CPS elected school board bill passes first hurdle in becoming a reality

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

A proposed bill is in the works in the Illinois statehouse that would change the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) board from a mayor-appointed school board to an elected school board.

CPS parent and activist Joy Clendenning is in support of the bill and hopes that lawmakers in Springfield advance motion.

“Yesterday was a victory, especially these days to get something moving in Springfield,” Clendenning said. “The proof [of movement] is in getting an actual fully elected representative board for the people of Chicago.”

If the proposed legislation, which was drafted by Rep. Robert Martwick Jr., (D-19), is approved the process of electing Chicago school board members will begin in 2019. The bill will also allow the Illinois general assembly to divide the City of Chicago into 20 electoral districts for seats on the Chicago Board of Education. The bill was voted out favorably 18-1 from a House committee on Wednesday, March 15.

The idea of an elected school board is not brand new. Clendenning said that Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) has worked on the issue for quite awhile. The group once petitioned the public at a Bud Biliken Parade for an elected board a decade ago. She is pleased that the idea is gaining steam again. A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13) passed the House in March of last year by a 110-4 vote but that bill was stalled in the Senate.

Groups such as The Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) and Raise Your Hand Illinois are for the bill.

“Last year, there was overwhelming support to move our school district away from the rigid, misguided and failed control of the mayor, and we are now one step closer,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a written statement. “Our school communities desperately need democracy in the form of an elected school board, new streams of progressive revenue that fund our schools equitably and a strong and protected educator voice able to direct school-level education policy decisions.”

Opposition comes from CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel who, under a 1995 law that was passed by the Illinois General Assembly, has total authority over the school district and board appointments as mayor of Chicago.

According to reports, Emanuel is opposed to switching to an elected school board. He is concerned that an elected board could bring more politics into the school system.

Chief Education Officer for CPS Janice Jackson testified Wednesday, March 15, before the House Committee to discuss CPS’ view of the bill. She argued that a change in policy could jeopardize the progress that has been made under mayoral control and that the elected board would have no more authority than the local school council (LSC) to raise revenue, which she said is the root of issues for the district.

“Now is not the time to jeopardize this progress by handing control over the Chicago Public Schools to 21 elected officials with no ability to raise revenue,” Jackson said during her testimony Wednesday. “Now is the time for adults to work out the differences over school funding and allow schools to continue on their steady upward march.”

Jackson cited a 2013 study by the Center for American Progress in D.C. to support her point. The study found that districts under mayoral control “are positively associated with investment in teaching staff, more spending on instruction, smaller student-teacher ratios, a greater percentage of resources allocated for K-12 student support.”

Clendenning believes an elected school board is necessary one the people can choose.

“As a parent and LSC member I have seen so many unfunded mandates come from the unelected school board,” Clendenning said. “I have had to deal with that as elected member of an LSC. I’ve had to deal with the actual budget cuts on the ground in my children’s school I would like to see something better and a fully elected school board could provide that.”

t.hill@hpherald.com