Your NPR news source
schoolboard1 (2).png

Chicago Public Schools has long been the only school district in Illinois without an elected school board.

Photos by Manuel Martinez/WBEZ and Pat Nabong/Sun-Times. Collage by Mendy Kong/WBEZ

What you need to know about Chicago’s elected school board

City voters will elect school board members this fall for the first time. We break down how candidates get on the ballot and how to vote.

Chicago voters will finalize their picks this November for the city’s first elected school board. It’s been a long time coming.

Advocates have been pushing for an elected board to oversee Chicago Public Schools for more than a decade, with the effort picking up momentum after Chicago’s mayoral-appointed board closed a record 50 schools in 2013.

Supporters of an elected board say it will inject democracy and community voice into CPS decision-making, to the benefit of students and communities. They have high hopes that a different governing structure will lead to better outcomes for kids and families.

But there are concerns — that the campaign structure and lack of pay will shut out working class and grassroots candidates, that the elected board is too large to be effective. Detractors also worry an elected board will be divisive, slow an already bureaucratic decision-making process and could be corrupted by financial contributions.

In just a few short months, Chicagoans will begin to see which direction this new board takes the nation’s fourth-largest school district.

How will Chicago move from an appointed board to an elected one?

This fall’s election will mark the beginning of transition from a board appointed by the mayor to one elected by citizens. Chicago has never had an elected board. It’s the only school district in Illinois without one.

On Nov. 5, voters will elect 10 of 21 school board seats. The rest of the board, including the president, will continue to be appointed by Mayor Brandon Johnson, giving the mayor majority control of the board for nearly all of his four-year term. This will be a significant increase in the size of the current board, which has seven members. They will begin serving in January 2025. Sometimes people refer to this as a hybrid board.

In November 2026, the entire board will be elected. They will begin serving in January 2027. Twenty will be elected from 10 districts and the president will be elected citywide.

Find your school board voting district by clicking on your neighborhood. To zoom in and out on a desktop or laptop, hold down the Control or Command key on your keyboard, and scroll up or down.

What happens between now and Election Day?

Candidates began circulating petitions March 26. They’ll need to file 1,000 valid signatures of registered voters living in their district by June 24 — but no more than 3,000 — to be eligible to run. The ballot will be set soon afterward.

This is more signatures than what’s required for congressional campaigns. Advocates are worried this number is too high and will shut out many grassroots candidates who aren’t backed by powerful groups.

Chicagoans can start applying to vote by mail Aug. 7. Early in-person voting will begin Sept. 26. The first day to vote at permanent polling locations is Oct. 21. The final day to vote is Election Day, Nov. 5.

How do the 10 voting districts and subdistricts work?

The election map drafted by Illinois lawmakers includes 10 districts, each split into two subdistricts. District 1 is made up of subdistricts 1A and 1B, District 2 is made up of subdistricts 2A and 2B and so on.

In the first elections this November, voters will pick one board member per district for a total of 10 elected members. If a voter lives in District 3, they’ll only pick between the candidates in District 3. Mayor Johnson will appoint a second member in each district, plus a board president to complete the 21-member hybrid school board.

If voters in District 6 pick a candidate who lives in subdistrict 6B, for example, Johnson’s appointment will have to come from subdistrict 6A. The board president can come from anywhere in the city. The mayor has to pick his appointees by Dec. 16, about six weeks after Election Day.

Every member, whether elected or appointed, will serve two-year terms beginning in January 2025.

Are there concerns with the board’s structure?

Opponents and proponents of the elected board agree on a few potentially problematic issues. These include the influence of money and pay for board members.

The elected school board law has no campaign contribution limits, though many people have been pushing for them. They point to school boards, like in Los Angeles, where charter school operators and the teachers union donate to candidates and ultimately play a big role in who gets elected.

WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times have created a campaign contribution tracker where you can keep tabs on donations in real time to see how much is being raised and which races are getting the big bucks versus grassroots campaigns.

The law also offers no pay for school board members. There’s been an effort to compensate them to try to ensure that working class and middle class Chicagoans can devote time to the job. Los Angeles board members work full time and make $127,500 a year, while other school districts provide members a stipend or a smaller salary.

School board

Chicago’s seven-member appointed board of education is moving to a 21-member elected board.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

What other issues have been raised?

Advocates talk a lot about two issues: the rights of undocumented citizens and whether the voting districts adequately represent CPS parents.

Many advocates support allowing non-citizens to vote to give those communities representation. But lawmakers didn’t find a solution in the original 2021 legislation.

“It is important for a school district with a growing Latinx population and with community members that have been here for 20 or 30 years to have a say over their children’s education,” said state State Sen. Celina Villanueva, a Chicago Democrat, who introduced a bill to allow non-citizens to vote. But it never came up for a vote.

Senate President Don Harmon said he is sensitive to this issue, but there are constitutional concerns. Several other state legislatures have tried to allow non-citizens to vote but have faced lawsuits. And even before litigation, few non-citizens have registered to vote for fear their information would end up in the hands of federal authorities.

On the question of representation, the final voting map features seven districts where the majority of voting age adults are Black residents, six majority Latino districts and five white districts. Two remaining North Side districts have a white plurality, with one including a Latino population of nearly equal size.

But there are still concerns that Latino students, who make up nearly half of CPS’s enrollment, will be underrepresented. The group Kids First Chicago said focus groups with parents and a poll show that most people want the board to reflect the makeup of the student body — almost 90% kids of color — more than the city, which is about one-third white.

In a letter to the General Assembly, MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization, said the citizen voting age population, rather than the population overall or the voting age, should determine the majority in a district. With that methodology, MALDEF said only two of 20 districts in the proposed map are majority Latino, and only one of the 10 districts in the House proposal. The group warned that disparity could lead to future litigation.

Finally, when the elected school board law was being passed, there were significant concerns about its 21-member size. The current board is just seven members. It’s one of the largest among the big cities. New York City, which has 1.1 million students, has 23 members. LA and Boston have seven members each. Philadelphia has nine members. Chicago has about 323,000 students.

What about elections in 2026?

All 21 seats will be up for election in November 2026 to create Chicago’s first fully elected school board.

In that election, voters will choose one member from each of the 20 subdistricts. But their terms will depend on whether that subdistrict had an elected or appointed incumbent.

If District 6B was represented by an elected member, the new member picked in District 6B will get a four-year term.

If District 6A had an appointed board member, the new elected member in that subdistrict will get a two-year term.

Candidates in the 2026 elections will only need 500 to 1,500 valid signatures. Those running for school board president will have to submit at least 2,500.

From there on, elections will be staggered so half the seats are up for election every two years.

The Latest
Prospective candidates took turns presenting their piles of papers for counting; officials had to confirm at least 1,000 signatures before they could be submitted. Candidates have until 5 p.m. next Monday to file.
The week-long process begins Monday, when candidates may submit the minimum 1,000 signatures needed from residents in one of 10 districts.
The growth on state exams was led by Black students, CPS officials said. But preliminary math scores on state exams show students still lag behind.
Some faculty say the punishment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators goes against the school’s commitment to free speech. Others say the encampment was uniquely disruptive.
The Chicago Public Schools program aims to bolster teacher ranks amid a workforce shortage.