Will the third time be the charm for those working to end mayoral control of Chicago’s schools?
Chicagoans would be represented by an elected — not appointed — school board, under a measure approved by an Illinois House vote of 110-2.
Similar measures were approved by the Illinois House in each of the last three years — before stalling in the face of opposition by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
State Rep. Rob Martwick, who has sponsored the bill for three years running, said he was “excited about its prospects” as it heads to the Senate.
Both Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker have said they support for an elected school board, perhaps ensuring that it has a better shot than ever of making it across the finish line.
Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union called Thursday’s vote the culmination of a “nearly decade-long fight for an elected, representative school board.
The first time an elected school board measure passed, it won 104 votes and the second time it garnered 108 votes.
The measure — HB 2267 — will be sponsored by Sen. Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) when it moves to the Senate, Martwick said.
“The Senate president looks forward to reviewing the proposal and working with the new mayor on the issue,” said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).
The law would go into effect in 2023, and create a 20-member school board elected from geographic areas plus one citywide member.
Those districts will be initially drawn by the legislature, but then revised by the school board after the 2020 Census, Martwick said.
Other proposals included creating an independent board to craft the district boundaries, or giving the City Council the authority to draw the maps, but Martwick said he rejected both suggestions because he wanted to insulate the newly elected board from pressure from elected officials.
“To me, the City Council drawing the lines is more direct political influence,” Martwick said. “I’m not saying there isn’t political influence in the legislature, but if someone from Pekin is helping out from the drawing of the lines, it’s at least somewhat removed. That’s why I did that.”
The first elected members of the board would be up for re-election in 2027.
The bill includes a provision that requires the General Assembly to reconsider the law in 2029, Martwick said.
“Since this is so new, there’s concerns things could go sideways — unanticipated consequences, so this gives us an opportunity to look at those and see if there needs to be any changes to see if it’s functioning well,” Martwick said.
The seven-member Board of Education is currently appointed by Emanuel under Chicago Public Schools reforms pushed through by his predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, in 1995.
In 2015, Chicago voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of an elected school board in a nonbinding referendum pushed by CTU leaders, who have repeatedly called the absence of an elected school board the “most pressing civil rights issue” in Chicago.
However, Emanuel opposed the push for an elected school board, saying that since Local School Council members are picked by voters, Chicagoans’ voices are heard.
The call for an elected School Board reached a fever pitch after the board voted in 2013 to close 50 schools — most on the South and West sides — at Emanuel’s direction.
Since then, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett was convicted of taking bribes in return for awarding a no-bid contract and sent to jail. Forrest Claypool, who replaced Byrd Bennett, was forced to resign in December 2017 amid an ethics scandal.
Lightfoot tweeted her support of an elected school board bill Thursday evening.
“My mother was an elected school board member, so I understand the importance of giving parents and stakeholders a real voice in how our children are educated,” Lightfoot said. “I am looking forward to working with Springfield to pass a fully elected and representative school board.”
During the campaign, Lightfoot told WBEZ she would consider requiring school board members to first serve on local school council. Lightfoot also said she plans to make significant changes to the makeup of the appointed board once she takes office May 20.
Union leaders, who endorsed Toni Preckwinkle in the mayoral election, called on Lightfoot to appoint “the very people living in communities and neighborhoods that have lost the most under the racist influence of neoliberal school leadership” to the board.