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Glenn and Jo Poshard.

CARBONDALE — Former SIU President, Illinois State Senator and U.S. Congressman Glenn Poshard has donated $100,000 to the SIU Carbondale Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, together with his wife, Jo Poshard, the Institute announced Dec. 3 in a news release.

The endowed gift will fund a new Simon Institute initiative, the Renewing Illinois Summit, which gathers young leaders from universities across the state to seek solutions to the state’s challenges.

The inaugural summit, held March 28-29, drew 35 students from nine Illinois colleges and universities.

Poshard was one of several luminaries who co-led the event, said Simon Institute Director John Shaw, discussing with students the history of higher education in Illinois.

Watching the students devise policy solutions without the partisan inflexibility of many Springfield lawmakers, Poshard was “struck at their inquisitiveness and creativity,” Shaw said.

With the Poshards’ support, the 2020 Renewing Illinois Summit, April 2-3, is expected to be about twice as big, the Institute announced, with several new community colleges and four-year universities brought into the fold.

“We want this to be one of the foundational programs of the Institute,” Shaw said. “This gift will be the core of the funding for this program for the foreseeable future.”

The 2020 summit, “One Illinois: Noble Aspiration or Impossible Dream,” will ask students to envision concrete steps to bridge the urban/rural opportunity gaps in Illinois and other states.

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“Rather than dividing the state, the Paul Simon Institute and SIU, through a creative approach utilizing the best and brightest of our higher education students, seek to find the solutions to close this ‘prosperity gap,’” the couple said. “No other institute or university in Illinois is more qualified to undertake this task and we want to be a part of it. We feel this is an important investment in the future of our state.”

The theme is also a response to the long-lived movement to kick Chicago out of Illinois and make it a separate state, Shaw acknowledged.

The movement, which has strong support in some pockets of Southern Illinois, drew national media attention this year when Illinois State Rep. Brad Halbrook, of Shelby County, introduced legislation calling for the split.

Eight of the 44 Republicans in the Illinois House signed on to cosponsor the bill, according to the Pew Trust. Meanwhile, Effingham County is planning a ballot referendum on the topic in 2020, and a secessionist organization called New Illinois Inc., has 26 county chapters around the state, according to leader G.H. Merritt.

In 2018, the Simon Institute released a study revealing that the movement’s claims that Chicagoland saps tax money from the rest of the state are ill founded. Instead, the Institute reported, Southern Illinois is a net taker of state tax money, receiving $2.81 in state funding for every $1 the region pays in taxes.

In preparation for the 2020 summit — two days of debate, discussion, study and policy analysis — students will read a commissioned essay by historian Roger Biles, of Illinois State University, tracing the regional tensions in the state’s history.

“We want them to think about: Is it possible for Illinois to have a coherent state identity given disparities between life in different places?” Shaw said. “Is that challenge particular to Illinois or common to states with highly industrialized cities and large rural areas?”

After the summit, students will travel from SIU Carbondale to Springfield to brief the media and lawmakers on their findings, the news release indicated. As it did last year, the Institute will also compile a final report, gathering students’ suggestions, to be delivered to lawmakers.

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