Education & Schools
Illinois teachers routinely threaten to abandon students to get their way at the bargaining table PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by By Ben Velderman   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 14:36
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The threat of going on strike has become an accepted, and unfortunately profitable negotiation ploy for Illinois teachers unions.
And sometimes the teachers actually walk out, over seemingly minor issues.
That could very well happen tomorrow in the Nokomis, Illinois school district, where teachers are scheduled to go on strike if a last-minute compromise is not reached.
There have been efforts to curb this trend, but nobody knows how effective they will be.
The state’s new education reform law, SB 7, requires teacher unions and school boards to disclose their final, best offer once contract negotiations reach an impasse. It was hoped the new transparency measures would make teacher unions reluctant to divulge their wage and benefit demands, and more likely to quietly settle contract disputes without threats of striking.
But a recent spate of “intent to strike notices” filed by teacher unions in the Altamont, Nokomis, North Boone, and Lake Forest High School districts shows it may take more than public opinion to prevent unions from threatening to walk out, or possibly following through on their threats.
That was obvious last summer in the Illini Bluffs district, where the union delayed the start of the school year by nine days in order to protest the school board’s desire to ensure its classrooms were being staffed by drug-free educators.
The union thought this was too oppressive, and decided to hit the picket lines. Judging from recent intent to strike notices, unions are willing to threaten work stoppages over issues like the amount of teacher prep time, the length of the contract, and differing future estimates of the Consumer Price Index.
The mere threat of a strike works to the unions’ advantage, because it puts public pressure on the school board to give teachers what they want, regardless of whether the district can afford it.
These threats leave students hanging in the balance, wondering if their educations are going to be delayed over some adult labor disagreement. Parents are also left in limbo, wondering about child care if the teachers walk out.
The strike threats – and the occasion walkout – are ugly forms of extortion that should not be tolerated by Illinois state law. Teachers strikes are illegal in 38 states and it’s high time Illinois got on that list.
As we’ve repeated many times, children should have an absolute right to a public education uninterrupted by adult disputes. And taxpayers have a right to see the schools they fund operating on a timely basis, regardless of labor concerns.
Unionized teachers never ‘work without a contract’

Each teachers strike threat begins with the claim that the union is working without a contract. That’s usually a bunch of baloney.
In Illinois, teacher union contracts are “evergreen,” meaning that while a pact may have technically expired, the terms of the agreement stay in effect until a new deal is reached.
Many taxpayers don’t realize this, and buy into the unions’ propaganda that teachers are contract-less and vulnerable to random cuts in pay and benefits. In reality, working under the conditions of an “expired” contract might work to the union’s benefit, especially during an economic downturn.
All Illinois school districts are facing severe financial difficulties, and need to balance their budgets, either by trimming labor costs or cutting student services. A teachers union can delay making necessary financial concessions by dragging its feet during contract negotiations. This allows members to live off the fat of the most recent contract while school board members sweat.
Board members will only sweat so long before breaking down and giving the union what it wants, or at least most of its wish list. This may be bad for taxpayers and students, but it’s a way of life for union teachers in the Land of Lincoln.
Public schools exist for students, yet the unions feel no remorse about their habit of holding children hostage to get what they want at the bargaining table.
Is transparency enough?

Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of governmental relations for the Illinois
Association of School Boards, said the number of teacher unions that follow through on their strike threats has dropped in recent years. The Illini Bluffs strike has been the only one so far in 2011-12, and there were only two work stoppages during the 2010-11 school year.
But strike threats remain a common and effective tool for unions.
“Some believe the threat of strikes is harmful,” Schwarm told EAG. “It can put pressure on a school board that increases the contract settlement.”
Schwarm believes SB 7’s transparency rules are a good move and will “keep things honest” during negotiations.
Collin Hitt, senior director of government affairs for the Illinois Policy Institute, said there have been few work stoppages in the past because teacher unions tend to get what they want during negotiations.
Under SB 7, school boards have the right to declare an impasse in negotiations, which requires the final offers from both sides to be made public.
“Because of this, the public will see relatively few teacher strikes and school districts will get better deals,” Hitt told EAG.
Allowing taxpayers to know what is being negotiated during contract talks is a very good idea. For years the unions have managed to get their way at contract time largely due to citizen ignorance or apathy. Many people are hoping union leaders will feel a bit of embarrassment, and not be so demanding, if the public gets to see their self-serving and expensive wish lists.

On the other hand, some union leaders may feel no shame at all, and the new law may have little effect.
An ‘intent to strike’ roundup

The Nokomis district is bracing for a teachers strike on Dec. 1, unless a deal can be reached. The Nokomis Education Association, the local teachers union, wants its salary demands to be met, even though the district “expects to be $157,000 in the red this year,” reports the State Journal-Register.
“However, the teachers believe the school can afford their requests,” the paper reports.Neither side has offered the public details about demands or counter-offers.
In District 115, members of the Lake Forest Education Association recently voted 109-5 to authorize a teachers strike if a new contract cannot be reached by Dec. 7.
The union is upset that the school board estimates the Consumer Price Index will increase by 2 percent; the union believes the CPI will rise 2.8 percent. We assume the CPI is being used to determine the size of staff members’ raises.
The length of the contract also has the two sides at loggerheads.
In Unit 10, the Altamont Education Association filed an intent-to-strike notice in October. The union wants a new three-year contract “with modest raises,” while the school board is countering with a one-year deal containing a “soft freeze,” reports the Effingham Daily News.
AEA members, who are paying about 25 percent of their health insurance costs, are upset that insurance rates have gone up and eaten into their take-home pay. Welcome to the real world, folks.
AEA Secretary Jeni Aldrich complained that a new initiative giving every high school student a lap top computer will result in more work for teachers.
“It’s devastating that teachers are being asked to take on more responsibility,” she said.
In North Boone, the union and the board have sparred over salaries, health insurance costs and retirement contributions. The district’s website announced that a tentative agreement has been reached, but the details will only be revealed “after ratification by both parties.”
The Galesburg and Sullivan school districts recently agreed to new contracts with their teachers unions, thus side-stepping the unions’ threat to strike. The union representing teachers with the Zion-Benton Township High School district recently voted to strike, although the group has not filed an “intent to strike” notice with the state.
Contact Ben Velderman at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (231) 733-4202

 
Major Savings Offered for e-Learning Industry Event PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Jessica Athey   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 14:09
2012 Lectora User Conference Releases Limited Time Early Bird Special
CINCINNATI – November 30, 2011 – Lectora® e-Learning software announces a limited time early bird special for the upcoming 2012 Lectora User Conference held May 22-24 at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile. The special pricing of only  $495 expires in just one month on December 31, 2011. With many attendees already registered for the event, the 2012 Lectora User Conference is expected to sell out.
“Each attendee receives great value from their experience at the Lectora User Conference with a schedule full of e-Learning keynotes, breakout sessions and workshops facilitated by experts,” said Peter Bray, Chief Marketing Officer at Trivantis Corporation. “At a price approximately three times lower than most industry conferences, coupled with unlimited opportunities to learn and network, the decision to attend is a no brainer.”
In its eighth year, the Lectora User Conference attracts e-Learning experts, developers and professionals from around the world to share knowledge and gain new skills using the Lectora® line of e-Learning authoring tools, FlypaperTM Flash content creation platform, CourseMill® learning management system (LMS), Snap! by Lectora® rapid e-Learning software and Snap! EmpowerTM Flash interactions builder. Attendees gain access to dozens of presentations, breakout sessions, workshops and more to acquire the knowledge and skills to make great e-Learning content for their online computer-based training.
In addition to taking advantage of the early bird special, attendees are also encouraged to submit their proposals to present at the 2012 Lectora User Conference. Those with accepted proposals will receive one free admission to the conference per presentation. Presentations should demonstrate impressive uses of Lectora, Flypaper, CourseMill, Snap! by Lectora and/or Snap! Empower.
To register and to learn more, please visit: 2012 Lectora User Conference.
About Lectora and Trivantis Corporation
As the flagship product for Trivantis, Lectora® is the world’s leading e-Learning software used by most Global 2000 companies in more than 125 countries and is offered in six languages. The Lectora line of e-Learning products includes Lectora Inspire, Lectora Online, Lectora Publisher and Lectora Integrator. Trivantis also produces Flypaper™, the leading Flash content creation platform that empowers users to create, edit, share, track and reuse high-impact Flash and video content. Snap! by Lectora® is the easy-to-use PowerPoint plug-in rapid e-Learning software that converts PowerPoint to Flash. Its sister product, Snap! EmpowerTM Flash interactions builder, enables anyone to create Flash content without having to know Flash programming. To round out the Trivantis family of products, CourseMill is the powerful and affordable learning management system (LMS). Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Trivantis Corporation also has offices in Boca Raton, Phoenix, Paris and London. Trivantis, Lectora, Flypaper, CourseMill, Snap! by Lectora and Snap! Empower are trademarks of Trivantis Corporation.

 
Treasurer Fitzgerald Helps Teachers Prepare Students for the Iowa Assessment Test PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Michael Fitzgerald   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 13:53

DES MOINES, IA (11/29/2011)(readMedia)-- State Treasurer Michael L. Fitzgerald is offering a helping hand to teachers across the state for the Iowa Assessment Test by providing students with a new number two pencil to use on test day. The treasurer's program, Prepare for the Basics, is a no-cost program being offered to 2nd and 3rd grade teachers. Last year the program distributed over 12,800 pencils to schools statewide. "Testing helps teachers monitor the growth of students' basic skills," Fitzgerald said. "This program is a small gesture of appreciation to our teachers for their hard work."

Along with the new pencil, students will receive information to take home about College Savings Iowa. College Savings Iowa is a state-sponsored 529 plan designed to help Iowa families meet the continually increasing costs of higher education while providing them with multiple tax benefits, including a $2,865 deduction per account from their 2011 state taxable income.* "Families who begin saving early are better prepared to meet the future educational needs of their children," Fitzgerald stated. "Saving ahead of time may reduce the need to borrow for college, which can help families-and their children-get to graduation with less debt."

Teachers who would like to take part in the Prepare for the Basics program are encouraged to go to the treasurer's website at www.treasurer.state.ia.us. They can register by clicking on the Education tab and then clicking on the Prepare for the Basics Campaign. To ensure timely arrival, materials should be requested at least two weeks prior to testing. The materials will be delivered directly to the participating schools. Supplies are limited, so early registration is advised. For more information about this program, or College Savings Iowa, please visit www.collegesavingsiowa.com or call 1-888-672-9116.

*Adjusted annually for inflation. If withdrawals are not qualified, the deductions must be added back to Iowa taxable income.

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Education Outreach Program Continues To Reach Military Children PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by SSgt Kassidy L Snyder   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 13:52

SPRINGFIELD, IL (11/29/2011)(readMedia)-- The Illinois National Guard Education Outreach Program began in September 2010 to help aid military children in school. The effort continues to reach more military children through distribution of the Educator's Guide Book created by the Illinois National Guard Family Program.

"Through the Education Outreach Program, the Illinois National Guard Family Program provides information and resources on the impact our families may experience while their servicemember is deployed away from home or working stateside with his or her unit," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard.

These resources include a five-week program with a military family life consultant is available at the school one day a week for five weeks, offering free sessions with children, printed materials and interactive Web sites for online tutoring.

"Our goal is to help schools create an environment of awareness and provide resources to better assist military children in school," said Christie Weiss of Sherman, the Illinois National Guard state youth education coordinator. "We would like the chance to give each school social worker the Educator's Guide and a one-page, front and back Teacher's Reference Guide to help them better understand military children."

The Educator's Guide for military children includes an explanation of the deployment cycle, general information about the military, reproducible activities for children ages 5 to 12, information on caring for kids after trauma and death and Web sites and additional resources for the school.

The National Guard Family Readiness Office also provides resources to military families and educators.

The office can provide educators with the tools to apply for Department of Defense Education Activity and other governmental grants, team school counselors with qualified Military Family Life Consultants and offer free continuing education classes. In addition to assisting educators, the office provides information about free online tutoring for military kids whose parents are on active-duty orders along with many additional resources.

If you would like a copy of the Educator's Guide or Teacher's Reference Guide please call the Illinois State Youth Education Coordinator at 217-761-3842.

 
Grassley asks White House to identify authority to make unilateral changes to the law PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 12:36
WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley said he is waiting for an answer from the White House about what authority is being used to provide better repayment terms for a select group of student loan borrowers, as the President announced in his We Can’t Wait for Congress media campaign.

Grassley said his questions are based on the fact that the campaign implies the actions are being taken independently from Congress, but that it’s unclear what statute allows the President to unilaterally alter income requirements for payment adjustments, expand loan forgiveness and make it easier to get out of existing loans.

“I wrote a letter to the President earlier this month asking him to explain to Congress and the public the legal authority he is claiming to implement the student loan changes,” Grassley said.  “Our system of government is based on the principle of representative government, so the President can’t unilaterally enact laws.  Congress, where elected representatives reflect the will of the people, makes the laws and the President signs or rejects them.  Serious constitutional issues are raised when the President disregards the people’s voice as expressed through Congress to change the law himself.  Frustration with the legislative process is understandable, but the process is based on constitutional principles and, in fact, where there is bipartisan support for initiatives the President has offered, proposals have been passed this year.”

Here is the text of Grassley’s letter to President Barack Obama.

 

November 9, 2011

President Barack Obama

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Obama,

On October 25, 2011, you announced changes that would provide better repayment terms for a select group of student loan borrowers.  Specifically, the proposal would accelerate the application of changes Congress made to the law effective July 1, 2014 reducing the percentage of a borrower’s income from 15% to 10% to calculate payments under the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan and reducing the length of time during which a student borrower must make qualifying payments under the IBR plan from 25 years to 20 years in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness.  The proposal also includes a new 0.5% interest rate subsidy for borrowers who agree to consolidate their privately held Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans into the government-run Direct Loan Program.  This was part of your “We Can’t Wait for Congress” campaign.  However, the announcement was missing some key details and raised some questions that Congress and taxpaying Americans deserve answers to.

The slogan “We Can’t Wait for Congress” implies that these are actions you are taking independently of Congress.  However, under our constitutional system, the President can only take actions that are authorized by Act of Congress or that fall under the authority granted to the President in the Constitution.  That raises the question of what specific statutory authority you are using to implement these policy changes.

Please cite the specific statutory language and accompanying legal analysis by which you determined you have the authority to reduce the percentage of a borrower’s income from 15% to 10% to calculate payments under the IBR plan in advance of the effective date of July 1, 2014 as provided for in the SAFRA Act as part of P.L. 111-152.

Please cite the specific statutory language and accompanying legal analysis by which you determined you have the authority to reduce the length of time during which a student borrower must make qualifying payments under the IBR from 25 years to 20 years in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness in advance of the effective date of July 1, 2014 as provided for in the SAFRA Act as part of P.L. 111-152.

Please cite the specific statutory language and accompanying legal analysis by which you determined you have the authority to offer a special 0.5% interest rate subsidy for borrowers who agree to consolidate their privately held Federal Family Education Loan Program loans into the Direct Loan Program.

In addition, the initial announcement was vague about the means of implementation for these changes.  While media reports have referred to an “executive order,” no such executive order has been issued to date and the announcement only refers to this as part of “a series of executive actions.”  In fact, I understand that your Administration plans to implement parts of this proposal through rulemaking procedures used for implementing laws passed by Congress.  Please describe the timeline for this process and why the implementation process is only now beginning.

Also, your announcement claims that, “These changes carry no additional cost to taxpayers.”  Obviously, there is some cost to providing improved benefits sooner than the effective date in law.  Presumably this claim is based on estimated cost savings that offset the additional costs.

Please describe in detail the estimated costs of these new benefits and any estimated savings as well as the detailed calculations and assumptions by which those estimated savings were derived.

If the estimated savings are based on an assumption of lower costs due to shifting more existing FFELP loans into the Direct Loan program, then that raises the question of whether the estimate took into account factors that often lead to a significant overestimate of savings, and even revenue generated, through the Direct Loan program as described in the March 2010 Congressional Budget Office Study “Costs and Budget Options of Federal Student Loan Programs.”

If in fact moving loans into Direct Lending is the source of any estimated savings, please explain whether your estimate fully took into account administrative costs and default risk as well as the risk to the Treasury of assuming greater debt at a time when our country’s ability to borrow money at low interest rates is already threatened by excessive federal debt.

Finally, any discussion of new spending or potential cost savings inevitably involves tradeoffs.  To the extent that this proposal involves spending of limited resources or involves legitimate savings to the federal Treasury, in a time of severely constrained resources, Congress may wish to consider whether there are better uses for these resources, such as reducing the deficit or addressing the funding shortfall for Pell Grants.  Despite a significant infusion of funds provided to the Pell Grant program in the Budget Control Act, there is still an estimated shortfall of $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2012 in order to maintain the current maximum Pell Grant award.  The Pell Grant program is designed to provide access to college for very low-income individuals who otherwise would not have access to a higher education.  To the extent that resources are available, Congress might wish to consider whether this is a higher priority than providing a select number of borrowers who are already on a special repayment plan, and who have already had the benefit of a higher education, the opportunity to have even more of their student loans paid off even earlier.

Such tradeoffs should be made in the light of day with full accountability to the taxpayers, including the majority of student loan borrowers who are paying off their student loans without help and the many hard working Americans who have not attended college.  As such, I request an answer to the above questions no later than November 23, 2011.  Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please contact James Rice of my staff at (202) 224-3744.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

 
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