Quick Hit Micah Maidenberg Friday April 15th, 2011, 10:59am

The Education Reform Bill Heads To The House

The education proposal that passed out of the state Senate yesterday is the very definition of a consensus bill, despite the changes it will mean for the state's educational workforce and teachers' collective bargaining rights. Illinois' three largest education unions are on board with it; so is Stand For Children, the non-profit and PAC that raised millions last year from Ilinois' wealthiest political donors and is aligned with business interests; so is Advance Illinois; so is Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel; so are all 59 members of Springfield's upper chamber. SB 7 now heads over to the House, where it could see additional changes and tweaks.

SB 7 means teachers can be dismissed based on performance before seniority comes into play, allows school districts to fill new and vacant positions based on a range of factors instead of length of experience, and raises the bar for tenure. The bill creates a longer fact-finding period during contract impasses for all cities greater than 500,000 (read: Chicago) and requires a panel of mediators to be appointed and consider the dispute. Seventy-five percent of Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members are now required to vote in favor of a strike, up from a simple majority now.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told Progress Illinois that the bill almost sunk because some of the other groups involved took a maximalist position on strikes -- they wanted to take it away entirely, exposing the reformers' position as basically anti-labor. "That was the agenda from the beginning," she said. Lewis said some of the changes will affect downstate and suburban teachers more than Chicago's educators; when it comes to filling vacant jobs, for example, teachers in the city don't have a seniority claim on them currently.

For Chicago, SB 7 also puts the "length of the work and school day, length of the work and school year" on the table as permissible subjects of bargaining. "This means we cannot stop CPS from lengthening the school day during contract negotiations," CTU said in a statment. "At the end of the day, we can oppose any attempt to make us work longer without paying for it and we will continue to have a great deal of control over how this issue unfolds." Lewis said increasing pay for longer hours and a school year would be bargained over. "All that has to be dealt with," she said. CPS's budget deficit, meanwhile, is now estimated to stand at $820 million, and layoffs may be coming.

The CTU president said in the end, "I'm very happy with the process considering what was on the table in December and January ... that was a very nasty piece of legislation that has nothing to do with education reform and and caring about kids."

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