Chicago, IL

Chicago Mayor Slams Vote By Illinois Senate to Change School Board from an Appointed Body to an Elected Body

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Mayor Lightfoot claims the Illinois Senate's approval of a bill that would turn the Chicago Board of Education into an elected body “had nothing to do with democracy.”

The city of Chicago could begin holding elections for the Board of Education by 2024, moving to a fully elected school board as soon 2027, following the Illinois Senate’s approval of legislation Tuesday. The Senate voted 36 to 15, with two voting present, in favor of House Bill 2908. The bill, which was passed over the objections of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, “amends the Election Code to provide for the election of the Chicago Board of Education in accordance with specified procedures.” It now moves to the House and if it is passed there, onto Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker's who would decide whether or not to sign it into law.

Since 1999, the Chicago Board of Education has consisted of seven members, appointed exclusively by the city's mayor who has also been responsible for overseeing and governing the Chicago Public School system. The Chicago Public School system is currently the only district in the state of Illinois that has a school board appointed by the mayor. But under the new bill, the Chicago Board of Education would transition into a fully elected school board.

Although Lightfoot ran in part, on creating an elected school but quickly changed her position after becoming elected. Following her win, Lightfoot asked for the resignations of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education and then appointed her own replacements just weeks later.

As for the elected school board, Lightfoot claimed she wanted more time to study the proposal. However, in the two years since she was elected, the mayor has not proposed her own model for an elected school board. Many in community have expressed concerns over the Mayor’s position, stating that an appointed board isn’t responsive to community concerns.

She recently had this to say about the recent vote:

“When we’re talking about the most consequential change in governance for the Chicago Public Schools, it can’t be about the politics. It’s got to be about the people and the people that matter most are the children. This is supposed to be about democracy but what happened in Springfield had nothing to do with democracy, but democracy, mark my word, will prevail.”

The bill establishes when the board would first become a hybrid with some appointed and some elected members and when it would become fully elected. The first round of changes would happen in 2024 for half of a 21-member board. Then in 2026 the board would become fully elected, with 21 members. By 2026 the city should have been split up into 20 different districts and each district would elect its own member to the board. The 21st member would run at large, to become the president.

Lightfoot has been pushing for a permanent hybrid model that would not transition into a fully elected board. She also claims that the bill is being rushed through and ignores the voices of the students and parents within Chicago Public Schools. After the bill was passed the mayor also spoke about her concerns that a fully elected school board will negatively impact the ongoing search for a new Chicago Public School CEO. A potential CEO may feel that an elected school board could hampers their ability to make decisions.

Lightfoot attempted to fight specific provisions of the bill as well as an elected school board in general along with its size. She wanted a way to ensure parents could get onto the board, and the ability for non-citizens to run. Additionally, she expressed concerns about special interest groups potentially infusing specific board races which huge amounts of money as has happened in Los Angeles board elections.

Lightfoot also took issue with a provision of the bill that would put a moratorium on school closures in Chicago until 2025, calling it a “mistake.” She added that community led initiative to provide greater educational opportunities, options and enrichment activities for the students should not be made impossible.

Lightfoot is not giving up the fight and has vowed to change the bill before it becomes law, pushing hard for a compromise that goes back to her permanent hybrid model.

The next step is for the bill to go to the House. The measure's chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Delia Ramirez, said she plans to call the measure for a vote when the House reconvenes.

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Chicago, IL

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