The legislative session has ended in Springfield, and we have important information for our members and allies.
Our union advocated strongly over the past week for the protection of school funding, the need for appropriate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and rent and mortgage relief for those hit hardest by the economic shockwave. The abbreviated session also impacted a range of education topics, such as school funding, remote learning conditions and extended deadlines for licensure renewal. Key topics are below.
The Illinois General Assembly passed a budget without any cuts for the state’s school districts, which is good news, considering the circumstances. Chicago Public Schools is set to receive $200 million in federal emergency COVID-19 relief, with potentially more to come.
The city could also return to our schools $100 million that Mayor Lightfoot took from CPS to shoulder pension costs that, by law, the City of Chicago (not the district) is required to pay.
The bottom line is that CPS has plenty of choices that don’t include cuts to school budgets in the middle of an economic depression.
We won additional protection for members around discipline and remediation during remote learning. Without this provision, we believe CPS would have used teacher evaluation as way to push austerity and lay off educators.
Working collaboratively with the Right to Recovery coalition, our union supported a crucial bill sponsored by United Working Families State Representatives Delia Ramirez and Will Guzzardi, and State Senator Robert Peters. The bill would limit evictions and foreclosures, and provide rent and mortgage relief for thousands of Illinois residents.
Despite fierce resistance from real estate interests, our collective organizing won $400 million in rent and mortgage relief for families across Illinois.
The legislature passed a massive omnibus education bill related to the COVID-19 pandemic that included a series of relevant changes. If your educator license is scheduled to expire at the end of June 2020, your deadline for renewal has been pushed back to June 30, 2021.
We have long pushed for a reduction in standardized testing, and the Illinois state requirement for standardized tests goes away if waived by the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, the bill defines school employees as essential workers during a disaster declaration.
Public schools will be closed for the general election. Schools will become essential polling places now that the use of nursing homes as polling places has become fraught with concern about the spread of COVID-19. Moreover, Local School Council elections that were postponed due to the pandemic will be rescheduled for later in the fall.
Our continued fight
We don’t do distance learning. It is no substitute for classroom instruction, and our students need to see their peers, teachers, PSRPS, nurses, clinicians and librarians every day. But to open our schools safely in the fall, CPS will need more investment in smaller class sizes encouraged by social distancing, a nurse in every school every day, and regular, thorough building maintenance.
Aramark and Sodexo are leaving, but not before being given another year and $33 million to allegedly clean and prepare schools for an eventual return. So we also need smarter decisions by our school district.
We will continue to fight for the schools our students deserve. There are Republican lawmakers throughout this state, however, who wouldn’t throw a cup of water on the working class people of Chicago if we were again a city on fire. So as COVID-19 continues to threaten livelihoods, and the aftermath of the pandemic unfolds, it’s going to be vital to keep pushing for the needs of students and school communities—housing, health care, job security, sanctuary and special education.
Thank you to those of you who made phone calls, emailed, submitted witness slips and advocated in person and online for educators and working families. Those things matter. You are the people electeds fear the most, so continuing those efforts is vital. Votes matter. Constituents matter.