School reform negotiators tell FOX Chicago News they may be on the verge of an agreement to lengthen Chicago’s scandalously short school day by one full hour.
Some experts blame the poor performance of many public school students on the fact that they spend less time in class than students in any other big city.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) said that no final deal has been reached, despite months of intense negotiations with unions, school administrators and others.
Leaders of the state’s two powerful teachers unions are adamantly refusing to sign off on any agreement that would strip them of the right to strike. That’s been a key goal of reformers.
They consider teacher strikes a “nuclear weapon” that gives teachers unions an unfair advantage in bargaining with local school boards.
There’s another little-known factor that has enabled teachers unions to block reform proposals. Their leaders wield a huge political war chest. In last year’s campaigns alone, teachers unions gave a whopping $4.5 million to candidates seeking seats in the General Assembly.
One reform group is trying to change that lop-sided power equation. Stand for Children Illinois, founded by Jonah Edelman, has raised a $3 million war chest.
Near the end of last year’s campaign, they gave $650,000 to a small group of reform-minded legislators. Edelman said they may play an even bigger role in the 2012 campaign.
Edelman is among those who have participated in the negotiations overseen by Lightford. She is assistant majority leader of the State Senate. She said she hopes the chamber will act next week to send a final school reform bill to the Illinois House.
Lightford said one collective bargaining proposal the teachers unions might accept would require a 45-90 day “fact finding” process. It would begin after collective bargaining reached an impasse. Both sides would have to make public their best and final offer. An arbitrator would choose one or the other. But teachers could reject the decision and go out on strike, Lightford said.
Edelman said in a taping of FOX Chicago Sunday that he was encouraged by the prospect of a longer school day for Chicago students.
“Let me just say this. The teachers I've talked to, and I've had the privilege of meeting with many teachers here in Chicago, they want a longer school day and year. They want a richer curriculum that comes from that."