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Chicago’s Elected School Board Stalls Again

Despite sailing through both chambers of the Illinois state Legislature, a bill creating an elected school board for Chicago is stalled and won’t be coming back up until at least the fall.

That’s the unhappy conclusion of the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago. He and others have long pushed to replace the city’s mayoral-appointed school board.

The overwhelming support for an elected school board came as a surprise this legislative session, and Marwick had hoped to get it finalized in June. But the legislation was overshadowed by the intense budget negotiations, he said. After failing to pass a budget for two years, state lawmakers are now under intense pressure to pass one. 

“The budget negotiations have really, and rightly so, have consumed all the air in the building … we have been hyper focused on that,” Martwick said.

He said he needed the attention of leaders to iron out differences between bills passed by the House and the Senate.

If it becomes law, Chicago residents would vote on school board members who would represent geographic areas in the city.

Sticking points between the House and the Senate bill are over who gets to draw the geographic areas and the number of board members. The House bill would have one member elected citywide and 20 others representing districts drawn by state lawmakers.

Martwick said the state lawmakers would ensure racial and ethnic groups are represented.

The Senate bill would create a 15-member board with the districts drawn by an independent commission. 

Also, the House sets the first election for 2018 while the Senate sets it for 2023.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposed an elected school board, arguing it would politicize education. But the Chicago Teachers Union and others have long wanted to take control out of the mayor’s hands. 

It was unclear whether Gov. Bruce Rauner planned to sign the bill. The Republican governor is anti-union and has expressed particular disdain for the Chicago teachers union. Nevertheless, supporters remained hopeful the bill could have withstood a potential Rauner veto because it passed by such big margins.

Sarah Karp reports on education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @sskedreporter and @WBEZeducation.

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