Though he’s always had an interest in education, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has been less active with regard to public schools than he has been with the AFSCME contract negotiations and his attempts to link the state budget to his bogus “Turnaround Agenda.

But, as the governor prepares for his 2018 re-election campaign, a change in focus could be coming.

When December began, five seats on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) were either vacant or occupied by appointees whose terms will expire in January, 2017.

Now there are four.

Colin HittCollin Hitt, whose last Springfield job was as director of education policy with the anti-union, anti-public education lobbying organization, the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), will join ISBE, if he wins Senate approval.

Hitt returns to Springfield, where he attended public school, after receiving a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Arkansas. The degree comes from the university’s Department of Education Reform which, Arkansas Times reported in 2005, was established under unusual circumstances.

Some noted that the $20 million to establish the department came from private foundations, one of them the Walton Family Foundation (the Waltons of Wal-Mart, that is), and the Waltons have been known to invest substantially in programs to benefit private schools in competition with public schools. 

Hitt’s doctorate advisor, as NEA noted in 2005, came to Arkansas from the infamous pro-voucher, anti-public education Manhattan Institute.

“Unfortunately, Jay Greene, who was reportedly named as the new department’s head, has devoted his career to promoting vouchers and other measures aimed to weaken or otherwise dismantle public education. Dr. Greene has a history of promoting vouchers as the answer to every challenge and issue facing public schools.

Given Dr. Greene’s anti-public-education record and his refusal to entertain or support the need for authentic reforms supported by teachers, other educators and parents — such as smaller class sizes, quality teachers in every classroom, greater parental involvement, early childhood education, safe and clean facilities, and up-to-date textbooks and technology — there is cause for concern.”

With Hitt as the governor’s point man (Hitt man?), should we expect to hear a lot about “school choice,” a euphemism for schemes that divert public dollars into the coffers of for-profit charter schools and religious organizations?

If he wins Senate approval, Hitt could have company.

Three of the four ISBE terms expiring in a few weeks are held by Pat Quinn appointees.

When the governor’s ISBE nominations come before lawmakers, IEA members will need to contact their senators:

  • Tell them ISBE should be led by people who believe that every student should have access to a high quality public school.
  • Tell them the Illinois State Board of Education should be comprised of people who are dedicated to the success of public education.
  • Tell them agents for those who want to divert public money into private hands should be rejected for seats on the Illinois State Board of Education.

Gov. Rauner’s recent comments  about the “Voucher Queen” chosen to head the US Department of Education make it clear where he wants Illinois to go.

“I do know Betsy DeVos, I have great respect for her,” Rauner said Thursday when asked about Trump’s selection of DeVos. “I think she’s a very talented and very passionate education advocate. And I personally am a believer in school choice. And I look forward to working together.”

Watch this space.

2017 will be an pivotal year for public school children and public school employees. IEA and NEA members will need to be united and active.

The battle to save public education, in Illinois and nationally, is underway.