Are Chicago Politicians Meddling in Teacher Licensing?

Chicago legislators have intervened “repeatedly” in the Illinois teacher licensing process, according to Diane Rado and Christy Gutowski of the Chicago Tribune.  The reporters add that candidates who were assisted were those who did not meet state requirements, had criminal records, or were relatives, donors, or constituents of the lawmakers.

Over the past five years there have been almost 100 cases where lawmakers have gotten involved in the system that decides who can work as teachers, teachers’ aides, administrators, and other school jobs.

The Tribune‘s investigation goes back to 2009 when House Speaker Michael Madigan helped a young candidate by pushing her case to the head of the line.  The woman’s father was a Chicago attorney who had donated to Madigan’s political campaign.

Other cases included lawmakers asking officials to reconsider decisions made about candidates and one pushing legislation to change requirements so a donor and an acquaintance could be licensed.

Even though Chicago’s political world is a well-known “old boy” network, the teacher licensing process includes background checks, testing and training even after attaining a bachelor’s degree.

“The idea of someone trying to exert pressure or influence to get an answer to something that should be a completely independent process is wrong,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president for the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C. She expressed shock at the breadth of lawmaker involvement in Illinois.

As for the licensing agency, it says it answers very few inquiries from legislators concerning licensing issues. Records show, however, that the Illinois State Board of Education’s governmental relations staffers have often acted as “middlemen” between the agency and legislators, or their aides.  And, staffers have provided personal documents to lawmakers, such as “deficiency” letters which outline what educators need to complete their licensing process.

The Tribune reports that Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) intervened on behalf of her niece.  In response, Osmond said that her job was to be mediator for those who seek help.

In other news, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) has endorsed Govenor Pat Quinn, re-election over Republican Bruce Rauner.  IEA President Cinda Klickna says that Quinn is the only candidate who will fight for public schools statewide.  The union paid for ads during the Republican primary noting that Rauner supports school vouchers, which allow students to use public money to attend private schools.

In addition, Rauner blasted “government union bosses’ and is an advocate of charter schools, typically not associated with unions.

The Illinois governor’s race is still in its early stage, but Sarah Burnett, writing for the Huffington Post, says that the citizens of Illinois are somewhat gloomy about the election,

With the high unemployment rate, the billions of dollars of debt, the corruption, and another tax increase in November, more people of Illinois, in a recent survey, said they would like to leave the state than anywhere else in the US.

The race seems to boil down to the incumbent, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, insisting that things are not as bad as they used to be, and the challenger, multi-millionaire businessman Bruce Rauner, insisting that the bums should be thrown out and the state and its citizens should start over.

According to Real Clear Politics, Rauner currently holds a slim 2.7 point lead in the polls.