SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) – A major school reform package advanced in an Illinois Senate committee in Springfield on Thursday, with an unusual coalition of lawmakers, school districts and teachers unions supporting the measure.
The proposal deals with issues like tenure, teachers’ right to strike and lengthening the school day.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine explains how they got all those groups on the same page.
Change, especially major reform, usually upsets somebody, and everyone seemed satisfied with the proposal headed for a full Senate vote soon.
It’s a package of education reforms that touts a premium on quality teachers. The idea is to make it easier for school districts to get rid of underperforming teachers, regardless of their salary or seniority.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) negotiated the deal with unions and other interest groups. State Sen. Ed Maloney (D-Chicago), went so far as to call her “the Miracle Worker.”
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Although all the major players seemed to be on board, there were shots fired and returned over provisions like Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s top priority: a longer school day.
“The board will establish the time, they’ll analyze whether it’s an hour, an hour-and-a-half or two (hours), whether it’s a week, two weeks or three weeks,” Emanuel said. “We will establish it. It is essential. I will not allow the kids of Chicago to be academically cheated as they have for the last 30 years.”
Chicago Teachers Union staff coordinator Jackson Potter said “If Rahm wants to have a longer school day, or any of these other things that he wants, he’s gotta come and negotiate with us. There’s no quick fix here. There’s no easy way out of that.”
The union said Chicago Public Schools officials must negotiate some form of compensation for longer school days, which is a key provision of the School Reform Bill.
The measure also would make teachers’ strikes more difficult, though not impossible. And tenure, or lifetime job security, would be tougher to get.
“Teachers will no longer just get tenure based on seniority, they’ll have to have good performance,” said John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute. “Management will have greater control over removing bad teachers, keeping great teachers and not removing people when layoffs are necessary based on ‘last in, first out.’”
The proposal doesn’t guarantee better teachers, longer school days, or balanced budgets, but a spokesman for Chicago Public Schools said it’s a “step toward progress for Chicago Public Schools and the children, but there’s stillmore work to be done.”
Mayor Richard M. Daley agreed.
“Everybody has to sacrifice, simple as that. And I’m not getting into a debate as to what they said or not, but this is in the right direction,” Daley said.
While CPS has estimated that an extra hour in the classroom would cost $300 million a year, Emanuel was adamant that there will be a longer school day and under his watch and it won’t cost taxpayers anything close to that amount.
It was a clearly-drawn line in the sand from the mayor-elect and Levine said he’s never heard Emanuel as adamant about something as he was about a longer school day.
While Illinois House members weren’t throwing cold water on the celebration Thursday, Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville), himself a school superintendent, cautioned that the proposal would need a full vetting.
“You have to balance this desire to keep the best teachers in front of children with the reality that as teachers advance in their career, they’re paid more,” Eddy said.
Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children Illinois, said the proposal would build upon previously-passed legislation improving evaluations.
“It’s going to look at student growth, not, ‘Do your students reach a benchmark,’ but it’s going to incorporate, ‘How much are you getting your kids to grow each year,” Handy said, “and based on that new performance evaluation model, we want to take it the next step, and let’s incorporate that into personnel decisions.”
Lightford said she wants to throw out rumors that the big money of such groups as Stand for Children and Advance Illinois had an undue influence on the measure, and she also did not want to focus on provisions to make it more difficult for teachers to strike.
Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, said his members – particularly more experienced ones – have concerns about the measure, but he believes he and leaders of other unions – CTU and the Illinois Federation of Teachers – will be able to sell it.