Under new proposal, all Chicago Board of Education members would be elected by next year

By Chicago 5 Min Read

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate Democrats introduced a proposal Tuesday that would allow for the election of all 20 members of Chicago’s Board of Education next year.

If the Senate plan is cleared by both chambers, it would mean control of the board would be taken away from Mayor Brandon Johnson two years earlier than expected.

After months of wrangling over what the actual districts of the map would look like to ensure proper representation, the House and Senate — during the final week of the veto session— have switched gears to focus on how board members are elected.

The law that created an elected school board for Chicago initially included the election of 10 board members in November 2024 and the appointment of 10 board members by the mayor. The first elected board members would serve four-year terms, and voters would be able to choose who should fill the appointed seats in 2026 to create a fully elected board in 2027.

But an amendment filed by Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, would allow the board to be fully elected as soon as next year by splitting up memberships to two and four-year terms. The staggered terms would ensure the entire board doesn’t turn over every four years.

House Democrats produced their own revisions to the plan on Tuesday as well — with 10 elected and 10 appointed board members in 2024, but with two members residing in the same “nested” district. Together, they would represent 10 districts for two years. All members would be elected in 2026, with appointed members up for election for a two-year term.

The board president would still be appointed by Johnson for the first two years under both plans. A new board president would be chosen by voters in 2026.

The Illinois House and Senate adjourned Tuesday without taking action on either proposal, but both sides are negotiating.

Chicago Public Schools is the only district in the state with a school board appointed by the mayor. Johnson in July replaced all but one member of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education, bringing on advocates with experience in grassroots organizing and nonprofit organizations.

The mayor’s office declined to comment on the latest proposal.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot flip-flopped on her position about an elected school board, at first supporting the idea, then becoming a vocal opponent to the measure that ultimately cleared the Illinois General Assembly in 2021.

At the time, she thought 21 members would be too “unwieldy.” She also raised concerns about undocumented parents not being able to vote.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a staunch opponent of an elected school board. As the Illinois House tried to change the structure, the proposals were routinely stalled in the Senate.

Eli Brottman, a consultant who has testified at several hearings about the elected school board map, said election of the entire elected school board by next year would be crucial. But he still had some concerns about the latest revisions to the plan.

“If half the city is voting and half is not, then we run into questions about how you choose which half is and which half isn’t, and how you keep that equitable in conjunction with appointments,” Brottman said.

Brottman said the staggered terms might also cause confusion for some voters.

“I would urge the General Assembly, regardless of the plan passed, to take ownership in educating constituents … about their school board representative process and then about their school board representatives after their elections take place,” Brottman said.

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