Illinois School Reform In the Works

Big developments today in Springfield about school hours, teacher seniority, and collective bargaining. Illinois might be the next state to see dramatic revisions to educational policy, and without the fight that going on elsewhere.

The school-reform front has been quiet in Illinois and Chicago recently, as we await the passing of the torch to Rahm Emanuel and his pick for CPS head. Certainly quiet compared to Wisconsin, where changes in collective bargaining led to a months-long standoff.

But that’s about to change. Crain’s and the State Journal-Register are both reporting that a deal to change teachers’ collective-bargaining rights, as well as the length of the school day and tenure rules, has been struck between teachers unions and school-reform lobbyists, with actual legislation in the works. At Progress Illinois, Micah Maidenberg has the backstory on the negotiations and the emergence of collective-bargaining changes from the Emanuel-backed Performance Counts bill, the product of a powerful coalition that includes the Oregon-based Stand for Children, co-founded by Marian Wright Edelman’s son, Jonah Edelman.

You might recall Stand for Children from the vast amounts of money its PAC poured into last year’s elections, including money from the Pritzkers, Sam Zell, and the Crown family. (Also behind the Performance Counts reform push: Advance Illinois, led by Heather Steans, one of the education leaders Emanuel met with during the campaign.) But they hit a roadblock, or at least a speed bump, as Rich Miller reported:

The group’s legislation ran into a brick wall in the Senate, where Sen. Kimberly Lightford, chairman of the Education Reform Committee, resisted a move to rush through any reforms and insisted that the teachers unions play a role in the negotiations.

Lightford has received high marks from both Stand for Children and the teachers unions for running fair-minded, well-organized meetings. One longtime teachers union lobbyist said this month that Lightford’s meetings were some of the best-run he’s attended during his entire career. Stand for Children’s legislative person comes from the Senate Democratic staff, so she has a long relationship with Lightford and offered up her own high praise. Another Lightford meeting is scheduled for this week.

Lightford’s still at the center of the negotiations (video via Illinois Statehouse News):

Maidenberg notes: “How school districts would pay for everything, however, seems to be getting lost here” (i.e. longer school hours). Dennis Rodkin covered the school budget crunch at length back in October, and noted that low-income districts are hit the hardest due to schools’ reliance on property-taxes:

As it turns out, Oak Park is among the luckier districts. Because it’s relatively wealthy in property taxes, only 9.7 percent of its operating expenses comes—or is supposed to come—from the state. In contrast, lower-income Hazel Crest, in the south suburbs, relies on the state for 33.9 percent of its expenses. But even the well-off districts are being squeezed. “Another year of this and we’ll be cutting some serious academic programs,” says John Perdue, the superintendent of Community Consolidated School District 89, which serves parts of Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, and Lombard.


Related: Ben Joravsky on charter schools and the strong ties between school reform and the local business elite.

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