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Quinn signs education reform bill into law

June 14, 2011 4:51:29 AM PDT
The education system in Illinois is undergoing big reforms. Governor Pat Quinn signed historic legislation into law Monday morning that, among other things, calls for longer school days and gives districts the ability to fire poorly performing teachers.

The new law also makes it more difficult for teachers to strike.

While the teachers union for the state helped draft these changes, the largest teachers union in Chicago sent mixed signals Monday about their support.

Illinois politicians say that Senate Bill 7, the so-called education reform bill, sets the standard for the rest of the country when it comes to teacher accountability. But the governor's signing of the bill Monday also set the stage for what could a bitter battle between Chicago's new mayor and the city's teachers' union.

"We don't want anyone to out-educate Illinois. We want to make sure that every child gets a good education. We don't want to lose anyone," said Gov. Pat Quinn, (D)-Illinois.

Insisting that Senate Bill 7 is all about public school children, Quinn signed the historic education reform bill. Among its provisions: School systems can extend their school days and/or school years; it is easier to fire poorly performing teachers, and districts may offer merit raises to those who do a good job; and the bill makes it more difficult for teachers' unions to call strikes.

"Avoid striking. It doesn't help the children, it doesn't help the families, it's not conducive. Just don't do it," said Illinois Senator Kimberly Lightford, (D)-Maywood.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, where public schools face a $700 million deficit, says he will use the new law as tool when the CPS attempts later this year to negotiate a longer school day with its teachers union.

"We are now going to have the ability to do what we have denied the kids of Chicago generation after generation," said Emanuel.

But Karen Lewis, the CTU president, was conspicuous in her absence from the bill signing. The president of her parent union cautioned reporters.

"I just don't think there's anything to read into this," said Dan Montgomery, Illinois Federation of Teachers. "This is a statewide event, you saw statewide officeholders here, and you had both teachers unions that represent every unionized teacher in Illinois are here."

At a later, unrelated news conference Emanuel was asked if CTU no-shows indicated looming problems in the upcoming negotiations.

"I'm not commenting on that, I don't know, I haven't talked to Karen Lewis. I'm not going to cast any judgment 'cause I haven't talked to her," said Emanuel. "What I do know is who was there and what is essential to our state's economic competitiveness."

The Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman did not respond to ABC7's phone calls or e-mails in time to be included in this report.

The negotiations between the union and city public schools get under way in the fall. The mayor wants the longer school day in place by the fall of 2012. The question is: Where does he get the money to pay teachers for the extra classroom time? or he does he offer any increase at all?


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