By Lauren N. Johnson
Illinois teachers may see changes to the tenure process and they way they are hired, fired and laid off as an education reform package makes its way to Gov. Pat Quinn after passing in the House with all but one vote.
After lengthy negotiations among lawmakers, reform groups, unions, teachers, and school administrators, a bill that all parties agreed upon passed in the Illinois Senate. The measure would allow districts to make hiring decisions based on performance evaluations, and seniority would only be used as a tiebreaker. Currently, many schools use a last-in, first-out system when deciding on layoffs. The measure would also require that teachers earn consistently positive performance reviews to receive tenure. The legislation also requires that teachers with at least two unsatisfactory reviews within a seven-year period would have their teaching licenses reviewed by the state.
Although the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Glynn Ellen Democrat, passed in the Senate with all groups praising the cooperative process that created the plan, the Chicago Teachers Union is now taking issue with details that apply only to its members. The union reportedly opposes a provision that would take away the group’s bargaining rights over the length of the school day and also wants to ensure that certain disagreements could be taken to a mediator under the new process set out in the bill. Chicago Teachers Union officials did not return a call seeking comment. Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie said she plans to work with the union and create another bill to address some of its concerns.
Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat and the only House member to vote against the bill, said the measure is “discriminatory” to Chicago teachers and lawmakers who represent the area. “I do believe that the Senate sponsor has the same concerns for children that I do, but this bill does not address the concerns of children,” she said during the floor debate.
Davis suggested that voluntary pre-school education for children and research-based dropout prevention programs be among the provisions included in the bill. “The intentions are good, but the results will not change a thing. I’m not going to be a union buster,” she added.
Proponents of the bill say it is one large step toward improving education in the state but that more work focusing on students needs to be done. Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children, a reform group that backed the bill through its passage in both chambers, said, “We’re excited that Senate Bill 7 will create historic education reform to keep the best teachers in the classroom, elevate the teaching profession and build vibrant school communities.”