The applause turned to boos and jeers at any mention of teacher’s unions -- although panelists were quick to draw a distinction between what they called the corrupt practices of unions and individual teachers. At one point, public school teachers in the crowd were asked to raise their hands. They were greeted with a prolonged ovation. “Good teachers transform lives, but not every teacher is equal, unless you’re talking to the unions,” Morris said, echoing a sentiment featured in a short film trailer that played during the event.
Medved added a word of caution: “Let’s not just make the teacher’s unions the big bad enemy,” he implored the audience, citing his own mother’s publicly-funded health benefits that helped her afford medical treatment after suffering a stroke. “Teachers making a respectable living and receiving good benefits is not something to oppose. If we do, we’ll lose that argument. The problem is the corruption of unions who protect the worst teachers who have no business being in a classroom. We are not on the side of bad, lazy teachers,” he said.
Each speaker praised innovative steps that have already been taken by some jurisdictions, including tying driver’s licenses to school attendance for teens. Ultimately, though, government policies can only go so far, Hastert contended. “It’s not just money or policy that leads to success. Parents need to care. Then, teachers will care because parents care. We can’t legislate that, but we should encourage it,” he said. “Home schooling is the epitome of that idea, and the people involved in that movement are very vocal. I take my hat off to them.”
Many of the audience questions dealt with breaking the disproportionate strength of the unions, which led to an extended discussion of Governor Chris Christie’s ongoing battle with the New Jersey Education Association. “Christie has started to do what people say can’t be done. He is changing the psyche of the public. But for us to do here [in Illinois] what he’s doing out in New Jersey, we need a different governor,” he said to loud applause. Democrat Pat Quinn was elected to his first full term as Governor of Illinois in November.