May 25, 2021 Media

Statement on Illinois HB3496

On May 19, 2021, members of the Illinois General Assembly Executive Committee gathered for the hearing of HB3496, which would modify the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act to redefine education management in Chicago, but in no other Illinois district. The law could be interpreted to exclude principals and assistant principals from the definition of management in Chicago. This could ultimately lead to principals and assistant principals forming a bargaining unit. 

During the hearing: 

  • The chair of the bill recognized that there were Chicago principals who recorded both support and opposition for the bill. 
  • The lead sponsor of the bill, State Senator Celina Villeneuva, stated that she is considering amendments to the bill. 
  • State Senator Bill Cunningham raised some questions about the bill, regarding how the redefinition of principals as non-managerial employees could affect the powers of Local School Councils (LSCs). 

The Fund’s CEO, Dr. Heather Anichini, provided testimony in opposition to the bill during the hearing. Below, you can find her full written statement. 

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Members of the Committee, thank you very much.

I am Dr. Heather Anichini. I lead The Chicago Public Education Fund, a 20-year-old nonprofit that works directly with principals and assistant principals in about half the schools citywide. 

My team and I work to ensure that 20 years from now, our schools are even stronger than they are today. We know making Chicago the best city in which to lead a public school is essential to reaching that goal. It’s that aspiration that informs my concerns about HB3496.

There are more than 600 schools in Chicago, and each one needs something a little different. Right now, our principals have the ability to flex around community needs. Under the current law and in practice, principals in Chicago enjoy flexibility around budget, curriculum, scheduling and teacher staffing that is unique when compared with peer cities. 

Governed by laws similar to the one you’re considering today, principals in other cities have seen their flexibility limited. Los Angeles and New York have seen their hiring rights severely curtailed. In San Francisco, principals can be involuntarily assigned to another school. 

Definitions like those under consideration today can lead to principal flexibility being compromised.

Chicago’s reliance on local flexibility – by both law and practice – is decades in the making. Thirty years ago Chicago’s principals, in partnership with their Local School Councils, were given initial local controls. 

Those practices were expanded over decades. I led the district’s school improvement redesign in the early 2000s and remember vividly the ways in which local control and principal discretion were intentionally expanded during that time period, in partnership with principals and the CPAA.

The theory then – and now – is that change happens locally, in schools. Principals – as leaders and managers in every sense of the word – shape that change.

That theory works. Chicago’s principals have used their local flexibility to partner with their teachers and communities and to achieve remarkable gains. 

In 2000, the CPS high school graduation rate hovered below 50%, and only 15 out of the 65 high schools had a rate above 60%. Today, the citywide graduation rate is over 80%. 

We know from research at the University of Chicago and Vanderbilt and Stanford that those gains are meaningful and that principals play a statistically and experientially significant role in delivering them.  

To be clear, we know that Chicago is not the easiest city in the country for leading a school, especially this year. We conduct an annual survey of principals, regular program surveys and lots of focus groups. Right now, they suggest one thing: Our principals are exhausted. They often feel stressed beyond measure. Unsupported, under-appreciated and under-resourced. 

Their feelings are real, and particularly acute in the face of COVID. They also raise important questions. 

This bill is not the answer. We’re not the only ones who believe that. There are Chicago principals raising concerns about the long-term implications of this legislation, despite near-term risks to themselves. Their questions merit additional debate.

We simply haven’t had enough time to understand what fundamentally changing the definition of management means for Chicago’s public schools. 

We know principals are tired and we value them. They need us to acknowledge the trauma and pain of this year, and invest in their leadership. 

That can be done without this law. It can be done by building upon and strengthening levers that already exist, and that can continue to evolve. 

I thank you for your time and urge you to vote no on 3496.