A raft of past programs have failed to substantially improve the reading skills of middle grade and high school students. CPS is trying once again, as part of a federal project that aims to help teens learn how to analyze complex non-fiction.
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Stand for Children-Illinois raises $3 million
Stand for Children – Illinois swooped into the state late last year with a pile of political campaign money and a mission to bring about reforms in Chicago Public Schools and beyond. To date, neither the money nor the mission has made much of a difference in Illinois school policy. Still, that hasn't stopped the group from raising over $3 million late last year from some of Chicago's deepest pockets, including Sam Zell, under whose ownership the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy, and the Crown and Pritzker families. The organization first surfaced last October when it distributed $610,000 – all of it transferred in from its parent organization, Stand for Children (which started as a Portland, Oregon non-profit) – as late contributions to the political campaigns of nine candidates for the Illinois General Assembly.
Six Stand-supported candidates were elected, although all had generally been expected to win anyway: Rep. Mark Walker (R-Arlington Heights) received $50,000; Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Aurora) got $50,000; Rep. Rich Morthland (R-Port Byron), $25,000; Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), $10,000; Rep. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria), $100,000; and Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Steger), $100,000.
Stand’s spurt of fiscal civic engagement in Illinois probably had no effect except to irritate legislators who defeated three candidates who had benefitted from Stand’s largesse – House candidates Ryan Higgins (R-Schaumburg), who received $175,000; Rep. Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion), who got $50,000; and former Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), who sought to return to the Senate with $50,000 in help from Stand.
Even though Stand-Illinois’ election results were mediocre, especially considering the size of their donations, their efforts were surely not appreciated by the legislative caucus leaders, who prefer to funnel the large donations through political action committees they control. It’s just a loyalty-engendering thing the leaders like to do, rather than have an outside group aim to buy their caucus members’ loyalty.
What reforms does Stand for Children-Illinois support? Its website notes three priorities: changing tenure rules so that teacher performance plays a factor in earning tenure and in layoffs; requiring fact-finding and public notification before a teacher strike; and “mutual consent” hiring rather than forced teacher placement based on seniority. (In Chicago, principals have the authority to select their own teachers for open positions.)
Besides Illinois, the national Stand for Children campaign has eight other state affiliates: in Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Indiana, Washington, Tennessee and Texas.
Stand’s national co-founder and chief executive officer, Jonah Edelman—son of Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund—has advocated a longer school day for Chicago.
Stand-Illinois was also a major architect in December of legislation called “Performance Counts.” It was a hurried-up effort designed to drastically curb the influence of teachers’ unions and would have dramatically eroded tenure protections and the right to strike.
Stand-Illinois didn’t support any legislative candidates from Chicago. But that move did not hamper its ability to wring money from some of the city's prominent families. In an amazingly successful effort, the group raised $3.2 million from just 23 donors from September through December. The national parent group kicked in another $260,000.
State Board of Elections records list the following contributors, their affiliations and the amounts they gave late last year to the Stand for Children IL PAC:
- Kenneth Brody, Manager, DRW Trading Group, $100,000
- John Canning, Chairman, Dearborn Partners, $250,000
- Arie Crown, Partner, Henry Crown & Co., $100,000
- Elizabeth Crown, $50,000
- James Crown, President, Henry Crown and Company, $200,000
- Nancy Crown, $100,000
- Patricia Crown, self-employed psychotherapist, $50,000
- Paul Finnegan, Co-CEO, Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, $500,000
- Kenneth Griffin, Founder/CEO, Citadel Group, $500,000
- Matthew Hulsizer, Co-founder/CEO, Peak6 Investments, LP, $474,000
- Merrick Ventures LLC (no name noted) $100,000
- Margot Pritzker, $50,000
- Penny Pritzker, CEO, Pritzker Realty Group, $50,000
- Thomas Pritzker, Chairman-CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corp., $50,000
- Gigi Pritzker Pucker, CEO, Odd Lot Entertainment, $50,000
- Michael Pucker, Attorney, Latham & Watkins LLP, $50,000
- George Ruhana, Partner/CEO, OptionsHouse LLC, $26,000
- Bettylu Saltzman, $1,000
- Brian Simmons, Partner, Code Hennessy & Simmons LLC, $100,000
- Leo Smith, Teacher, Perspectives/IIT Math & Science Academy, $25,000
- Bryan Traubert, Eye Physicians of Chicago, $50,000
- Donald Wilson, CEO, DRW Trading Group, $250,000
- Samuel Zell, chairman, Equity Group Investments, $100,000
Why would Stand-Illinois hustle up so much political capital so quickly? There are two apparent reasons. One, a $10,000 limit on individual and $20,000 on corporate donations to political action committees took effect January 1. If a PAC was to collect cash in large chunks, it had to be done by December 31st.
The second reason: the effect on legislators of having a large PAC balance this spring.
As legislators wrestle with the state’s problems, they also think about their own reelection in 2012. All 177 state lawmakers must file petitions of candidacy this coming December. They see the Board of Elections filings. They know Stand-Illinois is sitting on over $3 million—and that may be the largest PAC fund balance in the state right now. A legislator’s first inclination is to want to be friends with anyone with so much cash on hand.
It remains to be seen if the huge PAC fund has an impact on helping to push the Stand-Illinois agenda. “Performance Counts” lost out, although Stand-Illinois and its allies had hoped to see the proposal enacted during the first week of January. That failed and a process of negotiating reforms—with teachers’ unions, school management associations and others at the table—was deferred into the current legislative session.
The legislative leaders in this process are Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora). Lightford was furious at Stand-Illinois for calling a news conference April 8 to announce the success of the negotiations – without inviting her or Chapa LaVia or any other legislator.
“It just shows how new they are to Illinois, and how immature,” Lightford said. A source said Chapa LaVia was livid.
As it turns out, the Stand-Illinois news conference was premature. No agreement had been reached and the event was canceled. Meanwhile, a bill Lightford planned to use as a vehicle for tenure reform missed a deadline and has been sent to a kind of bill graveyard. This issue seems to be stalling the process and Stand-Illinois stands a good chance of being blamed for it.
Why was it necessary for Stand to come to Illinois? It’s a question that’s often asked. The national organization bills itself as “grassroots,” although that’s not really how the Illinois chapter emerged.
And its campaign partners include business interests—the Illinois, Chicagoland and Naperville chambers of commerce, the Illinois Business Roundtable and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago—as well as Advance Illinois, the education advocacy group, and the United Neighborhood Organization, which operates a network of charter schools.