Quinn signs bills to make Illinois competitive in Race to the Top

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Governor Pat Quinn signed two education bills into law Friday that stand to make Illinois more competitive for the Race to the Top grant, just weeks before the first application is due. Illinois, competing for as much as $500 million of a $4.3 billion pot, now will require school districts to work with their unions around teacher and principal evaluation and to allow non-profits to offer alternative teacher certification programs.

Governor Pat Quinn signed two education bills into law Friday in an effort to make Illinois more competitive for the Race to the Top grant, just weeks before the first application is due.

Illinois, competing for as much as $500 million of a $4.3 billion pot, now will require school districts to work with their union around teacher and principal evaluation and to allow non-profits to offer alternative teacher certification programs. 

The teacher evaluation piece is controversial as it sets the stage for at least a part of teacher evaluation to be based on student achievement.

Quinn signed the bill at Wells Community High School surrounded by education advocates. They were enthusiastic about the new laws.

“Illinois has been weaker in the ‘great teachers and leaders’ area of the criteria that the government is looking for,” said Fuzz Hogan, director of communications for the advocacy group Advance Illinois. “This legislation will make Illinois stronger in this category because of the union participation. There will be a statewide unity in education organizations that other states won’t have.”

State senators James Meeks of Chicago and Kimberley Lightford of Maywood joined the governor and spoke of the need to rise to the challenge for that the Obama administration has set forth. 

Legislators and organization representatives focused their remarks on confidence in the state’s Race to the Top bid, but added that regardless of whether the state receives funding, the two new laws will greatly improve the state’s schools.

“The state needs an enforceable accountability system for teachers,” said Janel Forde, director of stimulus programs for CPS. “Even if we don’t get the money, this legislation is very important.

Wells Academy Principal Ernesto Matias said that it is extremely important for teachers and administrators to be held accountable for providing quality education to local children. He also supports the legalization of non-profit organization’s certification programs.

“Teachers come from all over,” Matias said. “It doesn’t matter if they followed a traditional path or a different option in getting their certificate. What matters is their commitment and passion for educating the kids.”

Dominique Baser is an intern for Catalyst Chicago.