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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn Signs 'School Reform' Law (SB7) At Huge Media Event

Surrounded by state and local officials, along with suburban Chicago teachers, students and parents, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed "Senate Bill 7," the lengthy Illinois school reform law on June 13, 2011, at Livingston Elementary School in suburban Chicago Maywood. The site of the signing was chosen because Livingston was the elementary school of State Senator Kimberly Lightford, who is credited with overseeing the contentious meetings that eventually hammered out the legislation.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn begins the introduction of the dozen speakers at the signing of SB7 at Livingston Elementary School in Maywood Illinois on June 13, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The bill signing, which began at 10:00 a.m. in the packed gymnasium of the public elementary school, took nearly two hours as more than a dozen state and national officials, as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave speeches about the importance of the legislation, most claiming that it should serve as a model for the USA. Two union officials (Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery and Illinois Education Association President Ken Swanson) also spoke. Conspicuously absent was the third major teacher union leader in Illinois, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Quinn told the crowd that Lewis had to be out of town.

The bleachers and main floor of the small gymnasium at the west suburban elementary school were filled with people, ranging from the Proviso East High School band and cheerleaders to many Illinois government officials, including state senators and state representatives.

The event was hosted by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who repeatedly told the crowd and the large media presence that Illinois had become a model for the nation.

The first speaker was Illinois Senator Kimberly Lightford, who was responsible for the lengthy meetings that produced the compromise that finally became the legislation. Obviously inspired by having the signing in her home town and at the elementary school where she had gone to school as a child, Lightford gave an impassioned speech about how this was all for the children.

Repeating a theme that was to be echoed all morning, Senator Lightford said that the cooperative model that developed the legislation in Illinois was in stark contrast to the way recent public employees legislation has been handled in other states. She also told the cheering home town crowd that the major thrust of the school reform work in the coming years had to be the children. She challenged parents to do more to help their children in schools, noting that the legislation provides for more careful evaluation of teachers and requires principals and school board to be professional in their management of both teachers and the resources for school. Like just about everyone who spoke, Senator Lightford noted that without more resources the schools could not implement the structure reforms, such as lower class sizes, that were needed.

State Representative Linda Chapa La Via, who had served as one of two co-chairmen of the special Illinois House of Representatives "School Reform" committee in December and January, was equally personal in her remarks. She told the crowd that she had not been a superior student while growing up in Aurora, and drew a hush when she said that one teacher had told her that she should not aspire to college, but should just accept the fact that she was going to be having babies when she ended her schooling. She said that it wasn't until she got to Northern Illinois University that she found teachers who truly encouraged her. She also pointed out to the crowd that former State Senator Miguel Del Valle, who was seated behind her, had been an inspiration when she began her political career. At the mention of Del Valle's name, the crowd cheered.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the need to lengthen the school day and school year.

All ten of the people arrayed behind Illinois Governor Pat Quinn spoke during the lengthy media event to mark the Governor's signing of Illinois Senate Bill SB7 in Maywood, Illinois on June 13, 2011. Quinn called the process that led to the legislation a model for the USA, and his theme was echoed by the union leaders and federal, state and Chicago officials who spoke. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The other speakers included Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Dan Montgomery (President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers), Ken Swanson (President of the Illinois Education Association), Illinois State Board President Gery Chico (recently appointed by Governor Quinn), Illinois Representative Linda Chapa La Via, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Robin Steans of Advance Illinois.

Press praise for the bill was immediate.

In an op ed published on June 13, 2011, the Tribune published the opinion of leaders of two of the three major unions involved in SB7 and the head of the Joyce Foundation, which has long supported conservative corporate school reform activities.

Illinois: The new leader in education reform, By Ellen Alberding, Dan Montgomery, and Ken Swanson (June 13, 2011)

On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn signs what might be the most important piece of education legislation ever passed in Illinois. Unlike our neighbors in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, stakeholders here worked together to craft an aggressive bill that makes our state the leader in education reform. At a time when many teachers understandably feel under attack, this bill celebrates effective teachers, recognizes their accomplishments and helps keep them in classrooms.

The presence of representatives of the U.S. Department of Education at the bill-signing underscores Illinois' historic achievement. For the first time, a state's key teachers unions helped draft dramatic changes in how teachers earn tenure, how layoff decisions are made, when teachers can be dismissed for poor performance and what's necessary for them to strike. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and both national teacher union presidents issued statements of support, praising the legislation.

The bill drew tremendous bipartisan support — it passed 59-0 in the Senate and 112-1 in the House — thanks to the outstanding leadership provided by several legislators. This was not easy work. Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, and Darren Reisberg, the deputy superintendent and general counsel at the Illinois State Board of Education, led four months of negotiations between union, management and reform groups. The legislation is more likely to enhance teaching and learning in Illinois because the unions were at the table advocating for students as well as their members.

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The changes mean teachers will earn tenure when they have demonstrated a high level of proficiency. And although experience still matters, teachers will no longer be laid off based solely on the number of years they have been teaching. Performance — based on an improved evaluation system, along with other factors — will now be considered, meaning school districts facing cuts no longer must fire great young teachers simply because they have been on the job for only a few years. Extremely ineffective teachers who have not demonstrated improvement will be dismissed in a timely fashion through a streamlined process.

The legislation recognizes our teachers' accomplishments, rather than painting them as the enemy, as some governors and legislators have done this year. These new policies will benefit Illinois schoolchildren and improve the teaching profession.

It is important to note that this collaboration could occur only after several years of tough conversations and relationship-building. The legislature passed five important education laws during a 15-month span in 2009-2010 that were also built in a bipartisan, collaborative style.

Now, the hard work begins. The good news is that because Illinois passed these laws with unprecedented collaboration, we have a better chance to execute the new policies well. Today's legislation was built on the important 2010 Performance Evaluation Reform Act to create new evaluations for teachers and principals using multiple measures, including how much their students learn. Union, management and reform leaders have been meeting monthly since that legislation passed to figure out how to implement these new evaluations fairly.

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that Illinois will receive funding in the next round of Race to the Top this fall. Our state may be eligible for up to $30 million to help implement these laws.

Illinois education stakeholders accomplished something remarkable. Now, it is time for the focus to shift from the statehouse to public school classrooms. Our students deserve the best we can deliver.

Ellen Alberding is president of the Joyce Foundation, Dan Montgomery is president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Ken Swanson heads the Illinois Education Association.

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

The report published at WBEZ radio covered part of the event, noting that CTU President Karen Lewis was not there:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has been a vocal supporter of the bill, touted a provision that would allow him to lengthen the day for Chicago public schools’ students, who he said now have one of the shortest [school] days in the country.

"We are now gonna have the ability to do what we have denied the kids of Chicago for generation after generation," Emanuel said. "When the governor signs that, that is going to end."

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the Maywood Democrat who sponsored the measure, touted the spirit of cooperation between unions, administrators and reform groups during negations.

Lightford acknowledged the new law makes it more difficult for teachers to go on strike, but she cautioned unions and management that such friction isn't good for students

"Transparency is there so all your dirty laundry will be aired out publicly," Lightford said. "No 'behind closed doors.'"

Officials and education reform advocates repeatedly praised the law as a national model, particularly because it was negotiated with relatively little acrimony, even as fights over collective bargaining for public workers have raged in other Midwestern states, such as Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.

But notably absent from Monday’s signing ceremony was Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had characterized parts of the bill as an attack on teachers' collective-bargaining rights. Lewis did not attend the event because she was "busy focusing on the budget" ahead of a special school board meetin Wednesday, said union spokeswoman Liz Brown.



Comments:

June 14, 2011 at 9:30 AM

By: Bob Busch

Laws

No Mr. Nice Guy

Fine the state has spoken, the reform law is now enacted. Since all the power is now in the hands of the school boards what we should do now is to ensure ALL state and federal laws concerning workplace safety are enforced. For example has anyone from the CTU contacted OSHA for a check of the electron levels in those schools festooned with cell phone towers? How about this: set up a mobile lab outside Gage Park H.S. on a Thursday in May.

Require every adult and, say, every tenth student to have their blood pressure and pulse

Checked. Or how about crumbling asbestos tiles in the teachers' phone room? The state is so worried about accountability, how about their responsibilities to maintain a safe working environment and provide for domestic tranquility?

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