Two years ago, Chicago appeared on the verge of switching from an appointed school board to an elected one after bills cleared the Illinois House and the Senate. But the bills stalled and then died, largely because both then-Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposed the idea.
Now, with Rauner gone and Emanuel on his way out, lawmakers and advocates have renewed hope that Chicago will get an elected school board.
Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, the House sponsor of one elected school board bill, said he told Gov. JB Pritzker that his No. 1 priority is to get Chicago an elected school board. Martwick said he sees no reason why the bill can’t be passed this spring, with board members selected as soon as next spring.
“The electorate is ready for the challenge to take ownership and responsibility of their own schools,” Martwick said. “That is what we are supposed to do in a democracy.”
But the bill isn’t being fast-tracked like the $15 minimum wage bill just signed by the governor. The governor’s office did not respond to questions about why the bill doesn’t appear to be moving quickly.
One holdup may be the composition of an elected school board.
Among the top candidates vying to replace Emanuel, about half want a fully elected school board and the other half want a hybrid board where the mayor appoints some members and others are elected.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton supports the bill and Assistant Majority Leader Tony Muñoz is carrying it in the Senate, said Cullerton spokesman John Patterson. But he suggested lawmakers might wait to see how the mayoral election plays out before moving the bill.
If the Feb. 26 mayoral election goes to a runoff as is expected, a final selection won’t come until April 2. The spring session ends May 31.
The bill introduced in the House would create an elected school board as soon as 2020, while the one introduced in the Senate doesn’t call for implementation until 2023. However, Martwick said he is willing to move back the date, and a separate bill has been filed in the House to hold elections starting in 2023.
The current bills call for 20 members elected by geographic areas and one at-large member.
Chicago has had an appointed school board since 1995, when the state Legislature turned over the power to appoint the board and the schools CEO to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.