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Rauner Names Cabinet Team; Meeks To Head State Board Of Education

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 12, 2015 8:00PM

Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) and Rev. James Meeks

Last weekend I woke up in a cold sweat after I had a dream Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Rev. James Meeks as chairman of the Illinois Board of Education.

Then I realized that wasn’t a dream. Meeks appointment to the state Board of Education highlighted Rauner’s “first wave” announcement of key advisers and appointments last weekend. We can assume this was what Meeks wanted in exchange for his endorsement of Rauner or not. Regardless, this is an odd choice; I have college professors on my social media feeds who would be more qualified than Meeks.

And what are Meeks’ qualifications?

Meeks’ commitment to education is evidenced by his work in the General Assembly, and as the Pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago.

While a member of the Senate, Meeks was a strong voice in education, serving as the Chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee. He worked hard to increase school funding and improve the quality of education for all students.

Meeks spent most of his time in Springfield advocating for school vouchers and sponsored a bill passed by the Illinois Senate in 2010 before falling short in the House. Meeks and other voucher advocates say the concept would level the playing field by allowing public school students to attend the school of their choice. Critics of school vouchers such as the Cato Institute and Anti Defamation League say vouchers are unconstitutional.

Meeks reaped a whirlwind of criticism for endorsing Rauner’s gubernatorial campaign and told Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell he was as eager to shake up Springfield as our new governor.

“There comes a time that black people will have to shake up the Democratic Party because then, in the next election when they make us some promises, they will keep them.”

We know we’re supposed to take a wait-and-see approach to Rauner’s incoming administration but we can’t not question his decision to appoint Meeks, as well as wonder what other initiatives Meeks will implement once he takes over the reins of the state Board of Ed. It seems almost certain Meeks will make a renewed push for vouchers but with Rauner ready to allow the temporary state income tax hike to rollback and Rauner calling the Illinois’ fiscal situation a “death spiral,” one wonders where the state will come up with the funding for any Meeks-backed voucher program. And that’s on top of the legal challenges sure to follow if a voucher program launches in Illinois.

We wonder if Rauner, who backed vouchers in his campaign, is setting Meeks up to fail.