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Sweeping education bill moves along

Changes to teacher tenure and strike rules sought by education advocates and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stayed on track Wednesday, following a hearing in Springfield to address lingering concerns.

Clean-up language to Senate Bill 7 passed the Senate Education Committee and is headed back to both chambers for a vote before Tuesday’s adjournment deadline.

The Chicago Teachers Union objected to parts of the bill, calling teacher strike language an “atomic bomb,” although union President Karen Lewis helped write the bill. She later said the bill’s language twisted the union’s intent, and those objections prompted another round of meetings between stakeholders.

The changes approved Wednesday clarify that only the union’s 26,000 dues-paying members would be allowed to vote to strike, and a 75 percent threshold of those members must be reached. The original bill enabled “fair share” members to vote to strike as well, even though they are not considered active union participants.

“They aren’t a part of anything else that that the union does, so it wouldn’t be fair to vote just on the strike issue,” said bill sponsor Kimberly Lightford, Democratic state senator from Maywood.

The changes to the bill allow the legislation to move forward with no objections from the Chicago Teachers Union or other stakeholders, including Emanuel, supporters said.

“The mayor’s position hasn’t changed at all,” Lightford said. “He’s very pleased with the bill. He still has the opportunity to increase the length of the school day.”

“I think it’s the right outcome,” added Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, which helped write the bill. “This is not a backward step. Seventy-five percent is still a high bar.”

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

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