Quinn to sign tenure reform law; voucher bill dead

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On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to sign Senate Bill 7, the
landmark bill that makes sweeping changes to teacher tenure and strike
rights.

On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to sign Senate Bill 7, the landmark bill that makes sweeping changes to teacher tenure and strike rights.

The signing ceremony will take place at Lexington Elementary in Maywood, home of state Sen. Kimberly Lightford. Lightford led five months of negotiations among leaders from the state’s teachers unions, legislators and education activists to hammer out specifics of the bill. (A trailer bill that addressed several last-minute objections from the Chicago Teachers Union will be signed as well, according to a spokesman for the governor.)

Included in SB7 are provisions that make job performance, not seniority, the primary factor in layoff decisions; allow for revoking tenure for poor job performance; and make it tougher for teachers to authorize a strike.

The bill also opens the door for a longer school day and year in Chicago, something Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to institute. Under the bill, the length of the school day and year were added to the list of “permissible” subjects of contract bargaining. The current CTU contract runs until June 2012, but the contract could be reopened for bargaining if the district opts to declare a fiscal emergency and the School Board votes not to pay the 4 percent raises teachers are scheduled to receive next school year.

Those raises were not included in the school budgets principals received last Friday.

Another bill requiring more transparency regarding school closings and the creation of a long-term facilities plan for CPS–something the district has not had for decades–also passed during the recent session.

Here’s what happened to other legislation:

No vouchers

A bill that would have created the state’s first school voucher program, in Chicago, is stuck in limbo and not likely to be resurrected.

The bill, SB1932, was approved by the Senate Education Committee on April 7. But Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) was unable to garner the support he would have needed to pass the bill on the floor.

Murphy’s bill is similar to the one filed two years ago by Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), who exerted much pressure to get the committee to approve SB1932.  The bill would have given parents of children in low-achieving schools vouchers of about $3,600 to pay for private school tuition. The money – an estimated $108 million per year for about 30,000 children – would come from state funds otherwise going to CPS.

Some senators who helped Meeks send his bill over to the House two years ago said at the time they were voting for it out of respect for Meeks. The Meeks bill ultimately failed in the full House.

Technically, the voucher bill could still get a floor vote in the fall or next year, but its prospects are dim.

Not much ‘remediation’

HB 139 had great ambition at the start but, like so many other bills, it was watered down by the time it was finally passed by the House and Senate.

As filed by Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), it would have forced Chicago Public Schools to create basic skills classes for students who test two years or more behind grade level in reading and math.

The final version had much less teeth: It amended current law, which applies to all school districts and requires students who test two years behind grade level to be given remediation programs—which includes summer school as one of the options.

HB 139 amended that provision, tweaking the summer school option to say that it should have “an emphasis” on math and reading if the student lags in those subjects.

Longer year pilot

HB 1415 identifies 23 schools that would participate in a year-round, longer school year with 215 instructional days, subject to the availability of federal funding. Currently, the average number of instructional days in Illinois is 175; Chicago has only 170 days.

Two of the schools are in Chicago: Aldridge and DuBois elementary schools, both on the Far South Side. The others are in Dolton, South Holland, Lansing, Brookwood, Ford Heights and Sunnybrook.

Although the program is limited at the outset, it is likely that if academic achievement improves and more funds became available, it would expand to other districts and schools.



Charters

HB 190 allows CPS to allocate at least five of its statutory allotment of 75 charter schools to serve students from the city’s lowest-achieving and overcrowded schools. It was sponsored by Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville), who is also a school superintendent for Hutsonville.

Eddy’s goal was to direct CPS to an alternative to the proposed voucher program.

Here is a list of bills affecting public schools.