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DFER Congratulates State Rep. Christian Mitchell On Decisive Primary Victory in Chicago
March 18, 2014

Devin Boyle | 202.445.0416 | Devin@dfer.org
Owen Kilmer | 708.560.3388 | Owen@dfer.org


DFER Congratulates State Rep. Christian Mitchell On Decisive Primary Victory in Chicago

Education reform message clearly resonates with city's Democrats

Washington, DC - March 18, 2014 - Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) congratulates Illinois State Representative Christian Mitchell today for his win in the Illinois primary election.

In an election that served as a referendum on the future of education in Chicago, Rep. Mitchell overcame an onslaught of attacks and resources from political groups within his own party who opposed his commitment to education reform. The Chicago Teachers Union and its allies contributed more than $300,000 to Mitchell's challenger in an attempt to unseat him, pledging to make this election a cautionary tale for other elected officials committed to ending the education status quo that exists in Chicago and throughout the country.

“For too long, the debate among Democrats in the city has been hyper-focused on the politics surrounding reform rather than on the urgent need to transform a system that is failing so many of our kids,” said Joe Williams, Executive Director of DFER.

While in office, Mitchell has campaigned for equitable school funding and promoted effective public charter schools that provide Illinois parents with options for educating their children. He has pledged to continue advocating for education while serving the people of Chicago, and his track record proves that he will stand by that promise while in office for the next 2 years.

“The groups who hoped to use this election to write Representative Mitchell’s political obituary and send a message failed,” said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, State Director of DFER-IL. “Despite a barrage of negative attacks, Mitchell’s vision to provide every student in Chicago with a high-quality education resonated with voters. We are proud to have supported such an emerging, progressive champion for education. We are confident that Christian’s decisive victory will help him come out on top once again in the general election on November 4.”


About Democrats for Education Reform

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is a political reform organization with 13 state offices that cultivates and supports leaders in the Democratic party who champion America’s public schoolchildren.

Because you’ve already blown your other New Year’s resolutions…
January 27, 2014

Let’s not kid ourselves friends, most of our New Year’s resolutions ended two weeks ago with our first whiff of [insert favorite calorie-laden food here].

But, it’s not too late to set a 2014 goal that will last much longer than your next craving for deep dish by donating to our January Reformer of the Month, Illinois State Rep. Christian Mitchell, as he fights for re-election.

By clicking here to donate as little as $5-$25 or as much as $500 to Rep. Mitchell’s campaign you can make a resolution to re-elect a proven DFER to our Statehouse!

Christian, who was elected to the 26th district of Illinois’ House of Representatives in 2012, has made it a priority to improve our schools, make our streets safer, and create jobs. He has also led the fight for education funding reform and the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools in our state.

But, he now faces a tight race against a radical opponent working to derail his hard work. Mitchell’s challenger is attempting to make support for charter schools a poison pill for our legislators. So, we need your help to keep Christian in office. Click here to support him now!

Raised by a single mother who was a nurse and his grandfather, a union steelworker, Christian was inspired to devote himself to public service. Before stepping into office, he worked with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns, and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, all bona fide ed reformers working to improve the lives of Illinois’ families.

The re-election of Rep. Mitchell will ensure the presence of a strong education champion in the Statehouse who will fight for what’s best for kids for years to come. Click here to donate now!

Any contribution, large or small, will help Christian in this pivotal race. Let’s start 2014 with a resolution you know you can keep. Donate here to support his efforts today!

Thanks for standing with our kids!

Rebeca Nieves Huffman

Pension Deal: A First Step Toward Full Education Funding
December 16, 2013

By Rebeca Nieves Huffman, DFER-IL State Director

Illinois has a problem: our state finances are in horrible shape and our pension payments have crowded out our ability to invest in our future. Namely, we don’t have the dollars necessary to set our students and teachers up for success.

On December 2, the Illinois General Assembly approved a comprehensive pension reform package (Senate Bill 1) that guarantees Illinois will make its full annual contribution to its pension fund. The reforms are expected to save the state $160 billion over the next 30 years. The bill will reduce the annual cost-of-living increases and push back the retirement age for those 45 and younger. With the billions saved from these reforms, Illinois will be able to fully fund its retirement system by 2044, and—hopefully—channel more funding into crucial social programs like education.

Senate Bill 1 is a necessary step toward fixing the state's current financial issues, and will allow us to focus on closing funding gaps in our public education system. Illinois is currently dead last in the country when it comes to its state share of education spending, which is certainly not the way to grow the next generation of productive and fulfilled citizens. We need to direct dollars to where they are needed most—our classrooms.

Illinois’ budget problems did not begin overnight; The nearly $100 billion pension debt resulted primarily from sluggish investment returns during the recession, the state’s failure to make its own legally required annual pension payment, and its practice of skipping pension payments while making promises to the state's workers our resources could not cover. As many have predicted, the answer to this dilemma is not an easy one nor will it make everyone happy. Even some of the officials who voted for the bill are looking for court intervention.

Senate Bill 1 is the first of many tough decisions ahead for our state. The changes created by the pension reform bill apply only to members of the General Assembly and other state employees, university employees and teachers outside of Chicago, meaning a separate decision process will be needed to address the pension shortfall in Chicago Public Schools.

The compromise bill is not perfect, but it is a first step to fixing the state's most pressing financial issue. While elected officials were deadlocked over a solution to the pension crisis, the state’s financial credibility suffered and vital state services were put at risk. Solving the current pension issue will allow Illinois to finally start putting the necessary time and resources into long-term priorities, including funding our state’s education system so all of our children will have access to a high-quality education.

Comprehensive education funding covering everything from improved facilities to increased classroom resources should be the goal of every Democratic leader who cares about the future of Illinois, and the pension reform package is a necessary step toward making that goal a reality.

For the last 10 years, Rebeca has worked across the country for organizations with national scopes and local reach into many states, so she is thrilled to apply her national experience in her home turf as the Illinois State Director of Democrats for Education Reform. Read more about Rebeca here.

DFER-IL Statement on Chicago Teacher Pension Fund Chair Jay Rehak's Attack on Paul Vallas
November 13, 2013

DFER-IL Statement on Chicago Teacher Pension Fund Chair Jay Rehak's Attack on Paul Vallas

CHICAGO, IL — Rebeca Huffman, Illinois State Director of Democrats for Education Reform, released the following statement on Chicago Teacher Pension Fund Chair Jay Rehak's attack on Paul Vallas:

"Jay Rehak's job is to promote the fiduciary health of retirement funds, not to promote or oppose candidates for political office. In just one more indication that he's a biased official who is more interested in pursuing an ideological agenda than administering the fund, he attacked Paul Vallas for opposing him simply because he supported reform efforts that strengthened our schools and put our students first. Rehak's threat to withhold support from Vallas will do nothing but empower Republican candidates who may follow the national Republican trend of slashing investments in education. But moreover, it's Rehak's pursuit of a political agenda that should be troubling to any teacher that expect those officials trusted with their pensions to make impartial judgements intended only to secure a sound retirement."

Rehak's Comments on Paul Vallas:

No Self Respecting Teacher Can Support Quinn-Vallas

What Paul Vallas knows about real public education might fill half a dozen thimbles, but that doesn't make him qualified to be Lieutenant Governor. No self-respecting teacher can vote for Quinn-Vallas. We need to urge the Governor to find a better candidate or he faces the loss of tens of thousands of teachers as voters and foot soldiers in the next Governor's race.


Student Growth Tied to Teacher Evaluations in Chicago
September 26, 2013

By Rebeca Nieves Huffman, DFER-IL State Director

The old saying “what gets measured, gets improved” makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to teacher performance. Three years ago Illinois joined the ranks of states with legislation mandating teacher evaluations based on a combination of student performance levels and the close examination of teacher practice. Last week Chicago Public Schools (CPS) became the largest school district to implement this rigorous measurement of teacher effectiveness, in an attempt to gain a more accurate understanding of how well teachers are serving students.

On September 17th CPS released the results for the first round of evaluations, which covered an estimated 4,200 non-tenured teachers. (Additional evaluations of tenured teachers will take place in the next two years as part of a phased in process.) This marked the first time that teacher evaluations were based in part on student test scores in the state. Despite dire predictions from opponents, results for the 2012-2013 school year were not that different from previous years. Among the non-tenured teachers assessed under the new evaluation system, those earning the district’s two highest ratings—excellent and proficient—dropped from 60 percent to 57.6 percent. With evaluations for 15,000 tenured teachers planned over the next two years, CPS should see fewer tenured teachers rated in the top category (excellent) and more classified as proficient or developing. Once evaluations systems are fully implemented for all teachers, regardless of tenure status, we will be able to better determine which teachers are leading the way to student success, and help structure support for teachers who need improvement.

Under the previous evaluation system more than 90 percent of tenured teachers were rated excellent or proficient, yet students across the district were failing! The 40-year-old standards led to a clear disconnect between perceived teacher performance and actual student achievement. But this is likely to change with the new system in place. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett has said the focus of the new evaluation system is on professional development and improving the quality of education for all students.

Things are looking up for Chicago’s kids, but we’re not out of the weeds yet. The system still has some areas where improvements can be made according to The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. The organization released findings last week from a survey of teachers and administrators on the new evaluations process, showing what seems to be working and where there are opportunities for growth. According to the survey, teachers and administrators believe the new system has promoted teacher growth and instructional improvement, but some administrators feel as though they have a weak to moderate understanding of how to determine the final rating and—despite student growth only accounting for 25 percent of teacher evaluations—many thought their evaluations were contingent on test scores. Clearly, more communication needs to happen to ensure everyone understands the system.

Regardless of a few kinks that still need to be ironed out, we need to always remember “What gets measured does improve,” and we don’t have a minute to waste to make the system better. Now if we could just make progress on school funding reform…

For the last 10 years, Rebeca has worked across the country for organizations with national scopes and local reach into many states, so she is thrilled to apply her national experience in her home turf as the Illinois State Director of Democrats for Education Reform. Read more about Rebeca here.

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