Legislators had plenty to keep them occupied this spring besides passing legislation. Distractions included primary races in new legislative districts, federal prosecutors who continued to tighten their circle around Gov. George Ryan’s office and a budget crisis that grew worse as the session went on.

That didn’t leave them much time or energy to deal with controversial issues, and the result was a fairly uneventful legislative session. The Chicago Board of Education got a bill through that limited student choice under the new federal No Child Left Behind law, but proposals to add more charter schools in Chicago and to tweak the Chicago School Reform Act to give teachers a greater leadership role in schools fizzled quietly.

The Chicago Teachers Union made surprising headway with its proposal to undo a section of the 1995 Chicago reform law that blocks the union from negotiating over class size, layoffs and other working conditions. It got Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to move from strong opposition to negotiation. Sources say a compromise version might come up for a vote in this fall’s veto session.

The CTU lobbied for a few other long shots, which some observers viewed as symbolic-signals to union members, CPS and legislators of the new union leadership’s priorities. Proposals to limit class size and to scrap the city’s residency requirements for teachers passed the House but came to a predictable dead end in the GOP-controlled Senate Rules Committee.

School Board officials focused their energy on urging legislators to protect education from the state’s budget woes. CEO Arne Duncan spent much of April and May making a case for the state to hold the line on education spending, a plea that legislators were inclined to go along with. The system lost $11 million in state funding, a loss that was partially offset by a local tax increase and new federal money from No Child Left Behind.

“Education wasn’t hit as bad as some of the other state agencies and departments,” says CPS lobbyist Richard Guidice. “It could have been a lot worse. We’ve streamlined the budget, and it looks like we’ll be in pretty good shape for next year, or at least able to survive.”

Here’s a roundup of legislation affecting the Chicago school system, with links to the legislature’s web site, where the full text and legislative history of each bill is available.

School choice options

What it does: Limited school choices under the federal No Child Left Behind act, prohibiting students from transferring into overcrowded schools and magnet schools, prompting one observer to dub it the “No Child Allowed to Leave” act.

Politics: The board made passing this bill a top priority early in the session. It was introduced as an amendment to a law that spells out some state regulations under the federal law.

Outcome: Signed into law on June 28. It took effect July 1.

Details: SB 1983

CTU collective bargaining rights

What it does: Overturns a law passed in 1995 that prohibits the Chicago Teachers Union from bargaining over privatization, lay-offs, class size, charter schools, staffing and the academic calendar.

Politics: CPS and City Hall came out strongly against the bill early on, with strong backing from the editorial pages of Chicago’s daily newspapers. But the union convinced Mayor Daley’s office that compromise was possible, and the two sides are negotiating.

Outcome: The House passed a “shell” bill, allowing compromise language to be added later, in effect, extending the spring deadline for introducing new legislation.

Details: HB 1871

Professional Personnel Leadership Committee

What it does: Gives teachers an expanded role in setting their school’s education priorities and changes the name of the teacher-run Professional Personnel Advisory Committee (PPAC) to the Professional Personnel Leadership Committee (PPLC).

Politics: This union-backed bill overcame initial opposition from LSC advocates Parents United for Responsible Education and Designs for Change, when CTU representatives negotiated changes ensuring that LSCs would have the final say over recommendations from the PPLC. But then the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association objected, and the bill was blocked.

Outcome: Passed in the House, it is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

Details: HB 3705

Charter schools

What it does: Creates 15 more slots for charter schools in Chicago, while placing certain restrictions on new charters, such as a ban on new charters managed by for-profit companies.

Politics: Last year, Leadership for Quality Education, a business-backed non-profit that advocates for charters in Illinois, negotiated the language of this proposal with the Chicago Teachers Union last year, but GOP legislative leadership blocked the bill. This year, the measure was re-introduced late in the session, only to be blocked when the Illinois Manufacturers Association objected to the restrictions.

Outcome: Introduced as an amendment to SB 1983 but withdrawn before a vote was taken.

Details: SB 1983 House Amendment 2

Other legislation:

HB 3704 would have eliminated Chicago’s teacher residency requirements. Proposed by the CTU, it was blocked by CPS.

HB 4726, another CTU proposal blocked by CPS, would have reduced class size for pre-K through 3rd grade in low-performing, high-poverty schools.

HB5734 was passed early in the session by both houses, a largely symbolic bill allowing CPS and City Hall to raise extra taxes to pay for the school system’s capital improvements. Members of the City Council dismissed the tax increase out of hand.

The Legislature also voted to allow students to carry cell phones (HB 3938), to require high school students to say the Pledge of Allegiance each day (SB1634),to require prospective teachers to pass a basic skills test before being admitted to a training program (SB1953),and to make some changes to teacher and career service pensions (SB314 and HB5168).

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