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Illinois House Overwhelmingly Passes Legislation For Elected School Board In Chicago

By aaroncynic in News on Mar 3, 2016 10:02PM

Photo credit: Justin Carlson
Chicago education activists who’ve been battling for years to rid the city of its mayoral appointed school board saw a big victory in Springfield Thursday as the House overwhelmingly passed legilsation that paves the way for an elected one.

Should the bill go on to clear the Senate and get Gov. Bruce Rauner’s approval, it would replace the current mayoral appointed board of seven members with 21 members. Chicago would be divided into 20 districts, and a board chair would run citywide. Members would serve one term of five years and then run every four years for reelection. The first election would be held in 2018.

Chicago is the only district in Illinois with an appointed board. Support for an elected board has been widespread in the city, particularly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel—who’s been a longstanding opponent—presided over the largest public school closings in history. The Chicago Teacher’s Union, student activists, and a laundry list of local legislators have all attempted to push for the measure. During last year’s mayoral race, a non-binding resolution in 38 wards showed overwhelming public support.

According to the Sun-Times, applause broke out in the House after the bill passed.

“This bill has brought faith back to Illinois House,” said Rep. Jaime Andrade. “Faith to me that we can work together.” The Illinois Review reports, Rep. Rob Martwick, who sponsored the legislation, said:

“It will give to the residents and taxpayers, the parents, teachers and students of the city of Chicago a say in the future of their educational system. That is really the best reform I can think of. When democracy fails, the answer is not less democracy, it's more democracy.”

Emanuel’s office did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Senate President John Cullerton, an ally of Emanuel’s, simply told Capitol Fax the bill was “under review.”

Katelyn Johnson, Executive Director of Action Now, a group that’s advocated for an elected board, said:

“Chicago’s parents and children have been used as an experiment without their say-so, by so-called education reformers like Governor Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. We are on the verge of ending this horrific experiment that has led to the closure of over 100 public neighborhood schools, the proliferation of privately control charter schools, the layoffs of experienced teachers of color, and the disinvestment in our children’s education.”

The CTU, which has been in a contract fight with the mayor for months and inching closer towards another strike, was also celebratory, but reiterated the demands its made of the current board for class size limits, no more cuts to education funding, and a closure in “loopholes in the promises the Board has already made.”

“For more than a decade, communities throughout the city of Chicago have worked to establish a stable, well-managed and fiscally responsible Chicago Board of Education, and with today’s vote, the Illinois House took an important step toward recognizing the diversity of our city and improving democracy for all,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in an emailed statement to Chicagoist.

“We will review this bill to ensure it does everything possible to prevent conflicts of interest between board members and CTU,” said a spokesperson for Rauner’s office, adding that Rauner supports a different bill, HB4498 that would “lead to the creation of an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools.” HB 4498, however, is also the legislation that would allow for the Illinois State Board of Education to take over CPS, a measure opposed by Emanuel, the CTU and other education activists.