Illinois heading to DC to pitch for Race to the Top funds

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration today confirmed the five representatives who will travel to Washington DC on March 17 to defend Illinois’ Race to the Top application. At stake: up to $510 million in federal stimulus dollars that would jumpstart changes to teacher evaluations and other school improvement initiatives.

Called upon to defend the state’s bid will be: Miguel del Valle, Chicago City Clerk and chairman of the state’s P20 Council, and Audrey Soglin, executive director of the Illinois Education Association. They will be joined by Chris Koch, superintendent of Illinois schools, his general counsel, Darren Reisberg and his chief of staff Susan Morrison.

Teachers union pushing again for end to Chicago residency rule

Residency requirements for Chicago teachers are back on the Springfield agenda, this time with an unlikely sponsor.

State Sen. Heather Steans says she was able to convince Sen. President John Cullerton to extend the deadline for SB 3522, a bill that would scrap the rule requiring teachers in traditional Chicago public schools to live within the city limits. Mayor Richard M. Daley has long defended the requirement, established in 1996, as a way to try and beef up the city housing market and keep teachers close to the communities they serve.

Should Steans successfully move the bill out of the Senate Executive Committee next week, she believes it could reach a vote on the Senate floor—the first time a residency bill has done so.

Illinois one of 16 finalists for first round of Race to the Top grants

Once thought to be on the outside looking in, Illinois instead has joined 14 other states and the District of Columbia as finalists for Phase One of the Race to the Top grants. A victory could pour as much as an estimated $510 million into the state’s education coffers to drive sweeping reforms.

 

To be sure, Illinois has won exactly $0 so far.

 

“We are setting a high bar and we anticipate very few winners in phase one,” noted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “But this isn’t just about the money. It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders, building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve the way our students learn.”

 

Illinois was considered a long shot last fall, when The New Teacher Project ranked it “somewhat competitive” in the Race to the Top. But a flurry of legislative activity in January, coupled with what some national observers have called a strongly written application, helped the state leapfrog ahead.

A primer on Chicago’s teacher pension

Last week, CEO Ron Huberman started his doomsday budget press conference by saying, “You are going to hear me talk a lot about the pension.”

Pension costs have long been an issue for CPS, and costs have now skyrocketed to $587 million—three times what the district was required to pay into the teacher’s pension fund just three years ago.

As a quick fix, Huberman hopes to convince lawmakers to simply reduce Chicago’s additional payment by about $300 million, which would cut the nearly $1 billion deficit by about a third.

But Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation says Huberman is proposing a “slippery slope” for an already shortchanged pension system. Even under current requirements, he notes, the fund won’t be funded at the required 90 percent level for another 35 years.

Feds say Chicago’s stimulus spending needs more oversight

A recent federal audit of stimulus spending in Illinois schools calls for improvement in state oversight, noting that two of the three districts examined by auditors—including Chicago—did not track any spending of so-called State Fiscal Stabilization Funds.

Moreover, the districts had yet to spend any of their Title 1 and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) dollars allotted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The slow start in spending has left auditors unclear as to whether good accounting procedures are in place.

At least one CPS budget watchdog, noting the promise for unprecedented transparency in stimulus spending, thinks not.

Chicago schools budget approaching the stimulus cliff

In an unusual effort to solicit public input on the budget, Gov. Pat Quinn yesterday proposed $2 billion in cuts to education along with grim revenue estimates for a state awash in $13 billion of red ink.

Notably missing from revenues are some $3 billion in federal stimulus funds sent to schools since 2009, a loss that is part of what national observers call a “stimulus funding cliff” that threatens school districts across the country. In Chicago, where Quinn’s cuts would mean perhaps a $200 million shortfall, it’s unclear how well officials have prepared.

Officials hoped the one-time infusion of federal cash would be spent on efforts that would spark lasting reforms that wouldn’t require ongoing funding. Catalyst Ohio highlighted a few examples in its latest report, including a plan in Cleveland to buyout older, higher-paid teachers and the creation of a school improvement planning team in Columbus.

Here in Chicago, details on stimulus spending are somewhat murky. Yet, district officials are able to point out only a few examples of spending that will propel reforms.

New leader selected for Consortium on Chicago School Research

Paul Goren, senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation, has been named executive director for The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research. He will formally take charge in May, nearly one year after former director John Easton accepted a presidential appointment to run the Dept. of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

In a university press release, Goren said he will maintain a focus on Chicago Public Schools while nurturing the Consortium’s “growing national influence.” The Consortium approach, which has spurred similar efforts in New York and elsewhere, forges data-sharing agreements with districts that lead to rich, independent research on school policy and practice.