The $20,000 question

The $20,000 question, posed by the Chicago Tribune, is why Illinois “is squandering taxpayer money on dubious after-school grants, including many that rewarded one lawmaker’s political supporters.” Senate Democrats have handed out 48 grants worth $20,000 each; only 11 went to established tutoring or mentoring programs, the Tribune found. State Sen. Rickey Herndon, D-Chicago, didn’t manage to fund a single legitimate after-school program.

In a church on Chicago’s West Side, two homeless children fiddled aimlessly on unplugged computers, awaiting their “tutor.”

Another church sat darkened and padlocked during after-school hours even though it was presented as a tutoring center.

A woman used her grant for billboard ads that would encourage teens to attend community college, but she pocketed nearly half the money. The billboards have yet to appear.

In three cases, education officials rubber-stamped legislator-selected grants to “programs where felons, one a convicted murderer, worked with children,” reports the Tribune

Education officials also didn’t heed red flags in the applications. One grantee promised to tutor on a “dailey bases,” another to teach “fluenty in speaking.” A third wrote that he’d pay himself $475 a month for a year to tutor children. When state officials e-mailed back that the grant lasted only six months, he replied that he’d pay himself $950 a month.

. . . The Al Malik Temple for Universal Truth spent its $20,000 to teach children how their birth date and name influence their destiny.

The Trib quotes a West Side principal who’d love to have $20,000 for band instruments or an after-school arts program. But would kids learn fluenty on a dailey bases? Would they learn Universal Truth?

Update: Michigan paid sex offenders, child abusers and ex-cons to provide day care, an audit revealed.

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Comments

  1. My cynical answer?

    “Because it’s Illinois.”

    There’s a long history of this kind of stuff in government there. (I used to live there.)

  2. You know, maybe money IS the problem in our schools: TO MUCH OF IT.

  3. SuperSub says:

    Hmmm…Chicago…I forget which recently-popular politician earned his wings in that political cesspool. I wonder how far back the grant program goes…

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Since this is less than $1M wasted/spent/stolen/whatever I would say that FOR CHICAGO this is pretty cheap.

    -Mark Roulo

  5. Education Outrage of the …. day, hour, minute? 🙂

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    I cannot speak for the moral fiber of any of the grant recipients who were plainly giving only the most generalized lip service to any tutoring efforts–or the legislators who doled it out. But honestly. What did anyone think was going to happen? I can just hear the voices railing about the bureaucracy that is required to get some government help just to set up a a little tutoring program to help out some kids in the neighborhood. They want us to run police checks on our volunteers. They want us to monitor attendance and use approved text books and all that other kind of “meaningless paperwork.” They want us to file financial reports. Oh, government, government, government. Get off our backs and just give us the money. We know our kids. We work with them all the time–we know what they need. Just give us the money.

    I have worked in non-profits a long time. Long enough to know that $20,000 isn’t very much, when it comes to starting up a program. It can be very useful to an organization that already has a solid infrastructure that allows for reporting, good and accurate financials, adequate screening of staff and volunteers, and the good sense to understand that grants don’t balance the budget. I have seen a good many loosy-goosy efforts funded through the squeeky wheel method–some neighborhood resident complaining that they know better than any of the established entities exactly what kids need–and can do it cheaper. I have also been around when the good intentions fall apart and an established entity is asked to take on the failed mission and inadequate funding.

    There’s a good reason for all that hated bureaucracy. Because it works to ensure that dollars are spent in the way that they are intended and that the promised services are delivered in a quality way.

  7. > Because it works to ensure that dollars are spent in the way that they are intended and that the promised services are delivered in a quality way.

    Uh, not quite.

    The bureaucracy, when it’s working as intended, follows the letter of whatever enabling legislation brought it into existence. If the enabling legislation was poorly thought-out and/or poorly drafted then the bureaucracy, when it’s working as intended, will reflect those shortcomings. Creativity and rugged individualism isn’t a highly regarded or sought-after quality in bureaucrats.

    When the bureaucracy *isn’t* working as intended not only is the oversight function a fond memory but the bureaucracy goes into business for itself expanding amoeba-like to absorb all available resources.

    Unfortunately, that’s the direction all bureaucracies are inclined to take so they must periodically be shorn of those excesses resources and flogged back onto the job for which the bureaucracy was originally constituted.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    “The bureaucracy, when it’s working as intended, follows the letter of whatever enabling legislation brought it into existence. If the enabling legislation was poorly thought-out and/or poorly drafted then the bureaucracy, when it’s working as intended, will reflect those shortcomings.”

    allen–its a bit more complex than that. Typically the nitty gritty details by which government operates are written by bureaucrats (which I don’t take to be a dirty word). Code generally consists of the broad framework, written by a legistlature, and the administrative code, which fills in the details. Usually administrative code requires input as well from “the public” in the form of hearings where advocacy groups and individual citizens review and comment on rules before they are finally enacted. This happens in a pretty public kind of way that tends to provide some checks on oversights and unintended consequences. That’s in addition to the checks and balances provided by the executive and judicial branches.

    Certainly we all can point to some really big foul-ups and times when things are not functioning “as intended.” But all-in-all, compared to the absence of regulation, I’d say it’s something we want to hang on to. It disturbs me when “government,” as a concept, is bad-mouthed in a country like ours. I think it opens us up to all kinds of things we don’t think we are asking for.

  9. Parent2 says:

    I agree with allen that bureaucracy grows like a weed, and needs to be cut back vigorously at times. In our state, that seems to happen when the government overspends its budget supporting…bureaucracy!

    There was a bureaucratic process involved in this grant making process. It was inefficient, and easily corrupted. That isn’t a surprise.

  10. Ragnarok says:

    Margo,

    Perhaps you haven’t heard of the Three Laws of Bureaucracy? For convenience, here they are:

    First Law: Survive and multiply.

    Second Law: Except when it conflicts with the First Law, ask for and waste as much taxpayer money as possible.

    Third Law: Except in case of conflicts with the First and Second Laws, do nothing useful.

  11. “This happens in a pretty public kind of way…”

    Theoretical Admin Law 101: as usual, practice is something somewhat different. In the real world, how many people, let alone ordinary citizens rather than lobbyists, show up at a typical agency hearing? Or submit comments for proposed rulemaking?