PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday September 13th, 2012, 6:10pm

"The Union Cannot Strike In Chicago": SB7 And The CTU Strike

While the strike doesn’t mean SB7 has failed, it adds confusion about what’s next in Illinois education policy.

In June 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law SB7 praising the bill for “historic reforms” that “put Illinois at the forefront of education reform” such as teacher evaluations standards and making it harder for the Chicago Teachers Union to strike.

U.S. Education Sec. Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago Public Schools, also weighed in at the time. “While some states are engaging in noisy and unproductive battles around education reform,” Duncan said. “Illinois is showing what can happen when adults work through their differences together.”

Fifteen months later, CTU staged their first strike in 25 years partly over teacher evaluation standards and along with a noisy battle with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “SB7 drove this crisis,” says Rod Estvan, education policy analyst at the disability rights group Access Living.

Sen. Kim Lightford (D-Maywood), the assistant majority leader and author of SB7, says that “boasting” from Emanuel and Jonah Edelman, head of the Oregon-based education group Stand for Children, may have contributed to the strike.

While the strike doesn’t mean SB7 has failed, it adds confusion about what’s next in Illinois education policy.

SB7, which passed the House 112-1 and Senate 54-0 in May of last year, set the terms for bargaining a new CTU contract. The bill said that CTU needed 75 percent of its members, instead of a simple majority, to strike. SB7 included other strike obstacles, such as a fact-finder’s report to be released 100 days following stalled negotiations, and then a 90-day cooling off period after the report if both sides rejected the fact-finder’s conclusions.

The legislation also green-lighted Chicago to unilaterally implement a longer school day, though CTU could bargain over compensation for the longer day. And SB7 built on the state’s 2010 Performance Evaluation and Reform Act, or PERA, declaring that teacher payment and personnel decisions should be based on performance, not seniority.

PI and other outlets have amply documented the politics behind SB7. In short, the Oregon-based education group Stand for Children swooped into Illinois in the fall of 2010, raised $3.6 million in less than four months, and made inroads with Lightford and Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago). Stand for Children and Advance Illinois, a group funded by the Gates and Joyce foundations that launched in 2008, concocted sweeping legislation in December 2010. Lightford then worked on a final product more palatable to teachers unions. The bill sailed through the General Assembly in the spring with the qualified support of CTU, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and Illinois Education Association.

Accounts of this legislative process profusely credit the machinations of Edelman and Stand for Children. Nobody, though, credits Edelman more than the man himself, who in a now infamous July 2011 talk portrayed himself as a Machiavellian mastermind of Illinois politics who won over Madigan and pulled a fast one on CTU President Karen Lewis.

“The union cannot strike in Chicago,” Edelman predicted. “They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold to strike.”

“Reformers boasted about SB7 for a really long time,” Lightford says, adding that they were “picking on CTU from the start.”

Lightford also says Emanuel could have implemented the legislation in a less alienating way. Emanuel lobbied for SB7 even before he became mayor because of the longer school day provision, which has unequivocally become his administration’s central education policy focus.

In August 2011, the mayor adopted a longer school day “Pioneer Program” where CPS pressured individual schools to adopt a 7 ½ hour day immediately, instead of negotiating with the union. “The mayor was excited about the longer day and he boasted about it, but they should have started it the same time for the all schools,” Lightford says.

Asked what he thought of SB7 now at a press conference Sunday, Emanuel once again stated that the bill “made sure that we had a full school day.”

Still, the acrimony between Emanuel and Lewis cannot simply be pinned on SB7. While the bill may have presented CTU motivation to prove Edelman wrong with a strike, it also really did make strikes harder. “The goal was not to give the teachers the ability to say, ‘Okay we don’t like what you are doing today, so we are going to strike tomorrow,’” Lightford says.

Also, SB7 was the culmination of a legislative process that started before Stand for Children came to Illinois and Emanuel ran for mayor.

According to a Center for American Progress July 2011 report on SB7, the seeds for Illinois education reform were really first planted in 2008 with the creation of the Gates-funded Advance Illinois. Race to the Top, the 2009 Obama administration grant program, gave these reformers a direction, the report argues, begetting the 2010 performance evaluation legislation and eventually SB7.

The strike does not necessarily suggest that these education reform ideas – stricter rules governing the evaluation and tenure process for teachers, a favorable view toward neighborhood school alternatives like charters – lost their momentum. But it indicates a clear backlash.

Jessica Handy, Illinois policy director at Stand for Children, stands behind SB7 while acknowledging a strike “certainly wasn’t what we thought would have happened.” Handy blames the strike on the tension between CPS and CTU. “There are districts where labor-management relations are fantastic,” Handy says. “Chicago is not one of them.”

Handy adds that, “There is nothing you can do legislatively to force people to have communications and management skills.”

Meanwhile, the CTU strike still rages on, though there are indicators that it could soon come to an end.

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