PSAT for 2-11-14: Educate yourself about some Illinois General Assembly primary candidates!

psat_logoEarly voting for the March 18th primary begins March 3, so this is a good time to educate yourself about who’s running and what they stand for, especially in the area of public education support.

As a non-profit organization, PURE cannot endorse or promote any individual candidates, but we can share information about candidates’ positions that may have an impact on the future of public education. For Public Schools Action Tuesday today we’ll look closely at the Illinois state representative races in the 26th, 39th and 40th Districts, where there are candidates with special track records supporting public schools.

26th District

For example, the former executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), Jay Travis, is running against incumbent Christian Mitchell in the 26th District, a very long, skinny district roughly paralleling the lakefront from near north to far south Chicago – map here.

Travis has a years-long public education advocacy track record through her work at KOCO. Here’s her vision for education, from her campaign web site:

Supporting Excellent Neighborhood Public Schools

At KOCO, Jay was at the forefront to build strong neighborhood schools for all families. She led a successful campaign to prevent the first wave of school closings in Kenwood, and built a community coalition to overwhelmingly pass a Chicago referendum supporting an elected, representative school board that would be accountable to parents and taxpayers.

As state representative, Jay will continue to fight for all children, regardless of race or economic status, to have access to a world-class education in their own neighborhood. Charters and closings do not bring us closer to this goal. Instead, we need sustainable school transformation. First and foremost, Jay will champion a just school funding formula so that all schools can pay for the well-rounded curriculum, experienced teachers, and wraparound supports that our children deserve. Jay is also the only candidate in this race who has consistently championed an elected, representative school board for every district in Illinois. School boards use taxpayer money and they should be held accountable for the policies they set. And lastly, she will be a voice for reason, oversight, and research when it comes to school reform strategies, working proactively to prevent the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars towards unproven, corrupt charter school operators and to instead invest in sustainable school transformation.

Travis is endorsed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union.

Christian Mitchell is the 26th District incumbent. Here’s what he told the Chicago Tribune about his positions on public education when he ran in 2012 with the Tribune’s endorsement:

The state should invest more in the areas that have the greatest educational return: early childhood education, greater parental involvement and after-school programs. We should also more closely align curricula with changing 21st-century employer needs, so that Illinois students graduate prepared to do the jobs of today and tomorrow. The two most important factors in improving student performance are the quality of the teacher in the classroom and class size. I will work aggressively to improve the former and reduce the latter as needed. I support raising the cap on charter schools as it is approached, but not eliminating it entirely. I am concerned that such a move could further increase the disparity between the best and worst schools in the state. I am against using public dollars to subsidize private schools via vouchers. I oppose eliminating tenure for teachers, because tenure encourages good, experienced teachers to stay in the system and pass their wisdom on to younger educators. However, I would support revoking tenure for low-performing teachers. We can increase compensation for our best teachers by making the state more competitive in efforts to secure Race to the Top and other federal funding. We can use that funding to incentivize and reward high-performing teachers.

In 2012, Mitchell received $50,000 in campaign funds from Stand for Children, a group that promotes corporate school reform and privatization.

39th District

Will Guzzardi is running against incumbent Maria “Toni” Berrios in the 39th District, an area along the west side of Milwaukee Avenue between about Fullerton and Irving Park. Here’s what Guzzardi’s campaign web site says about public education:

Will believes that strong schools make strong communities, and that every child deserves a quality public education. As a leader of the fight to save Brentano Elementary, he has worked firsthand with principals, teachers, students, parents, and elected officials to guarantee that a quality education is available in our community. He will fight in Springfield to make sure all communities have the same opportunity.

What Guzzardi will do:

  • Demand an immediate moratorium on the school closings that are devastating our communities
  • Fight for the return of TIF surplus money to public schools to fund the restoration of arts, foreign languages, and physical education programs
  • Push for an elected school board to give Chicagoans a voice in the decisions made about our children’s educatio

Tony Berrios’s campaign web site is fairly light on education issues. It mentions two bills she sponsored, one about school bus safety and another on sex education, but does not mention that she was a co-sponsor of an unsuccessful voucher bill in the Illinois General Assembly in 2011. Here’s what she told the Chicago Tribune prior to the 2012 election:

I think we made good progress towards improving education by passing Senate Bill 7. We have implemented reforms that will improve the quality of education without costing the state and taxpayers more. We need to encourage teachers to implement innovative teaching methods and utilize effective practices throughout the state. We need a higher focus on the best practices in teaching and I am hopeful that new teacher evaluation processes will improve learning. We also need to increase parental involvement and extend the school day so that students are more focused on staying in school. Charter schools can provide good opportunities for students in high risk areas and I think that we need to carefully authorize additional charter schools with close supervision. I also think that school vouchers are necessary to help give at-risk youth additional opportunities to thrive and have voted for vouchers in the past. I also think we need to develop public-private partnerships throughout the state to help promote quality education, best teaching practices and to develop local workforces throughout the state.

40th District

Incumbent Jaime Andrade was appointed in August 2013 to replace Deb Mell, who left the Illinois General Assembly to replace her father, Dick Mell, as a Chicago alderman. Andrade was an aide to Dick Mell. The 40th District (map here) straddles the Kennedy and roughly covers the Irving Park and Albany Park areas.

There are five challengers to Andrade, including Wendy Jo Harmston, a long-time leader of the North River Commission, a group that PURE has worked with for more than 25 years on programs supporting Chicago’s local school councils.

Other challengers include Aaron Goldstein, an attorney who represented former governor Rod Blagojevich; Nancy Schiavone, a CPS parent and teacher; Mel Ferrand, a CPS bilingual teacher and librarian; and Mark Pasieka, an electrical engineer.

Schiavone’s campaign web site says:

I will work to ensure that sufficient funding is allocated to address the crumbling infrastructure of our educational system; to provide teachers with the tools and resources they need; and to end the unfair attack on our teachers who work so tirelessly to make a difference.  When Brentano Math and Science Academy faced shutting its doors by order of Chicago Public Schools, I stood hand-in-hand with our teachers and successfully fought the process – keeping our community school open for our neighborhood children.

Ferrand’s web site says:

I have been a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools for the last decade; I’ve taught 4th graders that were bilingual helping them share all their cultural influences; I have also taught middle school math and am now the school librarian. Every day, I see firsthand the challenges that teachers face. Because of this, I’ll fight to make sure that our state education dollars are used efficiently and budgets balance. I will also fight to ensure state education revenue is fairly distributed.

Andrade and the other 3 candidates have no campaign web sites. We found these quotes from Andrade on DNAInfo:

“I think we need to promote the schools we have.” Shoring up neighborhood schools, which have been hit hard by teacher layoffs and budget cuts, should be a top priority, he said. “Roosevelt needs every penny they can get,” Andrade said of the neighborhood high school, which lost more than $1 million when CPS enacted a new funding formula. “Roosevelt is a base for our neighborhood. If that’s not improved, our neighborhood is not improved,” he said….That raised the subject of an elected CPS school board, which would require legislation at the state level to become a reality. “I haven’t quite made a decision on that, yet,” said Andrade, while adding that “more accountability” from (sic) is needed. “At this moment, I don’t have an argument against it.”

More information about candidate positions on public education will be coming out over the next few weeks in the run-up to the election, so keep up, ask the right questions, and listen to the answers!

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.