Area legislators tout ed reform bill
By Emily McFarlan email@example.com April 20, 2011 9:00PM
On the Web
For more information about Senate Bill 7 from Stand for Children, visit performancecounts.org.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Illinois House members are considering a Senate-approved education reform measure that one local lawmaker calls “a success story.”
Senate Bill 7, which that chamber passed last week, would mean historic education reforms in elementary, middle and high schools across the state. It’s a bill “I’m really excited about,” state Rep. Keith Farnham, D–Elgin, said Wednesday,
“I feel like it’s a success story,” said Farnham, a member of the House Education Reform Committee.
And it’s a bill that Stand for Children Policy Director Jessica Handy said would have been considered impossible just one year ago.
“A year ago, when Race to the Top was on the line, a lot of this stuff was discussed, but it didn’t happen,” Handy said.
Since then, the federal Race to the Top program, which awards money to states that come up with plans for education reform, has continued the conversation about teacher performance nationwide. The Illinois General Assembly has passed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, which requires require teachers’ evaluations to be based largely on how well their students are doing academically.
And Illinois has heard from many “new voices in education reform,” such as Stand for Children, an Oregon-based group that came to the state last year, Handy said.
The policy director called SB7 “the next logical step.”
The bill has three parts. One, related to transparency in contract negotiations, would require school districts and their unions to meet with a fact-finder or publicly release their “best offer” before a strike. Another would survey schools to get a “front-end” look at what’s working and what’s not, according to Handy.
Perhaps most notably, the bill would allow Illinois school districts to make layoff decisions based on teachers’ performance rather than tenure: first, matching teachers’ qualifications to positions, then laying off teachers with poor performance evaluations. Tenure would be used as a “tiebreaker,” Handy said.
Teachers would receive that tenure based on ratings rather than automatically after four years in the classroom, she added.
“The teachers’ unions worked with us on that, and I think that’s going to be a good tool,” Farnham said.
SB7 grew out of three months of negotiations involving Stand for Children, Advance Illinois, teachers’ unions and school management groups; and it has received support from the Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Association.
That’s because, State Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, said, “Education reforms are absolutely necessary — nobody would dispute that.”
Noland, who voted for the bill last week, said because of that compromise, “I certainly could trust it was an agreement that would last.”
“It has deep roots. It will be long-lasting. It’s not something we’ll need to renegotiate again soon,” he said.
It likely will be voted on in the House after representatives return from spring break next week, Handy said. And Farnham said he plans to vote for the bill and feels good about its chances in the House.
“I think we’ve come up with something that will have substantial effect, and at least everyone will feel like they had some input into it,” he said.
Still, Noland noted, there are many needed reforms not included in SB7, such as addressing large class sizes. That also affects equity in education, he said.
“So,” he said, “our job is not yet done.”