Clock is running down fast on slow-moving school closings moratorium bills

Clock is running down fast on slow-moving school closings moratorium bills
Protesters stand in front of the Chicago City Hall Monday during the last day of the "3-Day March" that was led by the Chicago Teachers Union to protest proposed school closings. Photo by Juan Labreche.

This is a tale of two bills.

SB1571 was introduced in the Illinois Senate on Feb. 13, intended to put a moratorium on Chicago Public Schools’ plan to close 54 schools. Then that bill was amended to remove the provision seeking to put a moratorium on school closings. Despite the original text of the bill having been removed, and it only having three co-sponsors, the SB1571 is slowly moving through the Senate toward its second reading. If its third reading doesn’t come up by May 31, the bill will be dead.

The other bill, introduced in the House on Feb. 26, has the same language as the Senate bill. It calls for a moratorium on closures. It’s decidedly more popular, with 32 co-sponsors. The difference is that HB3283 isn’t moving at all. Instead, it’s in the House’s Rules Committee, where it has lingered since the day it was introduced.

Both bills are in a race against the clock. On May 22, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on the 54 proposed school closings, and it may be too late for Springfield to pass a moratorium.

State Sen. William Delgado, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill, sees a political motive for keeping HB3283 stuck in committee.

“Why won’t [the Rules Committee] liberate this legislation to be heard on its own merit?” asked Delgado, whose district includes Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, where community groups have been vocal against the planned school closures.

Delgado is critical of the school district’s closing plan, calling it a cover for charter school creation. But even if CPS is intent on doing it, he said, forcing it through so quickly shows “a total disregard for the well-being of the students.”

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Protesters stand in front of the Chicago City Hall Monday during the last day of the “3-Day March” that was led by the Chicago Teachers Union to protest proposed school closings. Photo by Juan Labreche.

“It’s like trying to eat a large pizza in one gulp,” Delgado said.

Chicago Public Schools did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the pending legislation and how it may affect the Board of Education’s vote.

Whether a bill makes it out of the Rules Committee depends on the committee members, who make the decision in consultation with the leadership of the House and the Senate, said state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who chairs the committee.

Currie told The Chicago Reporter that she didn’t see a political reason why the bill was still in her committee. “I don’t think the Legislature sees itself as operating as a supra school board for the Chicago Public Schools.”

State Rep. Elgie R. Sims, the sponsor of the House bill, acknowledged that second-guessing Chicago’s school board is not the role of Springfield legislators.

“What’s important to the parents of students, and to the students themselves, is important to all of us,” he said. “I want to be able to act on behalf of the individuals I represent.”

Within two miles of his district office in Auburn Gresham on Chicago’s South Side are two schools slated for closure–Mahalia Jackson Elementary School and Garrett A. Morgan Elementary School. 

Sims remains optimistic that he can get the bill passed before the end of the session. But if it only passes after the Board of Education votes in favor of any closings, he said, it’s unclear how it would impact CPS’ plans.

“Ultimately, the General Assembly acts under the Illinois school code,” he said. “So it would be able to have some say in what the board does.”

And even if that doesn’t work, Sims said he is looking at other legislative angles to “ensure that we have a real discussion about the impact of the closures.”

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  • Clock is running down on just about all bills pending in the Legislature, other than to raise electric rates vs. having more blackouts.

    From what I understand, Sims has until about 10 a.m. today to pass the bill.

    I see you aren't concerned that the General Assembly is in no hurry to pass a real pension reform bill. And no mention of a budget, even though the state was more successful in draining the taxpayers pockets this April than it expected. Maybe it can now pay the social services vendors. Or don't the Muckrakers care about that?

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