Latino policy institute starts

By David Valdes

An agreement to create the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation Public Policy Institute passed Monday afternoon. The University’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs joined forces with the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation to sign the agreement at a meeting on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus.

University President B. Joseph White attended the signing along with Sen. Miguel Del Valle (D-2), Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-12), Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-2) and Paul Lopez of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation.

Tom Hardy, executive director for University relations, said the institute’s goal is to develop the best possible public policies for Illinois, but with a Latino focus.

“The Latino community is a growing one in Illinois, as it is across America, but one that makes this state the fifth largest in the nation,” Hardy said.

Hardy said the operation of the institute would be a collaborative effort.

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“The institute will be working with members of our University-wide public affairs institute drawing on the research expertise of these three campuses,” he said, referring to the University, Chicago and Springfield campuses.

Scott Koeneman, assistant director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs said the institute is still in the early stages.

“The agreement to create it has been signed and we’re in the process of raising money to support it,” Koeneman said. “Once we’re through that stage, that’s when we’ll really start getting down to work on policy-related issues.”

The institute will complement the current Latino Caucus Foundation, he said.

“The idea is that with the support of the Latino Caucus Foundation, we will do the kinds of things that it already does regularly, which are research and trying to provide policy makers with knowledge for making the best decisions,” he said.

Koeneman said the institute’s first priority would be education issues, such as families’ access to it and the affordability of it.

Hardy said the quality and accessibility of education for Illinoisans would be a key issue.

“Researchers can be examining trends and different kinds of school testing findings in order to determine what, if any, policies need to be changed or modified to affect Latinos in particular,” Hardy said.

Everyone will benefit from the institute’s policies, he said.

“This is really beneficial to everyone in the state – college students and others – because basically what is being established here is a think tank connected to policy makers in Springfield,” Hardy said.

Koeneman said other policies the institute will pay close attention to include immigration, population, healthcare and job issues for the Latino community.

“While the focus is on issues important to the Latino community for this part, the policy recommendations will apply much more broadly,” he said. “Those same kinds of issues can apply to anybody.”

Tom Hardy said the knowledge attained from the institute’s research would be its driving force.

“Knowledge can be very powerful, facts can be very friendly,” Hardy said. “We’re looking to create knowledge and find facts that will be useful to elected officials and policy makers in helping (Latinos) in Illinois transform their lives economically, with jobs, housing and healthcare.”

Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, Jesse Ruiz, said it was time for Illinois to have a public policy institute to represent the very large Latino community.

“Being a state that has one of the largest Latino populations in the country, it was a shame that we didn’t have this public policy institute,” Ruiz said. “And now we do.”

Ruiz praised former University President James Stukel and current President White for playing pivotal roles in the creation of the institute.

“It’s a credit to President Stukel and President White, who as a relative newcomer, saw an opportunity and brought it home to the U of I,” he said.

The Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation Public Policy Institute will serve a practical purpose, Ruiz said.

“We want not to have another study that sits on a shelf, but to turn it into a study that impacts people,” he said.