Illinois House passes bill to create elected school board for Chicago Public Schools

ByCraig Wall, Eric Horng, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Thursday, June 17, 2021
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A fully-elected school board is closer to becoming a reality in Chicago after getting approval from the Illinois House.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- A fully-elected school board is closer to becoming a reality in Chicago after getting approval from the Illinois House.

The plan would create a hybrid model for the first two years, with half the members elected and half appointed by the mayor. But by 2026, Chicago would be have a fully elected school board.

Gov. JB Pritzker's office released a statement following the passage of the bill, saying, "When the governor ran for office he supported an elected school board and still does." But Mayor Lori Lightfoot has battled to retain at least partial control over who runs the Chicago Public Schools.

WATCH: Political analyst Laura Washington talks elected school board, IL budget

"We should have had democracy in our public schools. A long time ago. This is simply about ensuring that the residents of the city of Chicago have the same access to that democracy or their children's school, as every other school district in the state of Illinois," said State Sen. Robert Martwich, who sponsored the bill.

The final vote was 70 to 41 in favor.

The measure would change the makeup of the seven member, all mayoral-appointed, Chicago Board of Education.

Under the plan, voters would elected 10 board members from districts across the city starting in November 2024. The mayor would appoint the other 10 members, as well as the president, with city council approval starting in January 2025.

In November 2026, all 10 seats held by appointed members would be up for election, and the president would run city-wide. By January 2027, all appointed members would be replaced with those who are elected.

"This is a major revamp of the Chicago school board, and bringing democracy to the board is a big deal," said Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago).

Though she campaigned in support of an elected school board, Mayor Lightfoot opposed the measure, arguing instead of a smaller board with a different ratio of elected and appointed members.

The mayor also expressed concerns about a moratorium on school closings that's part of the bill until the board is fully elected, and the impact it could have on a search to replace CEO Janice Jackson.

"It could have a negative impact if a CEO doesn't believe that he or she is actually going to have the ability to make a meaningful difference in the quality of education in the lives of her children," Lightfoot said.

When the bill first passed the Senate, the mayor said it would empower special interests and the Chicago Teachers Union at the expense of minority students.

"This is supposed to be about democracy, but what happened in Springfield had nothing to do with democracy," she said.

A number of groups who have been advocating for a fully elected school board now expressed disappointment in the version that passed, saying it means parents have to wait until January 2027 for the law to be fully implemented.

Chicago Teachers Union Statement on passage of elected school board bill:

Today's vote represents the will of the people, and after more than a quarter of a century, moves our district forward in providing democracy and voice to students and their families. This is the culmination of a generation of work by parents, rank-and-file educators and activists, who recognized the shortcomings of mayoral control of our schools and demanded better for our children. This is their legacy. This is Karen's legacy.Our union is grateful for the work of state representatives Kam Buckner and bill sponsor Delia Ramirez, Sen. Rob Martwick, and Speaker Chris Welch and Senate President Don Harmon, who were instrumental in bringing this landmark change to Chicago Public Schools. We look forward to Governor J.B. Pritzker's signature on this bill, and thank everyone who has fought to grant Chicagoans the right that residents in every other school district in the state possess: the right to an elected representative school board.

The video in the player above is from a previous report.