Updated: Edelman caught misrepresenting Illinois school reform bill

stand for children

stand for childrenThe leader of the education reform group Stand for Children (SfC) has been caught on video misrepresenting the education reform bill signed into law last month. On the same video, Edelman suggests that his organization tried to pay for political influence during the 2010 election. (Read the joint statement from the Illinois education unions on the Edelman comments)

Jonah Edelman is CEO for Oregon-based Stand for Children, an education reform group that sought to pass education reform legislation in Illinois in late 2010 after spending more than $600,000 on a handful of state legislative races.

Despite building the state’s largest political war chest and suggesting his organization had the power to “potentially jam this proposal down [the education unions’] throats,” SfC failed to get its bill passed. Instead, SfC was forced to collaborate with a coalition of education employee unions, lawmakers, school administrators and other education stakeholders who had been working together for years, on a comprehensive reform package that puts students first.

Senate Bill 7 (SB7), the bill that emerged from the talks, differed greatly from the SfC proposal: It maintained the right to strike, due process rights (tenure) and retained seniority as a component in personnel decisions. The bill passed with the overwhelming support of both political parties and cited as a model for reform.

But, at an Aspen Institute event last month, Edelman told a much different story, in which he suggested that his organization purchased political influence, imposed its will on the unions and achieved all of his goals.

It was a stunning series of half-truths and tall-tales. When a video of the Aspen appearance appeared on the Internet, Edelman was forced to recant and apologize.

Among the highlights of his emailed apology:

I deeply regret that I had an “us vs. them” tone. That tone contradicts my deeply held view that key aspects of the current education system are the problem, not teachers’ unions, and that the us vs. them far too often prevents real dialogue that results in better solutions like Senate Bill 7.

… I’m disappointed in myself for the way I framed the Senate Bill 7 story – a framing that does not reflect the good-faith and substantive negotiations that drove this process on all sides.

… I was wrong to state that the teachers’ unions “gave” on teacher effectiveness provisions when the reality is that, indeed, there were long, productive negotiations that led to a better outcome than would have occurred without them.

… I was wrong to make assumptions or comments about the unions’ political strategy.

…I know from conversations with (IEA and IFT leaders) that Illinois’ union leaders are deeply committed to teaching and learning, that they have exhibited that consistently in the past, and that they exhibited that commitment in spades throughout the negotiations on a series of Senate Bill 7 provisions that will improve teaching and learning.

I want to apologize specifically to (leaders and staff of IEA, IFT and CTU) who represented their membership and negotiated creatively and seriously to help craft a bill that addressed tough issues in a fair and thoughtful way.

Pay to play?

Edelman’s apology for misrepresenting the negotiations with unions did not explain other comments made in Aspen suggesting that his organization attempted to purchase political influence.

Edelman’s threats to lawmakers who didn’t go along with his anti-union proposal last year were noted by, among others, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who presided over the SB7 negotiations.

At the IEA Lobby Day last May, Lightford called out Edelman for engaging in ”Pay to Play” politics.