Proposal to elect Chicago school board members advances in Illinois Senate

The Illinois State Senate on Tuesday approved a proposal to elect members of the Chicago Board of Education.

Leaders of the Illinois house, whose members went home after adjourning on Monday, say they will return to the capitol to vote on the measure.


The proposal calls for abolishing the current seven member Chicago school board, in favor a new 21-member board. Ten would be elected on Nov. 5, 2024, with the then-mayor appointing 11 other members. The appointees would only serve for two years, though.  To keep their seats, they would all have to face the voters in 2026.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on a promise to support an elected school board, has vigorously opposed this measure. At a committee hearing on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Lightfoot voiced concern about members of the politically powerful Chicago Teachers Union potentially sitting on the board.

"I'm saying that we want to limit, and actually limit conflicts of interest," said Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services Sybil Madison, who represents Lightfoot.

The real issue is that if the teachers union were to control an elected school board, the union in effect could bargain with itself at contract time. That could lead to big tax increases to pay for the long wish list the union typically rolls out during negotiations.

In the latest sign that Lightfoot’s standing in the state capitol is unusually weak for a Chicago mayor, her objections did nothing to prevent the measure passing by a vote of 36 to 15, with two senators voting "present."

State Sen. Michael Hastings (D) Frankfort rejected the mayor’s fears of teacher/board members’ conflicts of interest.

"Not being able and precluding somebody from running from office is just absurd," he said.

State Sen. Robert Martwick (D) Chicago favors an elected board, though acknowledged problems may arise.

"There's an old saying that democracy is the worst form of government there is, but the best one we've got," he said.

Supporters said an elected Chicago school board would ultimately make members more accountable than they have been when appointed by the mayor.

Should the House also approve the proposal, Gov. JB Pritzker has indicated he is likely to sign it into law.