Illinois Senate passes education reform bill

April 14, 2011 8:55:29 PM PDT
The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would make it more difficult for teachers in the state to strike and easier for administrators to dismiss them for poor performance.

The bill, which passed 59-0, would also reward good teachers for doing a good job.

"We all agree that the most important effort in our negotiations is that at the end of the day what's best for the child in the classroom," said State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, (D )Maywood.

"Senate Bill 7 improves the quality of education statewide and I believe will save taxpayers money. That, to me, is a win-win," said State Sen. Matt Murphy, (R) Palatine.

The reforms are sweeping, allowing the Chicago Board of Education to lengthen the school day and year without consulting teachers, which has long been a sticking point. The bill also ties teacher tenure to performance evaluations, shortens the timeline for dismissing poor-performing teachers, and for districts outside Chicago, removes seniority as the sole basis for determining layoffs.

"Are there concerns among some of our more senior staff? Sure. And I think as we are able to show them how this new process will work, I think we'll be able to alleviate much of that concern," said Ken Swanson with the Illinois Education Association.

"We will not always agree, but we can do together when we air our differences, we find in fact we have many more similarities than differences," said Rachel Resnik with Chicago Public Schools Labor Relations.

A key provision would require the Chicago Teachers Union to secure 75 percent membership support to go on strike, rather than a majority, as it now stands.

Despite those concessions, union leaders hailed the agreement, which comes in the wake of efforts in Wisconsin and other states to curtail collective bargaining rights.

"Things work when people come together to resolve issues. It's where ideology meets reality," said Karen Lewis with the Chicago Teachers Union.

"You can do this through collective bargaining. You can do this through bringing the parties to the table. So Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana -- other states -- look to Illinois, we'll show you how to do it the right way," Swanson said.

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said he is pleased with the new reforms because it puts the Chicago Public School students on what he calls a level playing field. Emanuel said he campaigned on the components of the bill so he is relieved state legislators worked together to achieve a common goal.

"Like the police and fire, we will now have responsibility as teachers to provide essential services that make sure to raise the threshold," Emanuel said.

Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed support for the bill. It still needs to pass the House, and a spokesperson for Republican leader Tom Cross signaled support for the bill in principle.