Illinois state lawmakers are once again taking up the question of whether Chicago Public Schools should switch from an appointed to an elected school board. A key Illinois House of Representatives committee voted 13-0 Wednesday to approve the move to an elected board.
“It would allow the Chicago Public Schools to conform to the most basic principle of democracy and that is no taxation without representation,” said State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago.
Both candidates for Chicago mayor, who face a runoff on April 2, support an elected school board.
The issue has been popular with Chicago voters, who have weighed in by referendum in favor of the switch, and with the Chicago Teachers Union, which has battled publicly with outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Martwick said this is the third recent attempt to do away with the current system, where the mayor appoints all members of the Chicago Board of Education. It’s a perennial subject of debate at the Illinois statehouse, with different bills offering variations on how to structure the board and when elections would first occur.
Under Martwick’s latest proposal, the board would be comprised of 20 members elected in individual districts from around the city. A board president would be elected citywide. Martwick said he suggested a 50-member school board — one member per existing ward — but that idea was shot down during negotiations as too big. There are currently seven appointed members on the Chicago Board of Education.
If approved, the first election would occur in 2023 — the next city election after next week’s runoff. Martwick said he included a sunset provision. This would allow for two election cycles. He said this provision would compel lawmakers to reapprove the elected school board law after the 2027 election. He did this, he said, to address concerns about money potentially being injected into individual school board races.
“What will be the influence of money and special interest groups over these elections?” Martwick asked lawmakers Wednesday. “This allows the legislation to come back to the legislature for review and revision so that we can ensure that the structure of democracy and accountability is functioning the way that we hope.”
A lobbyist for the city of Chicago asked lawmakers to delay a vote until the next mayor is selected. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former Chicago police board president Lori Lightfoot square off in the race for Chicago mayor next week.
The proposal still needs approval from the full House, Senate and Gov. JB Pritzker.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.