A school reform group with deep pockets knew exactly how to grab the attention of Illinois politicians this week. Newly-formed Stand for Children Illinois gave members of the General Assembly campaign contributions totalling about a half-million dollars.
And by election day, an additional half-million dollars could flow to other candidates who sign onto the organization's school reform agenda. That according to Etoy Ridgnal, a native South Sider and the newly-hired Chicago executive director of Stand for Children Illinois.
At the top of the group's Springfield agenda: rewriting rules that automatically give "tenure" to any public school teacher after four years on the job. A new movie, "Waiting for Superman," documents how difficult tenure rules make it to fire even the most incompetent teachers. The movie illustrates the point with numbers from Illinois, where 1 in every 57 lawyers loses his or her license to practice law; while only 1 in every 2,500 teachers is ever fired. A spokesman for the Illinois Education Association Union called those figures misleading, suggesting that a sizable number of teachers quit before being fired.
Stand for Children hopes to piggyback on buzz created by "Waiting for Superman." The group is sponsoring free screenings of the film for parents and other stakeholders in public education. Ridgnal said the group has already recruited hundreds of activists.
Ridgnal said Stand for Children has so far endorsed candidates in nine hotly-contested General Assembly districts. Most are Democrats. Public employee unions have been unhappy with some Democrats since last spring, when the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Quinn moved to reduce pension benefits for future state employees. In an apparent effort to "punish" Democrats for the pension vote, the Illinois Federation of Teachers union refused to endorse some.
Leaders of Stand for Children said they met recently with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. His spokesman, Steve Brown, said Madigan "put the group in touch" with Democratic candidates "likely to be sympathetic" to Stand for Children's reform agenda.
Among those receiving endorsements and checks for $50,000 or $100,000 from Stand for Children: State Rep. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria). Also endorsed, State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields.) Steve Rauschenberger, running to regain his former state senate seat in the Elgin area, was one of the Republicans to get cash and backing.