Quinn signs education bills in bid for federal dollars

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Gov. Pat Quinn signed four education bills into law today, including a major deal between charter advocates and the state’s teachers unions that doubles the state’s cap on charter schools in exchange for new accountability measures for charter operators. Quinn also signed legislation that lays the groundwork for a comprehensive student data system. The moves should help the state compete for the nearly $5 billion in competitive “Race to the Top” education grants that will be doled out as part of the federal stimulus package.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants states to take an aggressive approach on four policy fronts: developing stronger academic standards for students, putting together comprehensive data systems, intervening aggressively in low-performing schools and finding ways to more evenly distribute the state’s best teachers in lower-performing schools.

But the bills Quinn signed today only address three of the four qualifying factors laid out by Duncan.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed four education bills into law today, including a major deal between charter advocates and the state’s teachers unions that doubles the state’s cap on charter schools in exchange for new accountability measures for charter operators. Quinn also signed legislation that lays the groundwork for a comprehensive student data system. The moves should help the state compete for the nearly $5 billion in competitive “Race to the Top” education grants that will be doled out as part of the federal stimulus package.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants states to take an aggressive approach on four policy fronts: developing stronger academic standards for students, putting together comprehensive data systems, intervening aggressively in low-performing schools and finding ways to more evenly distribute the state’s best teachers in lower-performing schools.

But the bills Quinn signed today only address three of the four qualifying factors laid out by Duncan.

What’s missing from the bills is a strategy for addressing teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution. In fact, educator quality and support was hit hard in the state budget, with cuts to programs like Grow Your Own Teachers and Teach for America.

The education budget released last week by the Illinois State Board of Education raises other questions, too. Quinn will release his version of the state’s budget Friday, and many in the education community are waiting to see which areas Quinn will cut and which areas may have some funding restored.

One of the bills signed today creates a longitudinal data system to process information about students from preschool through post-secondary education—data that could be used to measure teacher effectiveness. Illinois has a $9 million federal grant for it, but the state education budget cut $1.75 million from the project’s bottom line.

And while the state has doubled its charter cap, its education budget includes a $3.4 million cut in funding set aside to reimburse districts for up-front money to start up new charters.

Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, called the new laws “a terrific first step.”  The group has also called for overhauling teacher evaluation and instituting performance-based pay, as well as a state fund to support educational innovations.

As for the Race to the Top grant, Steans said today, “It’s like the lottery. But it’s better because we get to control our odds.”