By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
The Illinois House of Representative passed a bill on Thursday, April 4, that makes it possible for Chicagoans to vote for school board members instead of being appointed by the mayor.
The bill, HB 2267, passed by 110-2, and it was sent to the Senate where it will be voted on in May. In 2023 and 2027, voters will use a separate ballot to vote for 20 elected school board members, instead of seven. Also, the bill requires that the successors of the Inspector General for the city’s school district be appointed by the board and not by the mayor.
Both Illinois State Representatives who represent Hyde Park, Curtis Tarver II (25th) and Kambium Buckner (26th), were co-sponsors on the bill.
“When I started campaigning, the number one issue that I heard throughout the district, especially the Hyde Park-Kenwood area, was about the need for elected school board,” said Tarver. “I was happy to co-sponsor the bill. It took a lot to get it through the house. There was a lot of conversation to get the bill in the format that it is right now. I think it is a good bill. I think that it is solid.”
Buckner was able to vote on the bill on April 4 due to a family emergency, but he believes that “from an ideological standpoint, we are moving in the right direction to create more accountability.”
The Chicago Teachers Union, along with education advocates and local activists, have been fighting for an elected school board. The lack of trust in an appointed school board increased after the closing of 50 Chicago Public Schools on the city’s south and west sides, a recent plan to close the last four high schools in Englewood and a plan to convert the National Teachers Academy into a high school — this plan ultimately failed after community pushback.
Joy Clendenning, a Hyde Parker who is a parent representative on Kenwood High School’s Local School Council, is very excited about the possibility of an elected school board.
“I’m excited that the elected, representative school board bill passed the house. I know that it is going to be a fight to get it through the Senate and get it to the Governor’s desk,” Clendenning said. “This has been a coalition effort. There are so many efforts by organizations and parents across the city who has been working for so many years to get an elected school board for Chicago.”
There are some questions that need to be answered as the bill is argued in the Senate, such as how each district will be drawn. Many have critiqued the size of the elected school board.
Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot, who supported an elected school board during her campaign, believes that a board with 20 members is too large.
“Having a school board of 20 people is completely unwieldy. That will be a recipe for disaster and chaos,” said Lightfoot in an interview with WBEZ.
Clendenning sees a chance for marginalized communities on the south and west sides to have a voice in what happens to their neighborhood schools
“It will add more perspectives to the conversations because Chicago is a big city. We have 50 wards. We have a city council that functions with 50 members. Having 20 members will mean that parts of the city, like the West Side, the South Side, the Southwest Side, will be fully represented on an elected school board and that is what we need in Chicago,” Clendenning said.
The bill, now labeled SB 153, must be approved by the Senate. Sen. Robert Peters, who represents Hyde Park, is a co-sponsor on the bill. Since Gov. J.B. Pritzker supported an elected school board during his campaign, it seems likely that he will sign the bill if it is passed by the Senate.