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Quinn signs new education reform into law

Updated: August 3, 2011 8:27PM

Fox Valley educators joined others throughout the state to praise a collaborative education reform measure signed into law Monday that will make it harder for Illinois teachers to strike and easier for districts to fire them.

“It’s really the way education reform should occur,” said Kolleen Hanetho, president of the Local Educators Association of District 300, based in Carpentersville.

“The unions, the educators, the legislators should work together to make education work,” Hanetho said Monday.

And after all worked together to create Senate Bill 7, the governor signed the education reform into law during a ceremony at a Maywood elementary school.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature followed speeches by education officials and legislators praising the bill. One U.S. Department of Education official called it a collaborative model for other states to follow.

The bill, which took effect immediately, largely had the support of unions and advocacy groups. That was in stark contrast to Republican-led efforts in other states — including Wisconsin and Ohio — to strip teachers and other public employees of collective bargaining rights and weaken the teachers unions, which typically support the Democrats.

“We didn’t do it the way some other states — even in our region — have sought to do, where they exclude people or demonize groups of people,” said Quinn, a Democrat.

Under Illinois’ new law, mediators would be brought in earlier during contract negotiations between teachers unions and school districts in the event of an impasse, and teachers couldn’t strike until both sides’ last, best offers were made public.

Layoffs and tenure now will be based on performance and credentials instead of seniority, and it will be easier for districts to fire tenured teachers.

“This is not a bill to attack the teachers,” said state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, who sponsored the bill. “Education is a basic civil right.”

And Hanetho said, “Nobody wants a teacher who isn’t effective in the classroom left in the classroom.”

State Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, state Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, and Elgin School District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres all had praised Senate Bill 7.

The Chicago Teachers Union, by far the state’s largest and most powerful, also backed the overhaul, but with reservations.

And Kathy Castle, president of District U46’s Elgin Teachers Association, said when the bill passed the Illinois House on May 12 that the union was “cautiously optimistic.”

Hanetho said at that time that she hadn’t seen the final version of the bill. But on Monday, she said those changes all were “beneficial.” Some pertained only to Chicago, giving the state the ability to lengthen the school day and year in Chicago Public Schools, she added.

“Everybody worked together,” she said. “That’s what we all want — to have a quality education for the students of Illinois.”

Courier-News staff writer Emily McFarlan and Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this report.

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