TRIBUNE: Lawmakers intervene in teacher licensing

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State lawmakers have intervened repeatedly in Illinois’ teacher licensing process, going to bat in some cases for candidates who did not meet state requirements and applicants with criminal pasts as well as for relatives, donors and constituents, a Tribune investigation revealed.

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The newspaper found nearly 100 cases in the past five years in which lawmakers got involved in the system that determines who can work as classroom aides, teachers and school administrators or hold other jobs.

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The cases are outlined in hundreds of pages of documents and email exchanges obtained by the newspaper, dating to 2009, when House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office helped push a young woman’s licensing case to the head of the line.

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Her dad, a Chicago lawyer who had previously donated to Madigan, wrote a letter asking the speaker to help expedite the license.

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A number of the inquiries were on behalf of constituents trying to speed up the process. Some lawmakers defended the practice as good service for their districts, though critics say it’s unfair to the would-be educators who wait their turn in line and aren’t being served while the politicians’ cases are addressed.

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In other cases, lawmakers delved into qualifications and other standards, asking licensing officials to reconsider decisions. One lawmaker, former House Republican Leader Tom Cross, didn’t get far with licensing staff so he went the extra step: He pushed legislation to change the requirements so a donor and another acquaintance could get licensed. The records show a pattern of legislative involvement facilitated by the agency that oversees teacher licensing — an area many consider sacrosanct, even in a state known for who-you-know politics and insider deals. The highly screened process involves criminal background checks, educator testing and training even after a bachelor’s degree.

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Read More: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-clout-for-teachers-20140713,0,282790.story

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