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Chicago school board

Chicagoans will get to elect some members of the Chicago Board of Education for the first time in the city’s history on this November’s ballot.

Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times

Your top priorities for Chicago’s first elected school board

We asked what you needed to hear from Chicago School Board candidates. Here’s what you told us and how it will inform our coverage.

There’s a first time for everything.

And this fall, you could be a part of it.

For the first time in the city’s history, Chicagoans will get to vote in November to elect members to the Chicago Board of Education. In order to help you cast your ballot, our education reporters at WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times turned to Chicago Public Schools parents. In a brief (and unscientific) survey, we asked which education issues you care most about, what questions you want us journalists to ask school board candidates, and what’s going on at your local CPS school.

We got more than 800 responses from people all over the city, representing nearly 300 CPS schools! Here’s a summary of what you told us, how we plan to use your input, and how to keep the conversation going.

What you told us: top takeaways

We asked survey respondents to name the top three education issues they care most about, and then to pick the single most important issue to them as a CPS parent. Here’s a summary of what we heard.

  • Improving performance was tops. Of the more than 800 survey responses, more than 240 of them —nearly a third —listed bettering academic performance at CPS schools as the single most important issue. One respondent from the South Side bemoaned “poor-performing schools and the lack of a viable plan to resolve this problem.”
  • The debate over school choice and neighborhood schools also looms large. Many of you expressed concerns about the Board of Education’s talk about moving away from a system where families can choose magnet, selective enrollment and charter schools. Many of you also said you wanted the district to prioritize neighborhood schools. All told, about a quarter of responses to our survey indicated this as the top issue. Mike, on the Northwest Side, summed up many of your responses when he posed this question for the candidates: “Can we improve funding equity for neighborhood schools while preserving Chicago’s centers of academic excellence?”
  • Ensuring equitable funding to all CPS schools was another big topic. Many of you talked about resource gaps between wealthier, whiter neighborhoods and poorer communities of color. Taharvey, on the South Side, put it this way: “Students shouldn’t have to sell popcorn and cake [to fund their schools], and parents shouldn’t be supplying copy paper and toilet tissue.”
  • You told us about many more issues that matter to you, too — far too many to name here! To list a few common ones: Many of you also cared deeply about improving student mental health, balancing CPS’s budget and limiting tax hikes, bringing back bus transportation for magnet and selective enrollment students, and improving special and bilingual education. (If you’re curious for more detailed survey results, email engagement@wbez.org).

Your questions for the ESB candidates

You also gave us more than 700 questions you want to ask the candidates for Chicago’s first-ever elected school board. We’ll be asking many of your questions directly to the candidates themselves for a bilingual candidates’ guide we’re building ahead of this fall’s elections.

In addition to questions about some issues named above, here are just some of the most-asked questions you want us to put directly to the candidates.

  • There’s one question that’s caused trouble for Chicago mayors and union bosses alike: “Do your kids attend CPS schools?”
  • Camilla, from the North Side, captured what many of you wanted to know from candidates: “What experience do you have working in or with schools that makes you qualified to make decisions about [more than] 300,000 students’ futures?”
  • Nancy, from the Northwest Side, captured the tone from many of you when she posed this question: “No excuses: What are you going to do to make sure our kids can read and understand math at their grade level???”
  • Money was also on your mind. Many of you wanted to know how candidates would spend tax dollars efficiently. Along those lines, you had lots of tax-related queries, like this one from Daniel: “Will you commit to not raising property taxes?”
  • Mike, on the South Side, spoke for many respondents who were concerned about the historically combative relationship between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union and wanted to know where school board candidates stand. He asked, “How can we shift the zeitgeist toward ‘We’re all (the adults) in this together for the benefit of our students’ when the relationship has been so poisonous for so long?”

What we do next

We’re using your input and questions to inform our coverage of the Chicago School Board races. We’ll be posing many of the questions you gave us to the candidates themselves starting this week.

Once we get their responses later this summer, we’ll begin building an interactive, bilingual voting guide (in English and Spanish) to help you decide how to vote in this historic election. It will include the candidates’ responses to some of the questions you asked in our survey, information on their backgrounds and experience, what they rank as their top issues, who’s funding their campaigns and more.

You can find our latest school board news online, including a campaign fundraising tracker, an elected school board FAQ and a map to help you find which Chicago School Board voting district you live in.

Note about methodology

Our survey is not scientific, and we don’t pretend that it presents a representative sample of all CPS parents! Don’t extrapolate the results to all of Chicago.

We distributed the survey through our usual media channels — online, in the newspaper, on the radio, and on social media. We know that the WBEZ and Sun-Times’ audiences aren’t representative of Chicago’s population. So in order to try and reach folks outside our regular audiences, our Engaged Journalism Team also sent out the survey through community organizations that work with parents, and did lots of in-person tabling at events, canvassing in neighborhoods and holding informal listening sessions with CPS parents and stakeholders.

If you have questions about the survey, or want to know more about the results, we’re happy to share. Please email us at engagement@wbez.org.

Alex Keefe is the Engagement Editor at WBEZ.

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