Last Tuesday’s local elections were important ones for public schools around the state. Although initial vote tabulation is not completely finished even now, on the whole, results look good for candidates running in support of strong public schools that serve all kids.
In Chicago, Brandon Johnson won the mayor’s race, defeating Paul Vallas, 52% to 48%. Vallas’ education plans were to make a massive push to privatize Chicago Public Schools in the two-year window before the shift begins to an elected school board. Johnson, in contrast, called for a break from almost three decades of privatization, instead supporting well-resourced neighborhood schools and the community school model of education.
And, despite being heavily outspent, with much of that funding coming from school privatizers, including a Betsy DeVos-funded PAC, Johnson, a Chicago Public Schools parent (the first since at least 1947!), former CPS teacher and CTU organizer, will be heading to City Hall’s 5th Floor as Chicago’s new mayor next month.
Although public safety, policing and violent crime were the most frequent topics of discussion in the media and at debates, public education was among the topmost voter concerns in a poll shortly before Election Day, and fully funding good schools was among the solutions in the preferred methods to address crime in that same poll.
Chalkbeat Chicago Q&A: Chicago's Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson on how being a public school parent will guide him
The Nation: The Movement That Made Brandon Johnson Mayor of Chicago
Chicago Sun-Times: Brandon Johnson is Chicago’s next mayor. So what’s next for CPS?
CPF Insider Blog: Welcome to your new job, Mr. Johnson
WBEZ: How will the Chicago Teachers Union make the transition from agitators to insiders?
After decades of control by administrations at best ambivalent and at worst outright hostile to public schools, the communities they serve and the unionized workforce they employ, these last few years of mayoral control of CPS, before a fully-elected board takes charge in January 2027, will be some of the first under a mayor whose stated goals are to strengthen and invest in our public education system rather than dismantle it.
Chicagoans weren’t the only ones anxiously refreshing the website of their local board of election last week. School board races, along with library and other local boards and offices, were on the ballot everywhere outside the city. With the rise of noisy, anti-equity parent groups—pushing book bans, opposing inclusive programs and curricula, harassing board members and staff and partnering with national, far-right billionaires—since the last round of local elections, the outcome of these races was far from certain!
The statewide, anti–LGBTQ+ org Awake Illinois endorsed 124 candidates in 46 races, endorsements that partially overlapped those of national dark money groups 1776 Project PAC and Moms for America.
We’re happy to report Awake’s candidates were not particularly successful—only 36 of the 124 won their seats. (And four of those who were successful, the candidates in Huntley D158, in fact, disavowed that endorsement before Election Day!) Awake did especially poorly outside of the Chicago metro area, where they were successful in just one out of the ten non-Chicagoland districts where they ran candidates.
Notable losses for extremist slates include Barrington D220, Oswego D308, Wheaton D200 (at least one race still too close to call), and Niles Township HSD 219 (two of three Awake-aligned candidates lost.)
Extremists did win some seats, and now have a majority in some districts, including Huntley D158, Yorkville D115, and Fairview (Skokie) D72.
Chicago Tribune: School board elections see general pushback against conservatives, though not everywhere
Daily Herald Voters favored incumbents over conservative newcomers in suburban school board races
WGLT: Pro-referendum candidates win 4 seats on Unit 5 school board
Shaw Local Here are unofficial election results from across northern Illinois
Capitol Fax: IEA claims 90 percent success rate
WIFR New faces on the Rockford School board after 3 contested races in the district
Library boards have also been fending off book bans in Illinois; the Lincolnwood Library board race was won by anti-book ban candidates. Niles-Maine Library has been under siege by its own board since the April 2021 election, and pro-public good candidates won there as well.
Chicago Tribune: Lincolnwood library candidates who opposed book restrictions win election
Chicago Tribune: An end to two years of rancor? Keane, Qadeer, Botello, Trunco declare victory for Niles Library board
Wins aside, public school supporters must continue to organize for well-funded schools and for policies and programs that create welcoming, nurturing educational environments for all students and families, including BIPOC, those who identify as LGBTQ+, English-language learners and those with disabilities.
This is especially true where board members aren’t supportive of policies and programs that serve everyone, but it’s also needed where the extremists didn’t find electoral success last Tuesday.
It’s also important to remember that local control doesn’t trump federal and state laws and regulations that require public schools to serve all of us in a multicultural, pluralistic society.
The struggle for education justice isn’t won in a single election cycle or an individual school district; it’s an ongoing fight and one that requires solidarity across our communities.
Hearings on districts for Chicago’s elected representative school board
In November 2024, Chicago’s first (ever) election for the Board of Education will be held. Ten of twenty-one seats will be elected; the remaining 11 appointed by the Mayor. The board will be fully elected in November 2026.
The Illinois Senate has established a special committee about the elected board and is holding a series of subject matter hearings on districting. The first in-person hearings were already held last week. There’s two more in-person tomorrow (4/12) and Thursday (4/13) and a final virtual hearing on April 17th. You can give testimony, oral or written (contact [email protected]), or submit a map or community of interest.
The size of the elected board will be large compared to other school boards in Illinois (21 vs the usual seven members); but 90% of Illinois school districts have fewer students than just the single largest individual school in CPS! Also, it’s worth remembering about half of Chicagoans’ property taxes go to CPS; the other half are allocated by a 50-member City Council and Mayor.
Splitting the city into twenty districts (with one elected-at-large board president) makes it possible, at least in theory, to create a board with districts that give sufficient representation to the Black and Brown communities that make up the majority of the CPS student body and comply with federal and state voting rights laws. More districts also means less expensive elections, which is important because there is nothing else on the books to limit the influence of big money, pro-privatization groups in these races.
Not surprisingly, groups that have long opposed any democratic governance for CPS—Stand for Children, Advance Illinois, Illinois Network for Charter Schools, Chicago Public Education Fund and Kids First Chicago (formerly known as New Schools for Chicago and before that the Renaissance Schools Fund)—are still lobbying for a much smaller board, which would mean their billionaire funders could more easily control who runs and who is elected. The Chicago mayor’s race is over for this cycle, but the same funders supporting school privatization this cycle are certainly already making plans for next fall.
Save the date: Forum on IL’s voucher program 4/25
Join us for an online forum on What to Know about Invest in Kids - Illinois’ Tax Credit Voucher program on Tuesday April 25th at 7pm.
Hear from a panel including national experts on vouchers, Michigan State University’s Josh Cowen and Education Law Center’s Jessica Levin, and learn about the many problems with IL's voucher program that are motivating the campaign to end the program permanently, endorsed by more than 50 local, state and national orgs.
Register online at bit.ly/ILvoucherwebinar