State Senator Rob Martwick passed an amended bill in the Senate yesterday which would create a hybrid board with 10 elected members and 11 appointed members starting in January 2025, with all 21 members fully elected in January 2027. This bill was a negotiation between Senator Martwick and Senator Lightford conducted by Senate President Harmon. The two sides were very far apart, and this was the bill President Harmon allowed to be called. We expect that when the IL House is called back to Springfield in a few weeks, it will pass in the House as well.
This bill was a negotiation between Senator Martwick and Senator Lightford conducted by Senate President Harmon. The two sides were very far apart, and this was the bill President Harmon allowed to be called. We expect that when the IL House is called back to Springfield in a few weeks, it will pass in the House as well.
The amended bill also has some new provisions that weren’t part of earlier bills, all of which the Mayor vociferously opposes:
- Moratorium on school closings until January 2025
- City council approves mayoral appointments
- Board chair becomes elected in November 2026. Mayor Lightfoot wanted this to be much later.
Sen. Martwick’s original bill would have had a fully elected board four years earlier, January 2023; Representative Delia Ramirez' bill had a 2023 start date as well.
The amendment is not a great bill. That said, we understand why the legislative sponsors agreed to have this amended bill called—it was the compromise on the table. And if HB2908 becomes law, it will finally put a start date on the books for a fully elected board for Chicago with a representative structure that came out of many years of organizing work and struggle. But the uncertainty of what damage may still be done to the public school system under almost six more years of an undemocratic governance structure is distressing.
Note that, although it is being described in the media as the result of negotiations between supporters of an elected board and opponents, like the Mayor, this was actually an agreement between Senate President Harmon and the elite of Chicago’s business community who put the current board structure in place in 1995. The Chicago Board of Education controls roughly half the local property tax revenue in the city, and instead of a single elected official, the mayor, levying and allocating many billions of tax dollars, an elected, representative board will be far more difficult to control by that same elite. In addition, this bill had to pass the full Senate, and many Senators seemed very comfortable with a hybrid transition for this period.
Ultimately, the political power needed to get a better bill through simply doesn’t exist right now, and the prospect of the Senate taking up a better bill in the near future seems highly unlikely.
Some of the groups we have been working with in coalition on this issue are okay with this outcome, and some are not. And we agree that the delay in the start of the elected representative school board means nearly six more years of voter suppression and injustice for Chicago families instead of the democratic control the rest of Illinois already has over their public schools.
The fight over the governance structure for Chicago Public Schools may be over, but Chicago families will need to continue organizing to mitigate the harm a mayoral controlled board can do until the fully elected board is seated. And the organizing work won’t end there. The same forces that oppose the creation of democratic structure now will be continuing to work against the public good after January 2027 as well. The need for our collective action goes on.