SPRINGFIELD – Teachers’ unions in Illinois are clear; they despise the newly proposed education reform plan in the Illinois House.
The leaders of the state’s major teachers’ unions on Friday took a hard line on the proposed reforms being considered by a special legislative panel.
Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, said key components of the law are aimed at weakening the unions and stripping them of their equal-footing with local schools boards.
Swanson, and the other union bosses, are upset with Performance Counts Act of 2010 proposed legislation that would change the rules for local unions and local schools as to when teachers can walk away from the bargaining table. (Click here for a download of the proposed bill.)
The proposed legislation also aims to scale back teacher tenure and create a system that allows schools to measure how well a teacher is teaching. The Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union are not pleased with any of the proposals. But they focused a joint and dogged attack on the strike provisions during Friday’s hearing.
Karen Lewis, with the Chicago Teachers’ Union, said classroom teachers are being targeted.
“When we hear about the ‘system’ and we hear about the ‘union’ and we hear about ‘coming together’ …we’re losing the power to advocate for our students. And then we get blamed for it,” Lewis said. “All that’s left [to bargain about] are our wages and benefits. Then we get called greedy … when all of the other opportunities for us to advocate for children are being taken away from us bit by bit.”
Dan Montgomery leads the IFT, and he is quick to point to numbers that he said show that lawmakers are off base by rewriting the law that governs teachers’ strikes.
“There are 869 school districts in Illinois. Last year there were two strikes that consumed a total of five days. … In Chicago there has not been a work stoppage since 1987. In other words the [current law] works,” said Montgomery.
Lewis said it’s clear to teachers in Chicago that this law is aimed at them and designed to either scare them now or scare them later.
“This seems like a preemptive move geared to us,” Lewis said. “We have had labor peace in Chicago for 23 years. … But how do we keep [Chicago Public Schools] honest if they have all of the cards on their table.”
Montgomery said it’s obvious to him that the entire reform panel is trying to scare teachers or find a way to show voters that the Legislature is really working.
“We do not view the proposals as a serious effort to improve collective bargaining outcomes or educational outcomes for students. Instead they can only be taken as a direct assault on the collective bargaining process itself. The proposals are a solution in search of a problem,” Montgomery said.
But lawmakers say they are serious about reform and, specifically, about changing the relationship between teachers and local districts.
State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, is a local superintendent himself. He invited the teacher union leaders to present their plan as soon as they put one together.
Lawmakers will wrap-up hearings into the proposed education reforms this week. They are expected to wrap-up hearings on other reforms, including Medicaid and worker’s compensation, next week.
The General Assembly is scheduled for a week-long session beginning Jan 3. A new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 12 in Springfield.