Parents, teachers and community groups on Tuesday asked Illinois Democrats to go back to the drawing board and create a new map for Chicago’s upcoming first school board elections. They want a map based on the city’s student demographics rather than its overall population.
About a dozen people spoke out at a virtual hearing Tuesday evening. This comes days after lawmakers from the House and Senate released a first draft map. Lawmakers have until July 1 to draw the voting boundaries.
As first noted by Chalkbeat Chicago, the draft map proposes seven majority white districts, seven majority Black districts and six majority Latino districts — closely resembling the city’s population, which is 33% white, 29% Black, and 29% Latino, according to the U.S. Census.
But the CPS student population is 11% white, 36% Black and 47% Latino.
“Springfield is proposing a map that sets the table for a majority white board that governs the outcomes of BIPOC students and families,” said Daniel Anello, CEO of the nonprofit Kids First Chicago, in a statement.
In releasing the draft map, lawmakers said the 20 districts “keep communities of interest as whole as possible” and reflect the “diversity of Chicago,” according to a news release.
But Anello said residents want legislators to create districts that give more representation to minority communities. His organization analyzed the draft map and found that white voters make up the second most prominent block for all but four of the 20 districts.
Comparatively, Black residents make up fewer than 20% of the voting base in 13 districts. In 11 of the districts, Latinos make up fewer than 20% of the voting population.
Kids First also found that because non-citizens are included in population counts, the data may overstate the actual number of Latinos who can participate in elections.
“It could easily mean that in a district where Latinx have a plurality of 40% and white voters have 25% … the actual voting population for Latinx is much closer to the white voter population,” Anello said.
Other issues raised during Tuesday’s hearing include the lack of pay for board members and the time commitment for working parents who may want to serve.
The city will begin to transition to an elected school board starting in 2025 after an election in November 2024. At first, 10 members will be elected and the other 10 members and a school board president will be appointed by the mayor. By 2026, the 11 appointed seats will switch to elected.
Ultimately, the districts have to comply with the Illinois Voting Rights Act and must be “compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population.” Democrats from both chambers make up the Senate’s Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board and will work together to draw the map.
Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the committee chair who represents parts of Chicago’s West Side, said their initial proposal incorporates feedback and suggestions from more than a dozen public hearings in recent weeks. She said they have received nine alternate map proposals from outside groups.
“This draft map is just that — a draft,” Lightford said. “It will not be easy to balance various desires and perspectives, but we must not lose sight of the fact that this is a sea change to how we approach education in Chicago.”
What comes next
Ami Gandhi, a voting rights expert with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, said the group is “hungry for more information” on the data and demographic information being used to draw maps.
She said civil rights advocates and community groups “insist” that lawmakers release more details to help people understand whether voters rights will be protected by the draft map or “unfairly diluted.”
“In my many years as a voting rights advocate and attorney, one of my takeaways is that the shape alone of a district doesn’t tell the whole story,” she said. “It’s important and it’s interesting, but there’s more that anyone concerned about voting rights… is going to be concerned about.”
Gandhi said there are several factors and requirements that legislators are bound to consider in drawing the maps, including Illinois’ voting rights law and federal civil rights protections that protect communities of color and their ability to elect the candidates of their choice.
“The districts have to be substantially equal in resident population numbers,” she said. “But the map can and should utilize lots of factors in determining what [it] should look like.”
Gandhi says one of those factors should “absolutely” be student population and demographics, given the representation and accountability goals that drove the creation of a Chicago elected school board.
“I don’t think that how many districts are majority of which race tells the whole story … that simple threshold is not enough to determine whether the map sufficiently protects the voting rights of Black voters, Latino voters and other voters of color.
“If community members are concerned about even that basic level of information, then it’s critical that their concerns be addressed during this districting process,” she said.
The public can also comment online at www.ilsenateredistricting.com or by sending an email to ChicagoERSBCommittee@senatedem.ilga.gov.