Updated 2:30 pm
In a far-reaching plan designed to “transform” Chicago Public Schools, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot is calling for an elected school board, a high-performing school in every neighborhood, and free pre-K centers for at-risk students in closed schools.
“My plan calls for including communities and stakeholders in decisions regarding schools, bringing high quality elementary and high school to every neighborhood,” Lightfoot said Wednesday. “Kids can’t thrive if they don’t have a full array of supports.”
In a crowded field of at least 13 mayoral candidates, Lightfoot is the latest to release a plan for improving Chicago’s public schools.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has called for an elected school board and a freeze on school closings and charter schools. Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley wants to combine CPS with the City Colleges of Chicago and replace local school councils with 50 mini school boards. And former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico wants to invest in vocational education and create eight new selective test-in schools.
The election is Feb. 26, with a run-off expected April 2. Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor and a former Chicago Police Board president.
Lightfoot’s 10-page plan offers up an ambitious to-do list for CPS. Her ideas run the gamut from the practical, including free CTA fares for low-income students, expanding career and technical education, boosting the number of nurses, social workers and librarians in schools, and offering incentives, including increased pay, to entice teachers to work in high-need schools.
She’s also pushing for big picture structural changes, including assessing every proposed policy to see the impact on different racial and ethnic groups with an eye toward addressing “institutional racism and for identifying new options to remedy long-standing inequities.”
Lightfoot also promises to boost trauma-informed instruction and improve special education, which is being overseen by a state monitor after a state inquiry last year. That came after a WBEZ investigation found a CPS overhaul of services for special needs students resulted in cuts in services but savings for the district.
Lightfoot’s plan covers possible ways to finance many of these big ticket items but there’s little doubt CPS’ current revenue is no match for all of what Lightfoot proposes. CPS’ finances have stabilized in the last two years but the school system remains deeply indebted and reliant on future revenue increases from the state.
When asked by WBEZ to comment on Lightfoot’s plans, several opponents used the opportunity to tout their own ideas. State Comptroller Susana Mendoza says she would invest in 50 underutilized neighborhood schools, “turning them into community hubs.”
“As the mother of a 6-year-old kindergartener in a CPS school, I have major skin in the game ensuring every neighborhood school can succeed and will be a relentless advocate fighting to get the job done," Mendoza said in an emailed statement.
Lawyer John Kozlar, a proponent of competition to weed out under-performing schools, rejects the idea of a fully elected school board. He is one of several candidates that supports a hybrid school board that includes a mix of appointed and elected members.
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