Thursday, April 29, 2010

Legislators Must Stop Pandering and Put Students First

When legislators start to put students before the teachers' unions public schools will improve and we will see a return to personal responsibility. JIm and I championed for years to get programs like this passed in Illinois. The following piece appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Joyce said some "Chicago Democrats remain reluctant to support the bill, worried about a backlash from teachers unions." If this is the case these legislators need to be replaced students must come before the unions.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

More kids, more choices

How about this? Suddenly everybody wants in on the act.

In late March, the Illinois Senate passed a bill to give vouchers for private school tuition to as many as 22,000 children who go to the academically weakest Chicago public schools.

That bill is now in the House, and it's being rewritten to cover even more kids. The lead sponsor, Democratic Rep. Kevin Joyce of Chicago, is drafting an amendment to offer vouchers to kids in the most severely overcrowded Chicago schools. The Senate sponsor, Chicago Democrat James Meeks, is on board with the change.

Best of all: Chicago school officials aren't fighting this. They're working closely with the sponsors. They would administer the voucher program.

This program holds tremendous promise for thousands of kids and wouldn't add a dime of cost to the state or any greater burden on the Chicago Public Schools. The tuition covered by the voucher would come from money the state provides to CPS. The bill is being redrawn to guarantee that the state won't spend more than it does now.

Yes, school vouchers are still controversial. Joyce said some Chicago Democrats remain reluctant to support the bill, worried about a backlash from teachers unions.

But it has been wonderful to see so many lawmakers set such political concerns aside. The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. It came out of the House Executive Committee on a 10-1 vote.

"I've been 1,000 percent supportive of the teachers unions, and I probably have as many teachers in my district as anybody. This goes beyond teachers," Joyce told us Monday.

Yes, it does. It goes directly to helping children find good schools.

We like the idea of taking on the issue of overcrowding. Latino legislators have been searching for years for an answer to overcrowding because their constituents' kids bear most of the brunt of jam-packed schools.

Here's a ready answer to that. It doesn't require spending big bucks to build new schools. It lets kids go to existing schools, private schools, good schools, schools of their choice.

This is all far from a done deal. Opponents may have been caught by surprise by the strong approval in the Senate. We expect a tight vote in the House. And, unfortunately, an amended bill will have to go back to the Senate for another vote. That opens the door for more politicking. It makes this program vulnerable to getting lost in the rush to finish the legislative session. That can't be allowed to happen.

All in all, we're encouraged by the progress and momentum of this bill, by the growing and diverse list of co-sponsors, and now by the prospect of broadening it to help even more Chicago kids get a chance to choose their own school.

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