Ill. House sends school reform bill to governor

Associated Press
Updated 5/12/2011 11:37 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- A landmark education reform measure that would make it harder for teachers to go on strike and easier for them to be fired won easy passage Thursday in the Illinois House and now awaits only the governor's signature to become law.

The House voted 112-1 in favor of the schoolteacher performance reform plan despite one of the groups that negotiated and agreed to the measure, the Chicago Teachers Union, protesting final language about handling job disputes and authorization for strikes.


The reform initiative is the result of disparate interests -- school administrators, business groups and teachers unions -- coming together in what they portrayed as an effort to improve learning by improving instruction.

"It keeps the best teacher in the classroom, and we know that the quality of the teacher is the most important factor in achieving great student outcomes," said Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children, a group that splashed onto the political scene last fall by contributing more than $600,000 to legislative candidates.

Under the legislation, teachers would face new restrictions on job-protecting tenure. Layoffs would be based on ability and credentials instead of seniority. Tenured teachers could be fired more easily.

"This is significant," said Rep. Roger Eddy, a Republican and Hutsonville school superintendent. "This is the kind of reform that will make a difference in children's lives."

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A spokeswoman said Gov. Pat Quinn will review the measure before deciding whether to sign it.

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said in a statement that the historic measure would help him implement a longer school day in the city to provide "adequate instructional time."

At the heart of the deal are tougher standards for teacher strikes over contract disputes. Many states prohibit strikes by teachers; critics say walkouts, and even the threat of them, disrupt student learning.

The bill would require several additional steps, including earlier intervention by mediators and publicizing each side's last, best offer in contract negotiations, before a strike. But because of the Chicago public schools' size, the nation's third-largest system would have to have 75 percent approval of union members before they could walk out, compared to a simple majority in the rest of the state.

The Chicago Teachers Union announced last week that it had changed its mind after seeing the final language. Officials said they thought strikes could be authorized by 75 percent of those voting on the issue. They say the legislation requires 75 percent of the union's membership.


CTU also objects to language it says would cancel current legal action before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board involving 1,300 teachers fired last summer and removes the board's role in mediating contract issues such as terms of Emanuel's desire for a longer school day.

Spokeswoman Liz Brown said CTU hoped the bill would be amended before the House acted but now hopes follow-up legislation will tweak language and address the union's concerns.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, the bill's sponsor, did not promise follow-up legislation, but said if the groups agree to new language, she will handle a clean-up bill.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Monique Davis said CTU's worries are enough to nix the bill and she voted "no."

"The intentions are good but this is not going to change a thing," Davis said. "I'm not going to be a union-buster."