Illinois Senate Passes Bill to Create Elected School Board for Chicago

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned in part on creating an elected school board, has since changed her stance to support a hybrid option and criticized the bill after it passed

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The Illinois Senate on Tuesday passed a measure to create an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools, over the objections of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The Senate voted 36 to 15, with two voting present, in favor of House Bill 2908. It now must pass the House and receive Gov. J.B. Pritzker's approval before becoming law.

Since 1999, the Chicago Board of Education has consisted of seven members, all appointed by the city's mayor to oversee and govern CPS.

The measure the Senate passed Tuesday would expand the board to 21 members, with 10 elected to four-year terms in the November 2024 general election while the other 10, plus a Board president, would be appointed by the mayor, each to a two-year term. The terms for all 21 members would begin in January 2025, according to the legislation.

Then in the 2026 general election, the 10 spots on the Board that were previously appointed by the mayor would be up for election to four-year terms beginning in January 2027, at which point the board would become fully elected. Also beginning with the 2026 general election, one member of the Board would be elected at large to serve as president.

The city would be divided into 10 electoral districts for the 2024 elections, with each represented by one elected and one appointed member, then divided into 20 districts for the 2026 elections, after which each district would be represented by one elected member.

Any vacancies on the Board beginning in 2025 would be filled by a majority vote of the remaining members, the bill states.

The measure would also impose a moratorium on "school closings, consolidations or phase-outs" until the new Board of Education is seated in January 2025.

“Today’s win in the culmination of a decade-long fight that is an important step toward giving our communities a say in how the schools their children attend are run," the bill's sponsor Sen. Rob Martwick, a Democrat from Chicago, said in a statement.

"We’re delivering accountability to the school board and ensuring that the people who will be making the decisions about how CPS is run and will always act in the best interests of CPS students and families," Martwick continued.

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.

"Senate Amendment 1 to HB2908 achieves the goal of finally securing a fully elected school board for CPS," Ramirez, a Chicago Democrat, said.

"This bill does not set a timeline that I would have wanted or that Chicagoans deserve," she continued. "However, with key protections during the transition period including a moratorium on school closures and city council confirmation of temporarily appointed members, I believe it is time to finally legislate a path to a fully elected board."

Lightfoot, who campaigned in 2019 in part on creating an elected school board, has since changed her stance to support a hybrid option - a move that has garnered criticism from proponents of a fully elected board. On Wednesday, Lightfoot criticized the bill that passed the Senate.

"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. The people who will matter most are our children," Lightfoot said when asked about the measure at an unrelated news conference. "So, we're gonna keep making sure that that message gets through and resonates, and I'm confident that we'll get to a better place."

Lightfoot added that she had heard from parents and students that they "don't feel like they were heard" in the negotiations surrounding the measure. She also expressed concern that there was no provision in the bill to limit how much money can be spent on the elections, citing an unspecified race in Los Angeles that cost a million dollars.

"We don't need that here in Chicago," Lightfoot said. "What is the route for actual parents who have skin in the game, of course, because their students are part of the system, but who are members of the LSCs? We proposed a route to make sure that people who were part of LSCs actually had the qualifications to sit on the school board. All of that, rejected."

"It's interesting that 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," she added.

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