The confusing saga and upcoming next steps for an elected Chicago School Board
Since the 1870s, the power to appoint members of the Chicago Board of Education has rested in the hands of the city’s mayor. That’s all scheduled to change soon. Beginning in November 2024, 10 Chicago residents will be elected to four-year terms beginning in January 2025. And by January 2027, the entire board will consist of elected members. Wondering how we got here, and what a departure from past practices this is? We break it down.
The Chicago Board of Education, initially known as the city’s Board of School Inspectors, has existed in some form since 1837. But 20 years later, in 1857, the Illinois General Assembly renamed the group and set its number of members at 15.
In 1872, the state further delineated the roles of the City Council and the school board, through the Cities and Villages Act. Twenty-five years later, the Chicago Teachers Federation, the precursor of the Chicago Teachers Union, was formed.
By 1937, competing teachers’ unions united to form what is known today as the CTU. The union was recognized as “the official bargaining agent for Chicago teachers” in 1966, negotiating its first contract in 1967.
In 1988, months after the longest strike in Chicago’s history lasted nearly 3 weeks, the Chicago School Reform Act created a School Board nominating commission consisting of 23 parents, and community members, as members appointed by Chicago’s Mayor.This was kept in place until the tenure of Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1995, when legislation called the Amendatory Act gave sole power to appoint members of the school board back to the mayor.
This is also the year the controversial Chicago Schools block grant went into effect, with both changes having the effect of placing the successes – and failures – of city schools on the city, as opposed to the state.
Currently appointed by the mayor, the Chicago Board of Education will transition from a seven-member appointed board to become a fully-elected 21-member board over the course of a two-year hybrid period thanks to legislation passed in 2021, House Bill 2908.
During the November 2024 election, ten members of the Chicago Board of Education will be elected by voters, and ten members and the board president will be appointed by the mayor. Elected members will serve four-year terms, while appointed members, including the appointed board president, will serve two-year terms. Following the November 2026 general election, the board will be fully elected, beginning their terms in January 2027.
“Our goal throughout this process is to ensure our neighborhoods are given a strong voice in shaping our children’s education,” Sen. Omar Aquino of Chicago, Vice-Chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board, said in a statement. “We have the opportunity to reverse years of disinvestment and chart a new path forward for our children and our communities.”
Pursuant to Public Act 102-0177 the General Assembly is tasked with drawing the Chicago elected school board districts. According to the Illinois School Code, school board districts must reflect the city’s population. But which population is the operative question? For Chicago as a whole, that means a 29 percent Black population, 29 percent Latino Population, and 33 percent white composition overall. Of the population of Chicago Public School students, 47 percent are Latino, 36 percent Black, 11 percent White, and 4 percent Asian, Chalkbeat reported last fall. The deadline for the districts to be represented by the 21 board members was initially supposed to be finished on July 1. But under a measure passed in the final days of the spring legislative sessions, the deadline for drawing the maps was pushed to April 2024.
State Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago chairs the House Democrats’ Chicago Public Schools Districting Working Group. Along with Aquino, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford of Maywood is Chairperson of the Senate’s Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board. Meanwhile, parents from the group Kids First Chicago, have advocated for more majority Latino districts to reflect the student population, and numerous residents have also suggested non-citizens be allowed to vote in school board elections.
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