Lake Villa, Illinois Students Caught in the Crossfire

Published February 24, 2016

Government school teachers in Lake Villa, Illinois, a village about 53 miles north of Chicago, called off a planned strike after 10 months of collective bargaining failed to produce a contract agreeable to the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The Lake County Federation of Teachers filed an intent-to-strike notice with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board on February 10. The teachers union demanded pay hikes and increased entitlement benefits.

Seniority vs. Success

Mary Clare Reim, a research associate in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, says educators’ pay should be based on how well they do their job, not how long they’ve been employed.

“Teachers should be paid based on the merit of their work,” Reim said. “Unfortunately, teachers are too often paid based on seniority and rank rather than job performance. To improve the quality of teaching and retain good teachers, schools must reward good teachers for good work and be free to terminate the contracts of teachers who underperform. If serving children is the goal, school boards should focus their efforts on paying their teachers based on merit, rather than succumbing to collective bargaining demands that hurt children’s educational opportunities in the process.”

Reim says teachers union strikes are becoming a common occurrence in the government school system.

“Teacher strikes have, unfortunately, become the norm in today’s educational system,” Reim said. “This year alone, there have been multiple strikes that have left thousands of children out of school.”

Students ‘Take the Brunt’

Lennie Jarratt, project manager on education transformation at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says it’s unfair for government unions to use children as bargaining chips during contract negotiations.

“Students always take the brunt of a strike,” Jarratt said. “They miss much-needed education time, which is never fully made up. During a strike, all sporting events are cancelled, which can be detrimental to the athletes who will miss games and potential recruitment opportunities.”

Jarratt says most parents’ only option is to send their children to a local government school.

“Parents look for options after a strike,” Jarratt said. “However, Illinois parents have very few education options in most districts across the state. Students are typically provided teachers union propaganda in the classroom, which they are then instructed to take home. This tactic not only uses the students as pawns, it alienates and divides the communities. Many families choose to move out of the district or out of the state to escape failing government schools.”

Leaving Illinois

Jarratt says the declines in government school funding are driven by Illinois’ high taxes and spending.

“Illinois is losing one resident every seven minutes,” Jarratt said. “This exodus from the state is a major reason for the decline in available funding. This is happening in nearly every district in the state. In addition, the disparity in resources between different districts in the state means children stuck in poor districts get a substandard education and are more likely to have their education disrupted by teacher strikes. Until school funding is student-based instead of geography-based, this phenomenon will not change.”

Andy Torbett ([email protected]) writes from Atkinson, Maine.