Take 5: Aldermanic endorsements, ed funding, GED pass rates

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The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted to endorse another batch of aldermanic candidates at last week’s meeting — but not without a little bit of soul-searching first. Union officials have kept mum about what exactly happened — as George Schmidt wrote last week in Substance News — but a number of delegates gave Catalyst Chicago the rundown.

Delegates voted down one candidate who had been recommended by the union’s political action and legislative committee — Patrick Daley-Thompson (11th Ward), a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, with many questioning why the union would want to be linked with a name synonymous with Chicago machine politics. Instead, delegates proposed and voted to endorse one of Daley’s opponents, Maureen Sullivan. Some frustrated delagates compared the process to the November endorsement of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor, a last-minute decision that came after CTU President Karen Lewis was diagnosed with a brain tumor, effectively ending her own political aspirations.

The House did approve a number of other recommended candidates, including Matt O’Shea (19th); Michael Zalewski (23rd); Rafael Yañez (15th); Chuks Onyezia (18th); and Frank Bass (24th).

Finally, delegates proposed and voted on two additional candidates for endorsement: Ed Hershey (25th), a teacher at Lindblom, and Zerlina Smith (29th), a community activist who helped lead last year’s opt-out movement at Saucedo. (See our story on teachers running for office in our fall In Depth.) There was apparently some debate about whether to endorse Hershey because of another progressive, education-focused candidate in that race — Byron Sigcho. While not a CTU member himself, Sigcho has been a CTU ally with strong community support in Pilsen. Hershey, Sigcho and others — including a socialist candidate, Jorge Mujica — are vying to unseat incumbent Danny Solis.

Since November, the CTU has endorsed four other teachers running for aldermanic seats, including Sue Sadlowski-Garza (10th), Tim Meegan (33rd), Tara Stamps (37th) and Dianne Daleiden (40th), in addition to others. The CTU’s political arm has contributed $10,000 to the campaigns of Garza, Meegan and Stamps, according to financial reports filed with the state this month.

Meanwhile, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) also endorsed another batch of aldermanic candidates. These include incumbents Patrick O’Conner (40th), Howard Brookins (21st) and Walter Burnett (27th), as well as candidates Elise Doody-Jones (32nd) and James Dukes (17th).

“Our children’s education future is at stake in this election in every ward and neighborhood of this city,” Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, DFER-IL state director, said in a statement. “We are committed to bringing parents, students and teachers together to rally around candidates who will fight to ensure that Chicago can deliver a world-class education to our kids.”

DFER-IL previously endorsed incumbent aldermen Will Burns (4th), Michelle Harris (8th), JoAnn Thompson (16th), and Emma Mitts (37th), in addition to Michael Diaz, a candidate in the 45th Ward. So far, the group has only reported a $500 contribution to Burns.

2. Fixing funding at last?….State School News Service’s Jim Broadway writes that Senate Bill 16, the overhaul of the school funding formula that was percolating last year, has re-emerged, but this time as Senate Bill 1. Senate Bill 1 is still just a title and the details of what state Sen. Andy Manar will propose has yet to be laid out. But last year’s bill sought to address the disparity in school funding by combining nearly all of the state education department’s grant money into the General State Aid formula, a move that ends up increasing state funding for property-poor school districts and cutting the amount for wealthy areas.

Broadway notes that the only way to prevent well-heeled areas from losing substantial state funding would be to greatly increase the overall money in the GSA pot. “That shouldn’t be so difficult in a state as wealthy as ours, especially since Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged as a candidate last year to “restore” the $1 billion he said the schools lost while Gov. Pat Quinn was in office,” writes Broadway. Though Broadway acknowledges the state budget problems will make it hard for Rauner to keep his promise.

Despite those problems, though, the Chicago Tribune tells Rauner to make good on his promise to deliver more money for education. The solution proposed, however, is a little different than Manar’s. In an editorial, the Tribune writes that a lot of money is already flowing into education, but that bureaucracy is bloated. They advocate consolidating school districts and regional offices.

3. Rise in low-income students … We already knew that, for the first time ever, just over half of Illinois students in public schools were considered low-income. It now looks like that’s also true across the country.

Researchers at the Southern Education Foundation found that 51 percent of public school children qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in 2013, a big jump from 38 percent in 2000.

This article in the New York Times — which includes a telling map of poverty across the country — clarifies that children who are eligible for these lunches don’t necessarily live in poverty. “Subsidized lunches are available to children from families that earn up to $43,568 for a family of four, which is about 185 percent of the federal poverty level,” Mokoto Rich writes. In addition, the numbers have likely increased because the federal government “now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.”

This year, CPS signed onto the program and meals at all schools — including “well-off” schools — are free. “Entirely free meals reduce the labor of cash collection and tracking which students have to pay full and reduced prices for their food,” WBEZ reported last fall. “This tiered system (with incentives for schools reporting higher poverty levels) led to fraud among CPS employees in the past.”

4. Extended learning time provides boost… Increasing time spent in the classroom can have a serious effect on achievement for low-performing schools, according to a new report out from the Center for Education Policy. Looking at 17 schools in four states, the report compared different approaches to federal grants that provide incentives for longer school days. Results varied, but most suggested that extended learning time can boost schools in more ways than one. The principal of one school in Oregon, for example, said “everyone is benefiting” from a 30-minute extension to teachers’ workday. A handful of other schools, in Colorado, saw bumps in their graduation rates after extending school hours into the late afternoon.

Still, the report notes, extended learning time brings up some challenges. Most notably, rigid teacher contracts will often become a snag in district efforts to increase classroom time. This was the case in Chicago in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union dug its feet in opposition to the added work hours that came alongside Mayor Emanuel’s extended school day initiative. The union ended up agreeing to a deal in which hours were added to the school day but required time for staff meetings was cut, meaning that teachers would more or less work the same total number of hours.

5. Higher bar to pass the GED… In 2014, the number of people who took and passed the GED plummeted as the test changed, reportedly to make it more in line with employers’ expectations, according to a National Public Radio story. The new test is taken via computer, is more expensive and more difficult. Designers of the new test are hoping that it will carry more weight now that it is harder. But critics are worried that it will take away the second chance that many people desperately need to earn high school credentials

The early numbers show that less than 60,000 passed the GED (the numbers do not include those in prison who took the test). Typically hundreds of thousands take and pass the test, and in 2013, as people rushed to take it before the change, more than 500,000 got the equivalency degree. More than 20,000 people passed the test in Illinois in 2013. The GED Testing Service has yet to post the 2014 annual statistical report.