Supporters of an Elected School Board

Compromise Elected School Board Bill Passes Illinois Senate; Must Return to House

Last night, the Illinois State Senate approved a compromise measure that would see Chicago elect its first school board members as early as 2024 and move to a fully elected board by 2027. The House previously approved a different version of the elected school board bill, and now they will have to vote on the new Senate measure. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago), expects the House to return to Springfield within the next two weeks to vote on this and other unfinished legislation.

The compromise bill leaves many questions unanswered. Chalkbeat Chicago reports that the bill as written does not allow for undocumented immigrants to vote in school board elections, but amendments have been filed to permit that. Martwick also told reporters that he and city officials will be working together on legislation to address campaign finance in school board elections, possibly even including a public financing option for candidates. (For ideas of what that might look like, you can learn more about public financing of U.S. elections here and here.)

Under the compromise bill, Chicago’s first-ever school board elections would be held in November 2024, voting in 10 members of a 21-member board. The other 11 members, including the chair, would still be appointed by the mayor, though the City Council would have to confirm all members other than the chair.

The elected members would serve 4-year terms, but the members appointed in 2024 would serve only two years, and be replaced in 2026 by a new cohort of members elected to 4-year terms. In 2024, the city would be divided into 10 voting districts and then into 20 districts for the 2026 election. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, the district maps would have to be drawn by February 2022.

Though a deal to create an elected school board in Chicago has not yet been finalized, passage of this bill sends a strong signal that 2021 could be the year that shifts school governance in Chicago out of the mayor’s hands, for good or ill.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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