Teachers union pushing again for end to Chicago residency rule

Print More

Residency requirements for Chicago teachers are back on the Springfield agenda, this time with an unlikely sponsor.

State Sen. Heather Steans says she was able to convince Sen. President John Cullerton to extend the deadline for SB 3522, a bill that would scrap the rule requiring teachers in traditional Chicago public schools to live within the city limits. Mayor Richard M. Daley has long defended the requirement, established in 1996, as a way to try and beef up the city housing market and keep teachers close to the communities they serve.

Should Steans successfully move the bill out of the Senate Executive Committee next week, she believes it could reach a vote on the Senate floor—the first time a residency bill has done so.

Residency requirements for Chicago teachers are back on the Springfield agenda, this time with an unlikely sponsor.

State Sen. Heather Steans says she was able to convince Sen. President John Cullerton to extend the deadline for SB 3522, a bill that would scrap the rule requiring teachers in traditional Chicago public schools to live within the city limits. Mayor Richard M. Daley has long defended the requirement, established in 1996, as a way to try and beef up the city housing market and keep teachers close to the communities they serve.

Should Steans successfully move the bill out of the Senate Executive Committee next week, she believes it could reach a vote on the Senate floor—the first time a residency bill has done so.

Charter school principals do not have the same residency restriction.

“Principals in regular schools shouldn’t be hamstrung,” contends Steans, suggesting the rules unfairly restrict the pool of teacher talent from which principals can hire. “I don’t think it is sound education policy.”

The Chicago Teachers Union says the residency requirement can put members in a tight financial bind, especially during the recession.

“What happens to a teacher if they have to move in with a relative in the suburbs [for financial reasons]?” asks CTU lobbyist Traci Cobb-Evans. She notes that only Chicago teachers would face termination of their employment in that situation.

Steans agreed to push the residency changes if the union would drop the issue during negotiations over charter cap expansion and teacher evaluations earlier in the year, says Cobb-Evans. The senator has been an avid supporter of charter schools and, the union lobbyist admits, seems “an unlikely sponsor.”

But Steans says the requirement gives charters an unwarranted advantage over traditional schools when it comes to teacher hiring. “We should get rid of some of the mandates that traditional schools have to live under,” adds Steans.

The union has pushed similar legislation unsuccessfully for years. The mayor’s continued opposition suggests a tough road ahead for this year’s effort, too.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Marvin Colvin passed the House in 2008 only to die in the senate. Colvin has “pre-sponsored” House legislation that would kick start this year if Steans’ bill passes.

Lifting the requirement would be revenue-neutral for Chicago schools, whose leaders are seeking pay and pension concessions from teachers to help fill a massive $900 million budget hole. Moreover, Cobb-Evans says, support from senators like Steans raises the odds for success. Still, she says members will need to call lawmakers by the thousands to see the bill through.

That may not happen. Leaders from a rival union caucus say a change in residency rules could have major “unintended consequences.”

Karen Lewis, co-chair of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, says she supports an end to the residency requirements. But she doesn’t trust political support from Steans. Lewis is also worried that teachers who have been displaced by school closings and turnarounds will face more competition on the job market if the rules change.