Some Illinois lawmakers are quickly trying to advance a measure creating an elected school board in Chicago before the legislative session ends Wednesday. The bill, which is opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, comes as Chicago Public Schools struggles to make a massive payment to the pension fund for Chicago teachers by June 30.
Currently, members of the Chicago Board of Education are appointed by the mayor, but the proposed bill would allow the Illinois General Assembly to create 14 districts within Chicago where residents can elect representatives to the board. A board president would also be elected citywide. The first election would take place in 2023.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) made changes to the bill so voting districts would be drawn by Chicago officials and not state lawmakers. Raoul said he doesn’t think suburban and downstate lawmakers need to have a say in the shape of each district within the city, which had been in a previous plan.
“We think that should be more of a locally decided thing,” Raoul said. “Perhaps what we will look to do is have an independent body made up of people, citizens within the City of Chicago.”
The bill’s main proponent in the House, state Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago), said he would support Raoul’s plan, but he acknowledged time is running out for the state legislature to approve the bill before Wednesday’s legislative deadline.
“I know the mayor doesn’t want it but 90 percent of the people in the city of Chicago do, and as long as that bill gets an opportunity to be voted on in both chambers, it will pass,” Martwick said.
An Emanuel spokesman said an elected school board will not solve the financial problems confronting CPS, which must make a $716 million teacher pension payment by June 30.
“The challenges facing CPS are squarely related to funding, not administration, and have been exacerbated by Governor Rauner, who vetoed a bipartisan pension parity bill out of a fit of pique and has gone over 700 days without proposing or passing a balanced budget,” spokesman Matt McGrath said in a statement, referring to a pension relief bill that was vetoed in December. “Chicago’s students and teachers are leading the state in academic gains, but the Governor in particular is failing to do his job and fairly fund education in this state.”
A spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner did not comment on the legislation.
Earlier this year, the Illinois House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved — with rare bipartisan support — a bill creating an elected school board for Chicago, the only school district in the state that allows its mayor to appoint board members. Previous attempts by the legislature to approve an elected school board have stalled.
The debate over an elected school board comes as state lawmakers are also considering how to end the state’s unprecedented, two-years-long budget impasse. The school board measure also comes as lawmakers are attempting to craft a new statewide funding formula for public education that could send more state aid to the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools, where school leaders argue they deserve more money because CPS is the only school district in the state that must carry the cost of its teacher pensions.
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. You can follow him at @tonyjarnold.