Union Withholds Endorsement

By Michele McNeil — September 26, 2006 1 min read

For the first time in more than 30 years, Illinois’ largest teachers’ union is so unimpressed with the education platforms of the two major-party candidates for governor that it won’t be endorsing either politician for the job.

That may be particularly disappointing for Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat, who won the support—and the money—of the Illinois Education Association in 2002 during his first bid for governor.

His campaign didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Both the governor and his Republican challenger, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, believe that gambling is part of the solution to the problems of Illinois’ schools, but the union, which is pushing for an overhaul of the state’s school funding system, disagrees.

Mr. Blagojevich wants to sell future proceeds of the Illinois Lottery in exchange for an upfront infusion of cash to help finance the public schools. Ms. Topinka proposes building a land-based casino in Chicago as a way to boost revenue for schools.

Those ideas simply won’t do, said Ken Swanson, the president of the state union, a National Education Association affiliate that represents 125,000 teachers and support-staff employees.

“We need to move beyond these shallow proposals,” he said.

The union’s indifference on the governor’s race is largely symbolic, Mr. Swanson says, and isn’t likely to influence the outcome much. Illinois is a heavily Democratic state, and Gov. Blagojevich has a big fund-raising advantage.

Still, Mr. Swanson hopes the IEA’s decision—determined this month by a unanimous vote of its board of directors—prompts more public debate about school funding.

The IEA likely would have donated at least $500,000 to Mr. Blagojevich, but will instead direct its money and influence toward legislative races.

While the IEA is bowing out of the gubernatorial race, the state’s other teachers’ union isn’t. This month, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which has 90,000 members and is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Gov. Blagojevich—though without much enthusiasm.

“We have not always agreed with the governor,” IFT President Jim Dougherty said in a statement, “but we believe his overall record of accomplishments for education and labor merit our continued support.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 2006 edition of Education Week