Hourglass Sand Running Out

Will the Elected School Board Bill Beat the Clock This Time?

The Illinois legislative session will wrap up very soon, and we don’t yet know whether the bill to create an elected school board in Chicago will come to a vote in the Illinois State Senate.

According to yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, “Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park indicated Wednesday that an elected school board proposal previously approved in the House would not be called for a final vote in the Senate unless a compromise is reached with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.”  The Senate did not vote on the bill in January’s lame duck session, even though it has passed the House

When the bill did not come to a January vote, elected school board proponents called out Harmon and Lightfoot for killing the proposal despite strong backing from politicians and the public. In April, Harmon publicly stated his willingness to call a bill that would create a gradual transition from a fully-appointed to a fully-elected Chicago Board of Education.

Yesterday, the state senate’s executive committee passed the original elected school board bill with a promise to hold it on the floor while a compromise is negotiated. But details of a compromise have yet to be worked out. An idea said to be under consideration is to create a 21-member board which would be fully elected in 2027. Before then, a hybrid board would be created in 2023, with 10 elected members and the current 10 mayorally-appointed members, plus an appointed chair. 

Other interesting details of the potential compromise plan: it would hold school board elections at the same time as mayoral and aldermanic elections, and would require an outside commission to assess and report on how well the hybrid board is working after two years of operation.

The vast majority of school boards in the United States are elected. But Chicago has never had an elected school board, and some research suggests that mayorally-appointed boards in large urban districts are associated with strategic resource allocation and student achievement. Locally, debate continues over the best way to hold the district accountable for student progress and fiscal oversight.  

Chalkbeat Chicago reports that Springfield legislators want to reach consensus on Chicago school board governance and move on to other bills.  At yesterday’s hearing, Harmon said, “I am confident that we will pass a compromise on the elected school board bill this General Assembly. I am equally confident that Senator Martwick will not be in the position of calling this bill without an amendment that comes back to this committee.” If that’s going to happen, watch for it coming very soon.

Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

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Maureen Kelleher

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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