News roundup: Chicago's elected board; new test for high schools?

News this week: Chicago school board details—finally! And some misguided bills about CPS policy from ILGA. Plus: No more SAT in IL high schools? ISBE picks ACT, Inc as vendor for state test; but that won't solve the issue of illegal student data sales.

An elected board for Chicago inches closer

It’s been almost three years since the General Assembly passed a law to create an elected school board for Chicago. Unlike the rest of Illinois, Chicago has never had a school board directly elected by voters, and from 1995 on, the Board was appointed by the mayor. 

After 15+ years of organizing, agitation, ballot referenda, rallies, protests, and bills introduced but not passed, the legislation creating the elected board passed in May 2021 with a timeline of a hybrid board in January 2025 and a fully-elected board seated in January 2027. 

Last week, the GA finally passed a bill setting the map for districts and settling the details on how and when board members will be elected. We have an in-depth rundown of it all here for you:

Updates on the shift to an elected school board for Chicago 

Chicago still won’t have a full democratically-elected board for two and a half years, but that does mean a buffer of time to iron out the details of the transition. Those details are really important: About half our property taxes in Chicago go to the Board of Ed. CPS is the largest public sector employer in Chicago aside from the federal government. And the Board is in charge of the day-to-day education of more than 300,000 children. 

The Board of Ed, the City, and ILGA should be working together to make this as unchaotic a change as possible, and we need maximal transparency, fiscal and otherwise, for the Board's operations and decisions over the next two years.

In addition, to make this new democratic governance structure more meaningfully democratic, Board positions should be compensated, and elections should be publicly financed. Advocacy on both those points is still needed, and the coming two years are as good a time as any for this.

ILGA now suffering from legislators' remorse?

Despite the final version of a map and election timeline for the Board being the decision of —yes!—the General Assembly itself, some legislators were feeling salty about two more years of mayoral control. Because they’ll hold the majority of 21 seats, Mayor Johnson’s 11 appointees will likely determine the direction the Board’s policymaking and spending agenda until January 2027.

Unfortunately, this discontent has resulted in two terrible pieces of legislation rapidly making their way through ILGA right now, one on police in CPS schools and one on the CPS system of school admissions. 

Read more about each of these below and then, please call your state rep and state senator to oppose these bills. (Calls needed to the House first because that is where both of these bills are now.)

HB 5008 [Fact Sheet] This bill would let LSCs individually contract with the Chicago Police Department for school resource officers (SROs), which are police officers stationed in schools. The research is clear that this is not a good policy. SROs don’t make schools safer, and they make them considerably less safe for Black and Latinx students, low-income students, students with disabilities and LGBTQ+ students. The Chicago Board of Ed has made a board-level decision to remove SROs from the last 39 schools in CPS to have them. Over the 60 years that CPS has had SROs, LSCs have only had decision-making power on them since 2020, and that hasn’t meant signing a contract at the school level with CPD.

Read more about the problems with this bill here. If this is an issue you are still learning about, we recommend this summary of the research from Chicago and elsewhere showing the negative impact of police in schools compiled by CPS parent & Loyola education professor Charles Tocci. This has already had a committee vote, and could have a floor vote in the House any time.

HB 5766 [Fact Sheet] This bill would prevent the Chicago Board of Ed from making any changes to schools with selective admissions policies, including their budgets or requirements for admissions, until 2027. It is primarily a reaction to a Board resolution passed in December 2023 that stated that the next district facilities master plan would “transition away from privatization and admissions/enrollment policies.” This resolution was sensationalized in the media as a plan to begin closing selective enrollment schools altogether.

The biggest problem with this bill is that it would mean the Board, if faced with a funding shortfall, could only decrease the budget of schools with no admissions requirements, a small portion of district schools and, for the most part, the most underresourced ones. With budget cuts likely on the horizon because of federal relief dollars drying up, this is just bad policy.

HB 5766 also doesn’t actually define what selective admissions means. While some CPS schools are known as “selective enrollment” schools, many more now have admissions requirements beyond where a child lives. 

ILGA has worked with Chicago advocates for many years (e.g. here and here) on creating and improving a process for facilities planning in Chicago; HB 5766 doesn’t even refer to that part of the School Code. This is the opposite of well-thought-out public policy. It hasn’t had a hearing yet, but its introduction was fast-tracked, and Speaker Welch is a chief co-sponsor. Let your legislator know they should oppose it. 

More info on this bill here. 

No more SAT in Illinoisbut that doesn’t end data sales issues

Announced via a very oblique reference in the State Superintendent’s weekly newsletter, it looks like Illinois will quite possibly be switching back to the ACT for the test that high schools give to comply with federal school accountability law, and public school students must take to receive a diploma.

Chalkbeat Chicago Illinois could switch from the SAT to the ACT next school year

There is still a protest period for the award, so it’s not yet a 100% done deal, but Superintendent Tony Sanders described ACT, Inc. as “the highest scoring responsible and responsive offeror,” and their bid came in about $10M less than College Board’s.

IL-FPS’s Cassie Creswell spoke at the ISBE monthly meeting on Wednesday to alert Board members about the ongoing issue with the College Board selling Illinois’ students data in violation of the state’s student data privacy law, and warned them that switching to the ACT wouldn’t solve this problem. ACT, Inc. is also a data broker, and the state will stil have a contract with the College Board for Advanced Placement tests fees.

IL-FPS and eight other orgs sent a letter to IL AG Kwame Raoul in February asking him to enforce SOPPA and stop these sales. 

The AG should step in and protect Illinois’ students’ data—just like the New York State AG announced that her office would be doing for New York students last month.

Aside from the data privacy implications of a change from one vendor to another, the sad truth is that replacing SAT with ACT also means a major educational shift for Illinois high school students and schools. A huge investment in time and dollars is tied to whatever college admissions test the state picks to fulfill federal testing mandates. 

Unfortunately, this heavy emphasis on testing is dramatically out of step with what’s happening at the college level where there has been a switch to test-optional admissions policies, including at all public universities and colleges in Illinois. 

Read more about that in our full take on what changing from SAT to ACT means here:

Goodbye to SAT in Illinois? (That won't end student data sales!)