CTU calls elected school board Chicago plan 'will of the people'; Lightfoot disagrees

Gov. Pritzker reaffirms he'll sign bill once it's on his desk
CHICAGO (WLS) -- A fully-elected school board is closer to becoming a reality in Chicago after a plan got approval from the Illinois House late Wednesday.

It's a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

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."

Pritzker was at Chicago's Thompson Center Thursday morning to discuss the state's budget, and was asked about the legislation.

He reiterated that he would sign the bill when it came in front of him.

"As a candidate, I said I was in favor of an elected school board. I thought it was important, though, to make sure that there was a compromise reached," Pritzker said.

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CPS has not yet issued a statement on the decision.

The Chicago Teachers Union said the legislation "represents the will of the people." It went on to say the bill "...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."

Lightfoot has battled to retain at least partial control over who runs the Chicago Public Schools.

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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 elect 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.

"What this is is a down payment on democracy. This is a practical, common sense bill," said Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago.

Pritzker said he would have liked to see fewer than the 21 school board members in the legislation.

"I think 21 is not unreasonable; the reasoning that I heard about 21 and 20 in particular, right, there's one that's elected city-wide, is that having smaller districts allowed people to have more in different areas of the city, to have more influence over who their representative would be," the governor said.

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

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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.

The governor's office said a "motion to reconsider" is still open in the House, so that is the last hurtle before heading to Pritzker's desk. That could happen as soon as Thursday.
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