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'Performance Counts' is dead (for now)... Largest unified mobilization in Illinois teacher union history defeats billionaires' teacher bashing plans for Illinois

The largest unified political mobilization in the history of teacher unionism in Illinois not only defeated the "Performance Counts" legislation proposed by a cohort of front groups for what historian Diane Ravitch has called "the billionaire boys club," but also provided support for Illinois legislators and Governor Pat Quinn in raising state taxes to begin a responsible approach to funding state services — including public schools — in the fact of escalating national attacks on public service, public workers, and especially teacher unions.

The most pernicious piece of legislation pushed into the state legislature was the "Performance Counts" proposal, which would have effectively abolished teacher tenure and the right to strike for Illinois teachers. Heavy lobbying by corporate interests on behalf of "Performance Counts" included the Illinois Business Roundtable, the Civic Committee of Chicago's Commercial Club, and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, all of whom added their voices to Stand for Children and Advance Illinois, the groups that had actually drafted the legislation. Also speaking in favor of the legislation and distorting Chicago reality were Alicia Winckler (Chief Human Capital Officer, Chicago Public Schools) and Rachel Resnick (Chief Labor Relations Officer, Chicago Public Schools).

Illinois teacher union leaders (above) testifying at the December 16, 2010, hearings on "Performance Counts" were (left to right) Karen Lewis (Chicago Teachers Union), Dan Montgomery (Illinois Federation of Teachers) and Ken Swanson (Illinois Education Association). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.During the final hours of the Illinois General Assembly's lame duck session, the legislature approved increases in the state income tax for both individuals and corporations and a plan to reduce Illinois debt, which had a few weeks earlier prompted Wall Street to speculate that Illinois might become the first state to become bankrupt.

In the face of massive pressure to continue to "cut spending" on public services instead of taking responsibility to raise revenues, Illinois bucked a trend that stretches from Democratic governors in New York and California and rabid Republican governors like New Jersey's Chris Christie — all lined up to trash public workers, public worker unions, and especially teacher unions.

It is less than four weeks since Illinois first saw the so-called "Performance Counts" legislation that was supposed to be introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives after an Oregon group called "Stand for Children" put $650,000 into the campaign funds of a handful of Illinois political leaders during the five weeks leading up to the November 2, 2010 election. Stand for Children and other "astro turf" (i.e., phony grass roots) groups like "Advance Illinois" brought "Performance Counts" before the Illinois House at special hearings in Aurora on December 16 and December 17, 2010. A special "school reform" committee of the Illinois House gave "Stand for Children" and "Advance Illinois" privileged position in the legislative hearings despite the fact that "Stand for Children" didn't even have an Illinois address until the week of the hearings, and Advance Illinois was widely known as simply a well-funded group to push the corporate agenda. Beginning during the week before the December 16 and December 17 hearings, Illinois teacher union leaders joined forces in a growing alliance to defeat "Performance Counts" and support the responsible agenda to fund public services in Illinois. By December 16 and December 17, the Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers (of which the CTU is the largest local), and Illinois Education Association (IEA) had joined forces in a huge lobbying effort that eventually involved tens of thousands of union teachers directly and more than 100,000 in total.

But the teachers were not alone. During the course of the mobilization, local work from Chicago and elsewhere produced widespread support from school reform groups and even school boards and administrators as the content of "Performance Counts" became more widely known. Chicago groups including PURE, KOCO and Access Living gave critical testimony about the proposed legislation, as did others from around the state. Some of the most detailed and vidid early criticism came from organized parent and community groups from Chicago. By contrast, both Stand for Children and Advance Illinois were clearly the products of huge amounts of corporate funding, independent of any real base in Chicago communities.

While the news and details were still coming in as this report is written (early on January 13, 2011), an e-mail from the Illinois Federation of Teachers began to tell the story and is reprinted below here:

EMAIL FROM DAN MONTGOMERY, PRESIDENT ILLINOIS FEDERATION OF TEACHERS

January 13, 2011

YOU Made the Difference.

Dear Colleagues,

Recent days in Springfield have been some of the most challenging we have ever encountered. In the face of the vicious attacks on teaching, unions and our most basic right to collectively bargain, you stayed informed, spoke out and made your voices heard. Make no mistake about it - YOU MADE THE DIFFERENCE. I have never been more proud to be an educator and a member of our union, the IFT.

Since December, IFT members have visited the union's Web site and Facebook page in record numbers. You have sent nearly 50,000 e-mails and made countless phone calls to your legislators telling them to protect our collective bargaining rights. You have asked lawmakers to support a desperately needed tax increase to avert thousands of layoffs, help the state pay school districts and vendors billions of dollars in overdue payments and provide critical revenue for public education and state services.

Your successful efforts on behalf of our state’s students and citizens will have a tremendous positive impact for years to come. Early this morning, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to increase the individual income tax from 3 to 5 percent to help our state climb out of its $15 billion deficit and get back on sound fiscal footing. The House and Senate also passed a bill that would allow the state to borrow funds to make required payments to the state-funded pension systems. On behalf of the IFT, I sincerely thank those legislators who had the courage to cast “yes” votes because it was the right thing – not the easy thing – to do. Both bills now head to the governor, and he is expected to sign them.

Your activism went a long way to protect the teaching profession and educators’ abilities to advocate for students, too. Nearly 15,000 members participated in the IFT’s first-ever virtual town hall phone meeting to learn and ask questions about dangerous education “reform” proposals in Springfield being promoted by corporate-funded special interest groups. Your phone calls, e-mails and signatures on the Illinois Kids First petition helped hold off their harmful proposals to eliminate tenure, the right to strike and collective bargaining. You made sure legislators heard from you on those issues so that you will continue to be heard at the bargaining table on issues like class size, professional development and other proven means to increase student achievement.

Despite your tremendous level of involvement, we did not win every battle. The House voted down a cigarette tax increase that would have provided nearly $300 million for education, and the governor's plan to borrow additional money to quickly pay down the state's debt was not passed. The legislature also failed to address the dire financial condition of the College Insurance Program (CIP) in which downstate IFT community college members participate. The IFT will continue our efforts to save CIP and protect the members it serves.

The 97th General Assembly was sworn in this afternoon. When the spring legislative session begins in earnest, we know there will be new challenges ahead and old ones will be revisited. We have more fights ahead of us and much more to do; now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

At the top of our agenda will be promoting "Accountability for All," our legislative package of education reform proposals, developed in partnership of the IFT, Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Education Association. "Accountability for All" includes proven reforms to increase student achievement and enhance teacher effectiveness and would hold school administrators and school board members - not just teachers - accountable for their performance in public schools. Please continue to read your e-mails, visit the IFT Web site and read the IFT newsletter, Union Link, to learn more about "Accountability for All" and what you can do in the days ahead to support it in Springfield. Together, we will prevail.

Over the past several weeks, you have proven that when we stand together in the IFT as a "Union of Professionals," we truly do make all the difference. I sincerely thank you for your efforts, and I look forward to continuing to work with you as we fight for our future.

In Unity,

Daniel J. Montgomery

IFT President



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