The Illinois Senate's Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board met yesterday and on October 3rd for subject matter hearings on the upcoming elected board. Illinois Families for Public Schools submitted written testimony urging the General Assembly to make the elected board members a compensated position. Read our full testimony below.Read more
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 eleven appointed by the Mayor. The board will be fully elected starting in November 2026.
As you know, a large coalition, including IL-FPS, worked for over a decade to bring an elected representative school board to the city of Chicago. In the spring of 2021, the General Assembly finally passed a bill granting Chicagoans an elected school board, albeit with a four-year delayed start, followed by two years of a hybrid board still under mayoral control.
The General Assembly initially set a deadline of February 2022 to draw the district map, but only began the work of laying out this map very recently to meet a revised deadline of July 1, 2023 . As part of the process, the Illinois Senate has established a special committee about the elected board and is holding a series of subject-matter hearings on districting.Read more
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.Read more
Tomorrow, Tuesday April 4th, is Election Day all across Illinois, including in Chicago.
These local elections are crucial ones for our public schools in Chicago and in dozens of districts around the state: Will we continue to have strong public schools committed to serving all our children?Read more
In all districts aside from Chicago, local school board elections will be held on April 4, 2023. School board races are critical for how education is shaped at the most local level in Illinois because through their policy and spending decisions, local boards can make a huge impact. Unfortunately, school board races in many districts are now proxy wars for bigger forces, and voters must do their research before heading to their polls.
We need school board members who will tackle the real problems schools face—lack of funding, mental health supports, services for students with disabilities, the teacher shortage—and are looking for solutions that can benefit all the students in a district.Read more
Numerous national extremist organizations supporting anti-public school, anti-equality policies and activity have been organizing in Illinois leading up to the April 4, 2023 local elections, including for school boards and libraries.
National organizations include:
- Moms for Liberty
- Leadership Institute
- Americans for Prosperity
- Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action for America
- Turning Point USA
- Moms for America
- Restoration PAC
- American Federation for Children
- Parents Defending Education
- 1776 PAC
These national organizations are partnering with state and local organizations to support candidates and slates, including:
- Awake IL
- Breakthrough Ideas
- Illinois Policy Institute
School districts where these organizations have been involved include Barrington D220, Oswego D308, Niles Township High School D219 (and feeder elementary school districts, including Fairview D72, and library board in Lincolnwood), Wheaton-Warrenvile CUSD200, Lyons Township High School D204, Downers Grove High School D99, New Trier Township High School D203, Westmont D201, Evanston D65 and others. (Awake IL alone has endorsed in 45 school districts.)
This isn't a comprehensive resource of what's happening, but we hope it's a place to start for voters and community members researching the candidates on their ballots.
Moms for Liberty
The Moms for Liberty Lake County chair, Marsha McClary, is actively involved in promoting a slate in Barrington D220 and has contributed to their PAC.
The Moms for Liberty Cook County chair, Helen Levinson, who also leads a local organization Niles Township Accountability Council (NTAC) that was renamed Awake IL Niles Township in the summer of 2022, is supporting at least two candidates in Niles Township HSD219 and actively involved in the elementary school district Fairview D72 race. NTAC won seats on the D72 board in 2021. Levinson is also vice president for Awake IL.
The Moms for Liberty DuPage County chair, Shannon Adcock, is the founder and leader of Awake IL, and a failed school board candidate in Indian Prairie D204 in the 2021 election cycle.
The Leadership Institute is the primary institution training conservatives to run for public office in the US (and beyond); many prominent US ultra-conservative political figures were trained by LI, including Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell. They have held two trainings in Illinois this election cycle, one in September 2022 in Des Plaines and another in January 2023 in Itasca, partnering with the local Moms for Liberty chapters and Awake Illinois on both. School board candidates from Westmont D201, Huntley D158, Lyons Township HSD 204, Oregon D220, Oswego D308, Wheaton-Warrenville CUSD 200 attended Leadership Institute trainings.
The Leadership Institute has close ties to and funding from the national Republican Party, the Koch brothers, the Heritage Institute and the State Policy Network.
Americans for Prosperity
A Koch-brothers-funded national lobbying and political organization, which, according to Influence Watch, “is among the top 25 largest political spenders in the United States and is often the largest spending organization that is not a political action committee.“ Americans for Prosperity has also received funding from the DeVos family. Americans for Prosperity has an Illinois chapter, and their grassroots organizer has been scheduling events in Oswego in recent weeks (Village Grind, Cristina’s) and canvassing for candidates in Oswego D308.
Heritage Action/Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation is a five-decade old, right-wing think tank, and Heritage Action for America is its organizing and political arm. Heritage has funding and ties to the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Bradley Foundation, and the Walton family.
Heritage Action was involved in training community members in Lincolnwood in the fall of 2022 to attempt to ban books at the Lincolnwood Public Library. That training was led by regional director for Heritage Action in the Chicago-area Matt Crouch, who has been meeting regularly with community members in Niles Township since last fall.
Breakthrough Ideas (see below) is featuring Matt Crouch as a speaker at an event in Glen Ellyn on March 14, 2022 about how to take control of school boards to advance an extremist agenda, the McCLean County GOP is featuring Matt Crouch at an event with another speaker from the Heritage Foundation in Normal on March 18, 2022 to discuss "the racial prejudice that comes from the application of critical race theory in K-12 schools."
Awake IL president and Moms for Liberty DuPage Co chair Shannon Adcock attended and spoke at an anti-transgender-rights Heritage Foundation conference in January 2023.
Turning Point USA
Turning Point USA is a far-right youth group that organizes on college campuses and also establishes high school chapters. They sponsored an event on Feb 25, 2022 in McHenry County partnering with another national organization Moms for America (see below).
Lyons Township High School District 204 has a chapter of Turning Point USA that the district does not officially recognize.
Moms for America
Moms for America is connected to Mike Flynn and organized rallies for the insurrectionist January 6th attack on the US Capitol, and runs the National School Boards Leadership Council, which opposes services for English-language learners and promotes exclusion of students with disabilities. The Moms for America candidate questionnaire asks about comprehensive sex education; diversity, equity and inclusion programs; social-emotional learning; Title IX protections and support for transgender students. A Donald Trump-connected organization America First Works has funded Moms for America in recent years.
Moms for America Action has endorsed 13 candidates in Illinois for school board along with numerous others for library and village boards. Many of the endorsed candidates are also endorsed by a local organization We the Parents of Illinois based in Lockport, Homer Glen and Crest Hill.
FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism) is a national group which opposes all types of anti-racism initiatives in education and other policy areas and have been especially active in "anti-CRT" demagoguery. They are also explicitly transphobic. Founding directors include Megyn Kelly (formerly of Fox News) and Christopher Rufo. (Rufo is not currently on the board.) FAIR says they oppose book banning, but, in fact, their website says: "We believe that parents/guardians have the right to advocate for or against particular books being included in school and classroom libraries and curricula," in other words they support efforts to ban books in schools and libraries.
FAIR's Illinois chapter coordinator Carrie Mendoza is the wife of Myles Mendoza, former president of Empower Illinois, the group that led the effort to create Illinois' voucher program (and currently benefits from administering the program as a voucher middleman org that skims millions off the top of the voucher funds they distribute). The former Illinois lobbyist for Betsy DeVos' American Federation for Children (see below) Nate Hoffman is a member of FAIR's board of advisors.
They have attacked Evanston D65 on issues of race and gender as well as New Trier D203. They attended Evanston High School D202 events in the fall of 2021 to disrupt affinity group activities for parents.
A current Evanston D65 candidate is described on the FAIR website as a chapter leader in July 2022 appearing at an event with the DeVos lobbyist Hoffman. She is also featured in a FAIR video linked to their website. Her position was also reported in the Pioneer Press in October 2022, but she said recently she is no longer involved with the group.
According to FAIR’s website, they were hiring consultants in the fall of 2021 at $250/hour. They are not, however, a registered non-profit, but a project of a donor advised fund, United Charitable, and there is no public information about how they are structured or funded beyond that.
Restoration PAC is part of a group of political and policy organizations funded by billionaire Dick Uihlein, one of the largest funders of Republican candidates and associated causes in the US currently. The PAC funded numerous Republican candidates and far-right organizations in the 2022 election cycle, including a $13,000 contribution to Awake IL to campaign against the Worker Rights Amendment on the ballot in Illinois.
American Federation for Children
American Federation for Children (AFC), founded and funded by Betsy DeVos to promote anti-public school legislation and policies, created an Illinois-based PAC in March 2022, Illinois Federation for Children, which spent more than $700K on Illinois elections in 2022. That PAC is primarily funded by the American Federation for Children Action Fund, which is primarily funded by Betsy DeVos and her husband, and also by Jim Walton.
The chair of the PAC, Nate Hoffman, served as a lobbyist for AFC in Springfield from February 2022 through January 2023, to lobby for the extension and expansion of Illinois’ K-12 school voucher program. He previously lobbied for Empower Illinois (See the entry on FAIR above for more about Empower.) Currently, he is registered as a lobbyist for Jeb Bush's ExcelinEd.
In summer 2022, Awake IL held a fundraising event featuring Corey DeAngelis the most prominent AFC spokesperson as a keynote speaker, also speaking on the panel was Paul Vallas, current Chicago mayoral candidate; and a leader from the rightwing, anti-LGBTQ+ national parent group Parents Defending Education, Nicole Neily (see below).
On March 23, 2023, Illinois Federation for Children PAC spent $59,000 to support Paul Vallas for Mayor of Chicago. IFC PAC chair Nate Hoffman is a frequent attendee of Vallas campaign events. You can read more details on the DeVos-Vallas connection here.
Parents Defending Education
Parents Defending Education is a Virginia-based national organization pushing anti-civil rights efforts in school districts around the country. Their president, Nicole Neily, also spoke at the June 2022 Awake event. Neily has worked closely with the Leadership Institute. Parents Defending Education is funded by the Koch family and dark money connected to rightwing legal activist Leonard Leo.
1776 Project PAC
The 1776 Project PAC is a New York-based PAC that is also primarily funded by Dick Uihlein via his Restoration PAC. Criteria for endorsement include whether a candidates opposes Critical Race Theory; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; social-emotional learning and Critical Gender Theory.
Awake IL, formed in June 2021, is based in Naperville but works with parents and community members in other suburban Chicago communities. Their initial focus on anti-covid mitigation strategies broadened to opposing diversity, equity, and inclusion programming, age-appropriate sex ed, and supporting book bans and school privatization, but their focus is anti-LGBTQ+ equality, promoting transphobic and homophobic activity online and off.
Awake says they are supporting 75+ school board candidates in Illinois, and, as of March 31, 2023, posted a list of 124 (Spreadsheet here.) Awake Oswego and Awake Niles Township have endorsements listed on their websites. The Awake Illinois PAC, chaired by Shannon Adcock, had $100 cash on hand as of March 11, 2023.
Breakthrough Ideas is an Illinois-based organization run by former state representative Jeanne Ives. Ives has endorsed a slate of candidates running in Wheaton-Warrenville D200, due to their pro-book-ban and anti-transgender student positions. The slate’s PAC has received more than $24,000 in donations including from Ives’ supporters. The majority of money comes from donors tied to Christian private schools, several of which are major recipients of money from the Illinois K-12 school voucher program.
Wirepoints is run by Ted Dabrowski, the former vice-president of Illinois Policy Institute. Dabrowski also serves on the board of New Trier Neighbors, a community organization promoting book banning, and opposing diversity, equity and inclusion programming and support for gender non-conforming students in both New Trier Township HSD 203 and in nearby Evanston. Dabrowski spoke at the Awake-Leadership Institute school board candidate training in January 2023 and appeared in a video being interviewed by Shannon Adcock in October 2022.
New Trier Neighbors was formed as Parents of New Trier and instigated one of the earliest attacks on DEI education in Illinois, in 2017, a campaign which involved Parents of New Trier, Dabrowksi’s Wirepoints, the Illinois Policy Institute and Dan Proft, and played a role in the 2017 school board elections in D203. The film by a New Trier parent New Trier: Tip of the Spear documents these events in detail.
Illinois Policy Institute
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is an Illinois-based think tank funded by Koch, Bradley and Uihlein money. IPI is the affiliate of the national State Policy Network, and is known for its role in the anti-union Janus decision. IPI is a major supporter of Illinois’ voucher program. IPI featured Awake IL board member Steve Lucie on their website until summer 2021 when they were tagged in a discussion of Lucie’s violent rhetoric.
Illinois Policy PAC reported spending $48,000 to oppose Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson in March 2023. Most of the PACs funding is from a major donor to Paul Vallas, Arthur Margulis, and John Tillman, who runs IPI and a network of associated shell non-profits.
We’ve shared a lot over the past year about how individuals with Awake IL and Moms for Liberty have been organizing to ban books about LGBTQ+ students, ditch the teaching of Black history, and much more. When those groups made it public they were having some school board trainings around Illinois, a curious parent decided to sign up and shared their notes with us afterwards.Read more
School board races in April 2023 are going to be critical for how education is shaped at the most local level in Illinois! In all districts aside from Chicago, local school board elections will be held this spring. Candidates must declare and file by Dec. 19, 2022. A number of right-wing “parent” groups funded by lots of dark money are hosting trainings around the state on how to run and win school board races, and it’s only just starting.
✶ Why should you care?
- These groups espouse an anti-LGBTQ + agenda
- These groups oppose teaching a full and accurate history for all students
- These groups have engaged in harassment of school board members and teachers
- These groups have pushed for book bans centered on race and gender
- These groups want sex education standards weakened dramatically
- These groups don’t represent the views of most parents yet they are organizing hard
This is about protecting all students in our schools and making sure we don’t erase students from marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ students and Black students and other students of color. The funders of these right-wing parent orgs are part of a national movement to discredit public education with a broader goal of privatizing the public ed system.
According to a report last month from PEN America, “America's Censored Classrooms,” 36 different states introduced 137 bills in 2022 restricting discussion and teaching of race, gender, sexuality, and US history. And these restrictions are happening at the local school district level as well. More than a hundred school boards around the country have passed resolutions directly restricting teaching about race (couched as “critical race theory”), and hundreds have dealt with organized attacks on curriculum, diversity and equity efforts, and more. PEN America’s school book ban tracker has more than 1500 instances over just a nine-month period in 2021-2022.
✶ What can you do?
Parents and community members can win against these efforts when they’re organized! Recently, parent groups have tried to ban books in Downers Grove and Barrington, among other places, and have lost—because parents, students and the community stood together to protect all students.
What else? Consider stepping up and running for your school board! Ask your friends, neighbors and family to get in the game if you think they might be willing to do this. We know that serving on a board is time consuming, and it requires a high-level of interest in school board policy and the ability to devote a certain number of hours a month. But it’s an important civic duty that we hope you consider! Candidate filings/petitions are due by Dec 19th; you can find all key dates for these elections here.
Through their policy and spending decisions, local boards can make a huge impact. We need school board members who will tackle the real problems schools face—lack of funding, mental health supports, services for students with disabilities, the teacher shortage—and are looking for solutions that can benefit all the students in a district.
✶ Resources on what you need to know about running for school board in IL
The Illinois Association of School Boards has a series of webinars instructing you on what steps you need to take to run! Videos of previous webinars are here. The next one is Wed. Dec 8th at 6:30pm. (They’ll be livestreamed and then the recording will be available afterwards.)
Questions this will help answer:
- What do I need to do to file to run?
- How to navigate petition filing?
- What qualifications should I have?
- What is the job description of a school board member?
More resources for candidates:
- Illinois Association of School Boards: Information for Candidates and School Board Primer
- Network for Public Education Action: Grassroots School Board Candidate Toolkit
- Run for Something: Phase 1: If You're Thinking About Running
- IEA - Winning at the Local Level handbook
- Leadership Institute training notes from September 2022
Policies and issues
- Resources Against Common False Narratives and Misinformation (Forest Hills Public Schools in MI)
- Long Island school board policy + issues
- IL-FPS - “Working towards Racially-Just Schools”
Still have questions? Get in touch - [email protected]