received the designation based in part on its historic preservation needs and its efforts since 2007 to implement the Main Street Four-Point Approach, which provides communities guidance on revitalization efforts. One example of this was the Six Corners Association's assistance in the facade redesign of Six Corners Bistro, a restaurant currently under construction that is scheduled to open this summer.

Illinois Main Street is administered by the Office of Regional Economic Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and offers its designated communities technical assistance and training in how to revitalize traditional downtowns, neighborhood business districts, and urban corridors. The program is part of the National Main Street Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street Center.

Simon announced in March that the Illinois Main Street Program is once again accepting applications from communities interested in becoming part of the program. Communities interested in obtaining more information can visit


EVENT: Six Corners Illinois Main Street Designation Ceremony

TIME: 2 p.m.

DATE: Wednesday, May 2

PLACE: Las Tablas Restaurant, 4920 W. Irving Park, Chicago



Bill authorizes state to recommend content, teaching methods for each year of high school


SPRINGFIELD - April 25, 2012. Illinois middle and high schools are one step closer to accessing statewide math curricula thanks to a bill supported by Lt. Governor Sheila Simon that passed the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee unanimously today.


SB 3244, which passed 22-0, authorizes the Illinois State Board of Education to design curriculum models that detail content and teaching techniques for middle and high school math standards. Schools could opt to follow the state-recommended scope and sequence of study for math and math equivalent courses through a student's final year of high school, or continue to follow local curricula.


The bill does not change high school graduation requirements in math; however the state could adjust the requirement - by mandating more time or a competency test, for example - if it finds that students who use the state curriculum perform better than those that do not. The new curriculum will be available for the 2013-14 school year, with analysis to come four years later, according to the bill.


"Students learn locally, but they compete globally," Simon said. "Employers and colleges are telling us that too many of our students are not competing in math. This bill will provide educators across the state, in all zip codes, the tools they need to prepare their students for college and career math."


In 2011, 58 percent of high school graduates did not meet the math college readiness benchmark, according to ACT. More than one-third of recent high school graduates who transitioned as full-time community college freshmen between 2006-08 enrolled in at least one remedial math course, according to the Illinois Community College Board. Students who enroll in remedial courses are more likely to drop out or graduate late.


Simon said the optional statewide curriculum moves away from simply requiring "seat time" to promoting use of that time wisely, with the ultimate goal of making students more employable and reducing expensive and time-consuming remedial math needs in higher education. The state curriculum could be most helpful to teachers in districts that lack curriculum directors or that rely on textbook manufacturers that claim their materials are aligned with state standards.


The bill passed out of the Senate 50-1 in March and now moves to the House for a vote.



SPRINGFIELD - April 18, 2012. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon announced today that her Interagency Military Base Support and Economic Development Committee (IMBSEDC) is currently accepting applications for two new citizen members. The volunteer group advocates for the retention and reuse of the state's military bases and works to foster a strong economic connection between the installations and their local economies.

"We look forward to welcoming new voices to our committee to continue our important work in supporting the state's military families and regional economies," Simon said.

Current members include retired military personnel and economic development officials, as well as four members of the General Assembly and representatives from various state agencies. A successful candidate may draw on personal and professional experiences in military, economic development, education or governmental fields.

The application announcement came Wednesday at the IMBSEDC's quarterly meeting. Applications are now being accepted, and more information can be found here.



Classrooms First could cut $1 billion in operation costs


SPRINGFIELD - April 16, 2012. The Classrooms First Commission is expected to release a set of draft recommendations Tuesday that would make it easier for school districts to consolidate and help them save up to $1 billion in operations costs by sharing services, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said today.


No districts would be forced to consolidate under the recommendations, but the state would require counties with small and declining school-age populations to study whether county-wide consolidation or sharing services would save money and boost learning.


Money recouped from what Simon calls "voluntary and virtual consolidations" would be redirected to public school classrooms so students and taxpayers would benefit from the efficiencies, according to the draft report.


"These recommendations are a road map to stronger, streamlined school districts," said Simon, chair of the Classrooms First Commission. "There's no one-size-fits-all way to achieve efficiency, but there are many ways to eliminate wasteful spending and free up money to improve learning in classrooms."


The Classrooms First Commission is a bi-partisan group of education stakeholders that was charged last fall by Governor Quinn and the General Assembly to reduce duplicative education spending and improve educational outcomes. It reviewed several paths and collected input from hundreds of Illinois educators and taxpayers through public hearings and an online survey.


The commission found that mass consolidation would cost state taxpayers nearly $4 billion up front under current law. A more cost-effective approach would be to eliminate or modify state regulations that discourage districts from voluntarily consolidating. At least 40 districts were in the process of or considering such realignments in the past year, according to the report.


"Forcing districts to merge is not realistic, but providing them the resources and tools to consolidate on a voluntary or virtual basis is well within reach." said State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a member of the Classrooms First Commission.


The draft recommendations to promote voluntary consolidation at little or no new cost to the state include :


·         allowing compact but not contiguous districts to consolidate; currently districts must be compact and contiguous


·         expanding the regional board of school trustees dissolution authority, by allowing local districts with under 750 enrollment to seek dissolution with or without a referendum; currently this is an option for districts serving communities with under 5,000 people


·         piloting a new capital project list that targets school construction money at districts willing to consolidate and that are in need of new buildings, additions, and/or building renovations


·         phasing in lower local tax rates for new unit districts; currently, elementary and high school districts become a lower, unit taxing district immediately after consolidating


·         requiring counties with small and declining school-age populations to conduct efficiency studies that could lead to shared services, district mergers, or even county-wide districts; 12 counties currently have county-wide districts and another 16 counties have small and declining student populations, according to state and federal population projections through 2030


"These changes will help to remove red tape so districts can more efficiently provide students with a quality education whether that be through consolidation or shared services," said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch.


The draft recommendations also include two legislative proposals that would promote shared services in areas such as technology, transportation and food service across districts.


The first proposal would create a revolving fund to provide short-term, low-interest loans to seed cooperative service agreements or conduct efficiency studies. The loans would be repaid with the money gained through resulting streamlining.


A second proposal would authorize the Illinois State Board of Education to provide a web-based resource management program to districts to help them identify potential savings in five major spending areas: instruction, transportation, food services, administration and facility maintenance. A pilot program of a similar service in Ohio resulted in at least a 5 percent operational savings at participating districts. At that rate, Illinois districts could realize a net savings of almost $1 billion.


"Right now districts are required to complete many annual reports, but they simply end up in a black hole and are never linked," said Michael Jacoby, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and member of the commission. "This new service would create a business analytics tools for districts to compare their data, learn best practices and make operational changes to initiate new efficiencies. This could free up significant resources for instruction and offset the funding losses all districts are currently experiencing."


The Governor's office would establish a resource repository for the shared service agreements so districts could have samples to follow. It could be patterned after a shared service repository for municipalities in New Jersey.


"Shared services offer school districts the opportunity to provide more diverse curriculum options and expand educational opportunity, while streamlining delivery and saving money," said Jason Leahy, executive director of the Illinois Principals Association and a member of the Classrooms First Commission. "It is my hope that the Classrooms First Commission recommendations will point districts towards the tools and resources they need to accomplish this goal."


A statewide health insurance pool and a state-run online professional development tool for various health/safety trainings are additional options for savings and streamlining, the report states.


"Through these recommendations, we hope to eliminate barriers to efficiency and provide school districts the tools they need to streamline operations and put resources into the classroom," said Paul Swanstrom, executive director of the High School District Organization of Illinois and a member of the Classrooms First Commission. "I look forward to working with Lt. Governor Simon and my fellow commission members as we gather public input and work to finalize these recommendations."


The Classrooms First Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Springfield to vote on the release of the draft recommendations, and public hearings are set to begin Thursday in Champaign. Comments will also be collected at


Simon said public input will be incorporated into the final recommendations. A final report will be delivered to the Governor and General Assembly by July 1.



EVENT: Classrooms First Commission meeting

TIME: 11 a.m.

DATE: Tuesday, April 17

PLACE: Fourth Floor Board Room, Illinois State Board of Education, 100 N. First St., Springfield



CARBONDALE - In advance of Tax Day, Lt. Governor Simon will fulfill her promise to release her annual tax returns and financial statements from her senior staff. Simon says making the information public empowers taxpayers to learn if she or her staff hold any conflicts of interest. This is the second consecutive year the Lt. Governor and her staff will make the disclosures.


TIME: 10 a.m. media availability

DATE: Friday, April 13

PLACE: Lt. Governor's office, IDOT District 9 headquarters, 2801 Murphysboro Road, Carbondale



Touts strip club fee to save critical counseling services


MOLINE - April 3, 2012. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month today by visiting a rape crisis center in Moline where she advocated for a new funding stream to protect services for sexual assault survivors and save jobs.


Simon is backing Senate Bill 3348, which would require all strip clubs that permit alcohol to pay a $5-per-patron fee. The revenue would help fund community-based sexual assault prevention and response programs, such as the one run by Family Resources in the Quad Cities.


Like other agencies statewide, the Rape/Sexual Assault Counseling and Advocacy Program of Family Resources has seen its state funding drop 28 percent since 2009 and staff decline, while demand for crisis and counseling services has increased.


"Whenever a sexual assault survivor calls for help in Moline, we need to know an advocate is ready to respond," Simon said. "Budget cuts are putting these critical services and jobs at risk in the Quad Cities and statewide. That's why I'm supporting a common sense way to fund rape crisis centers that will not affect most Illinoisans' pocketbooks, but help many people receive the counseling and legal advocacy they need."


The Family Resources program provides comprehensive services to victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault and their non-offending family members in Rock Island County and parts of Henry and Mercer counties.


The center provided services in the forms of counseling, advocacy, crisis response, prevention education and training to 30,000 individuals last year through the domestic violence and sexual assault services. In Illinois alone, the program responded to more than 300 crisis clients by phone or in-person and provided medical or legal advocacy to another 74 people.


"These services are vital to the health and well being of the Quad Cities community," said Family Resource Director Nicole Cisne Durbin. "Sexual violence is a community issue, not just an issue for victims, survivors and social services. It affects everyone. The revenue raised from this proposed tax would allow our program to continue to provide these critical services to the community in a consistent manner without constant fear of losing more funds."


Senate Bill 3348, sponsored by Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights), counts among its co-sponsors Sen. Tim Bivens, who served as the Lee County sheriff for 20 years and is a past president of the Illinois Sheriff's Association. R.T. Finney, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, supports the bill as do more than 30 rape crisis centers and Dr. Richard McCleary, a University of California-Irvine professor and leading adult entertainment business researcher. Read testimony on SB 3348 from Finney, McCleary and Simon here.


Last year, the Texas Supreme Court upheld legislation that funded crisis centers through a $5 entrance fee at strip clubs that permit alcohol based on the correlation between alcohol, live nude dancing and negative secondary effects, such as sexual assault. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge of that decision, effectively opening the door for other cities and states to purse similar measures. California is among the states seeking legislation; it is considering a $10-per-patron fee.


Simon's visit to the Quad Cities comes after stops at rape crisis centers in East St. Louis and Carbondale last week. Read Simon's editorial on SB 3348 here.



CARBONDALE - Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will kick off the Southern Illinois University School of Law Civil Union Symposium on Tuesday. The event will explore the first year of civil unions in Illinois, and what steps might be taken in the future to bring full marriage equality to Illinois.


DATE: Tuesday, April 3

TIME: 5:30 p.m.

PLACE: Hiram H. Lesar Law Building Auditorium, 1150 Douglas Drive, Carbondale



MOLINE - Marking Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will visit counselors and educators Tuesday at Family Resources to advocate for legislation that would restore funding to sexual assault prevention agencies.

Senate Bill 3348 would require all strip clubs that permit alcohol to collect a $5-per-patron entry fee, and the revenue would be distributed to community-based sexual assault prevention and response organizations, like Family Resources. Over the past two years, the center has seen their state funding cut by nearly 28 percent.

DATE: Tuesday, April 3

TIME: 10 a.m.

PLACE: Family Resources, 1521 47th Ave., Moline