SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Mayor Lightfoot Wednesday launched a last-ditch effort to persuade the Illinois House to reject a State Senate plan to have Chicago voters elect members of the Board of Education.
As a candidate in 2019, Lightfoot favored an elected school board, but she says the plan approved by the State Senate late Tuesday is deeply flawed.
As one egregious example, she pointed to a provision in the Senate-approved plan. Supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, it would ban the closing of any public schools, even closings supported by parents and community groups.
"There's a group of parents in North Lawndale who've been trying for years to consolidate three schools to get one school that's a STEM program," said Lightfoot. "The language that is in that bill right now would cut that off at the pass and not allow it to happen."
Lightfoot’s been at odds with the Teachers' Union since she soundly trounced the union’s endorsed candidate for mayor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
All seven members of the current School Board are mayoral appointees.
The Senate-approved plan would triple the size of the board to 21.
Beginning in November, 2024, 10 members would be elected by Chicago voters, with Lightfoot appointing 11 members.
In the fall of 2026, the entire Board of Education would be elected in non-partisan contests.
Lightfoot objects that there are no limits on campaign spending by school board candidates.
She cites an election contest in Los Angeles where one candidate spent more than a million dollars.
Lightfoot also argues that the Senate-approved proposal does too little to engage families whose parents are not American citizens.
At a news conference, Lightfoot rejected the claims of the union and others that the State Senate plan is the best way to bring "democracy" to local Chicago schools.
"This is supposed to be about ‘democracy’ but what happened in Springfield (in Tuesday night’s Senate vote) had nothing to do with democracy. But democracy, mark my word, will prevail!" said Lightfoot.
The Senate plan must still be approved by the Illinois House before going to Gov. Pritzker’s desk.
Aides indicated that, if the proposal gets to him, Pritzker would likely sign it into law.
An aide said Pritzker expects the House could return to the State Capitol "sooner rather than later to vote on this."
Gov. Pritzker on Wednesday paid a post-legislative session visit to Peoria and Rockford. He appeared to be rehearsing themes he might use in next year’s campaign for re-election.
"Things are looking up for the state of Illinois," he boasted. He noted the state is now paying nearly all its bills on time, avoiding millions of dollars in penalties.
Pritzker did face questions about new, multi-million dollar subsidies he supports for Exelon/Comed's fleet of nuclear power plants.
As in the past, Exelon’s threatening to shut down the facilities unless bailed out by state order.
Electric bills would increase for most Illinoisans. But Pritzker said the environment would benefit.
"That deal will help keep all of the nuclear plants open which helps us with our clean energy plans for the future," Pritzker told a downstate news conference.
While nuclear power plants create tons of plutonium and other highly toxic radioactive waste that could poison the planet for thousands of years, nukes do not throw carbon into the atmosphere as fossil fuels do.