The Chicago Teachers Union reports on some gains. Most notable is that individual school districts will be able to limit charter school expansion into their districts, a battle now being fought in California. The issue is whether the wishes of charter entrepreneurs should outweigh democratic local control of schools. Illinois says no.

 

While some gains have been made, equity agenda in Springfield requires real leadership from Lightfoot

The CTU is calling on Chicago’s new mayor to ‘Keep the Promise’ for education equity by supporting the restoration of our bargaining rights—and an elected, representative school board.

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union made some powerful gains in this spring’s Springfield legislative session. The union won passage of legislation to reign in and reform the charter industry—including the right of individual school districts to control charter expansion in their districts. Until both houses passed the legislation, the Illinois State Charter School Commission had unilateral power to ignore school districts’ attempts to close down bad operators in their regions. Now, that power is ended.

Legislators also increased the number of days that retired teachers and support staff can serve as substitute teachers by 20 percent without sacrificing their pension benefits. The bill is designed to help alleviate an acute shortage of substitute teachers, and put retired veteran educators back in the classroom. Before the legislation was passed, retirees could be forced to forfeit their entire pension if they substituted for more than 100 days per year, roughly twenty weeks out of a full school year.

And the legislature has sent a bill to the governor’s office that would suspend a teacher test that was widely decried as of dubious value—and a dangerous driver of the state’s acute teacher shortage.

Two other CTU initiatives—a bill to restore the CTU’s right to bargain over critical issues like class size and staff shortages, and a bill to create an elected, representative school board—both stalled in the senate, where Senate President John Cullerton sandbagged that legislation at the request of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot. The earliest the effort could be taken up again by the state legislature is this October.

“The mayor ran on her support of an elected representative school board and on an agenda of real equity for neighborhood public schools,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “Cullerton has, unfortunately, a long track record of carrying the water for the previous mayor on some terrible legislative initiatives. The new mayor should reverse that practice, respect the platform on which voters elected her, and move to get both of these initiatives passed.”

Chicagoans are the only residents in the state denied the right to elect their school board. The bill would have created distinct, walkable districts that ensure that every neighborhood in the city is represented on the school board. The 21-member board is about 40% the size of the City Council, and on par with the number of state representatives who are elected by Chicagoans to serve in Springfield.

For more than a quarter of a century, Chicago’s public school educators have also been denied the right—unlike educators across the state—to bargain over so-called ‘non-economic’ issues like class size and outsourcing. Those restrictions have allowed Chicago’s mayor to push massive privatization of school services—from health services for special needs students to janitorial services. That privatiziation agenda has driven deep deficiencies in health services for special education services and chronic cleanliness and maintenance issues in the public schools, at the same time that class sizes have exploded and the district confronts sweeping shortages of critical frontline staff like school nurses and social workers.

“We’ll continue to work to introduce and fight for passage of this legislation until we get it done,” said Sharkey. “Mayoral control of the board of education has been a dismal failure. It’s time for the mayor to fulfill her promises to Chicagoans, get behind these initiatives and start the hard work of building a school district built on real equity for our students. We elect our mayor, our aldermen, our state legislators—and Chicagoans should have the same right when it comes to our public schools that every other part of the state has the right to exercise.”