Lack of money weakens 'landmark' education reform bill

The state budget Gov. Pat Quinn signed June 30 is missing a key component for education advocates: money.

July 12, 2011

By Kristen McQueary

(AP/File)
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn before delivering his State of the Budget Address in 2009.

The budget Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed June 30 is missing a key component for education advocates: money.

Lawmakers stripped more than $500,000 from Quinn’s proposed budget that would have helped implement Senate Bill 7, an education reform bill lauded as a national model because it makes it easier to fire bad teachers.  The money would have paid for a contract with a private firm to handle training needed to trigger a key component of the bill.

Now Senate Bill 7 supporters are turning to Race to the Top, a federal grant program that rewards states for innovative education policies. They are confident they’ll win enough grant money to cover Senate Bill 7’s costs, according to Jessica Handy, spokeswoman for Stand for Children, an advocacy group that helped write the bill hailed as landmark.

“A lot of it depends on Race to the Top,” she said. “I think we’ll be getting it this time.”

Improving the skills of people who evaluate teachers—principals, deans and department heads—was a key piece of the reform bill. For the first time, teachers will be evaluated on how their students are doing. Measurements of student growth will be incorporated into the new evaluation system, which must be uniform throughout the state.

Without the money to train schools on how to do it, revamping teacher evaluations—a key foundation of Senate Bill 7—cannot move forward as well. Evaluations will be used to help determine teacher layoffs and rehires, finally removing seniority as the bastion of job security.

The House erased the $500,000 for training from the Illinois State Board of Education budget, along with other cuts, as part of a broad paring of all state agency budgets.

 “It’s not that the House doesn’t care—they do care—but it was just a question of priorities and having to make cuts,” Handy said.

Lawmakers also sliced money for a mentoring program for new teachers and principals in Senate Bill 7. 

Race to the Top winners will be announced this fall, with grant awards totaling $10 to $30 million, more than enough to fully roll out Senate Bill 7, Handy said.

If Illinois doesn’t win, Handy said her group will be back asking lawmakers for a special appropriation.

Kristen McQueary covers state government for WBEZ and the Chicago News Cooperative.