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Sunday, July 20, 2008

The $20 Million Dollar Education Boondoggle

The Chicago Tribune has an excellent report about a $20 million boondoggle of state tax payer money that was supposed to go to worthy after school education programs and usually were wasted, abused, and often times involved those with criminal records. At the center of this corruption is a politician named Ricky Hendon, a powerful State Senator who received a great deal of grants for his district. Many times the recipients of the money were political cronies and allies of Hendon.

All of the questionable projects share the same sponsor: West Side Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), who awarded many grants to campaign workers and donors, the investigation found.

The state board tried to tighten the grant process after the Tribune first raised questions about it two years ago. But lawmakers and education officials have continued to award the grants.

The oversight remains so feeble, in fact, that education officials in three cases handed out money to programs where felons, one a convicted murderer, worked with children. The state contract bars such convicts from doing so.

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.

In some cases, the grantees provided instruction so unorthodox that it's difficult to determine the educational value. The Al Malik Temple for Universal Truth spent its $20,000 to teach children how their birth date and name influence their destiny.

Within the article, Hendon is completely unapologetic. He sees this boondoggle as providing for his constituents. Never mind of course that most of these projects were wasted, ignored, or otherwise corrupted. Hendon is often in charge of arm twisting when votes are necessary for an important bill. The article indicates that these projects may in fact have been payback for his work in twisting arms.

Besides, once again showing our government to be corrupt and inefficient, this particular piece points out something else. All throughout the campaign there will be politicians that will try to show the voters they care by how much money they spent on a particular issue. In fact, if you listen to Democrats nationally, our education problems come from a lack of spending. Well, clearly, the problem with this particular education spending was not a lack of spending, but rather inefficient and corrupt spending. Rather than demanding our politicians spend more to solve our problems, we the voters, must start to demand they spend efficiently. Politician tout spending, much like this, because they think that's what voters want to see. Never mind that it is our tax money they are spending. Unless, we the voters, hold our politicians responsible for inefficient and corrupt spending, stories like this will continue to be commonplace.

It is actually quite troubling that politicians believe the way to tout votes is to highlight their prowess in spending. Make no mistake, had this report not come out, Hendon would likely have used the pork barrel he brought back to his district as a campaign theme. In fact, if I know Springfield politics, Hendon will likely still use it.

Furthermore, don't expect this report to hurt Hendon politically. (in fact, in a most revealing photo in their print edition, Hendon is speaking with a backdrop of a wall that is full of checks that he collected for this program) Unfortunate as it is, corruption is so systemic, in Illinois especially, that most voters don't even notice. This report shows everything that is wrong with politics. A corrupt politician used tax payer money to pay off political allies, spend recklessly, and never did he do the sort of oversight he should have in dishing out the money. Yet, not only will he likely not get hurt politically, but it is even likely this boondoggle will ultimately help him politically.

I have to commend the Chicago Tribune for doing their jobs, and doing it very well on this report. Yet, the Tribune performed the function that Hendon himself was supposed to perform. All politicians are supposed to perform oversight with money that they sponsor. Here, Hedon failed miserably and the cynic in me says it likely isn't going to make much of a difference for him politically.

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