Since at least 2006 Chicagoans have been organizing to push for a fully-elected, representative school board instead of a Board of Education appointed by the mayor. Community organizations have had two non-binding referenda on the ballot in Chicago, 2012 and 2015 that showed overwhelming support for an elected board. A large coalition of organizations formed in 2012 under the name Communities Organized for Democracy in Education. That work has continued as the Grassroots Education Movement coalition, GEM, a coalition that IL Families for Public Schools belongs to.
GEM has been working to get the IL School Code amended to establish an elected board for almost a decade. The 102nd General Assembly is at least the fourth General Assembly with a GEM-supported bill to establish a fully elected school board under consideration.
The current mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot said on the campaign trail before she was elected in spring of 2019 that she supported a fully elected school board. The Senate President Don Harmon said before he became Senate President and since that he supports a fully elected board. The Governor has said he will sign a bill that makes it to his desk.
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Why is this important?
- Voters want it: Nearly 90% of Chicago voters across the city in 2012 and 2015 voted in favor of an elected school board.
- Taxation without representation: CPS levies more than $6B annually without the approval of any democratically elected body. An elected board would better represent the voices of communities served.
- It’s the standard statewide: CPS is the only district statewide without an elected board.
- It’s the standard nationwide: 98% of all school districts have elected school boards.
- It’s the standard in large districts: Most large school districts have elected boards. Of the ten largest school districts nationwide only three, including Chicago, have mayor-controlled boards.
- Voter suppression: Roughly 1 out of 3 Latinx students and 1 out of 2 Black students in Illinois attend public school in a district without an elected school board. Nearly half of Illinois’ Black residents cannot elect their school board, but only 13% of white Illinois residents cannot. The lack of an elected board disproportionately disenfranchises voters of color.
Why the current model of mayoral control established in 1995 isn’t working:
- Lack of transparency: Mayoral control has limited public input and accountability. Policies are enacted without genuine public input, budgets pass with little debate from the board, and capital spending is allowed to be done ad-hoc and without a comprehensive plan.
- Lack of fiscal accountability: Instead of bringing stronger fiscal management, Mayoral control has resulted in failures to make pension payments and extensive borrowing which combined to create a nearly billion dollar structural deficit. A school board is supposed to act as a watchdog to the district.
- Corruption: Mayoral control has not saved the district from scandals like a CEO sent to prison and another resigning under a cloud of corruption, and contracts continue to be approved without scrutiny from the board in the face of public opposition. A system of checks and balances is necessary.
- Lack of evidence: A 2015 report from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that “There is no conclusive evidence that mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools or raising student achievement.”