It appears that school board elections will be returning to Chicago after more than 25 years of mayoral control, as Illinois legislators have approved a bill to transition the city’s Board of Education into an elected body over the next six years.
The Illinois House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 70-41 to approve legislation that will turn the current seven-member appointed board — the lone appointed school board in the state — into a 21-member body with elections beginning in 2024.
“This is an important issue and one that is certainly a long time coming,” Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, said Wednesday evening. “Bringing democracy to the board is a big deal. It’s going to be a journey. We may have to refine our approach along the way to ensure it accomplishes our goal, it works the way we want it to and most importantly that it works the way the children of Chicago need it to. Today is that long awaited first step.”
The bill was previously approved by the state Senate earlier this month and will now go to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has expressed support for the change in the past.
Under the legislation, Chicago would be divided into 10 electoral districts for the 2024 elections and into 20 districts for the 2026 elections. From January 2025 to January 2027, each district would be represented both by one elected member serving a four-year term and one appointed member serving a two-year term.
Beyond being hand-picked by the mayor, appointed board members would also need to receive the “consent of the City Council,” according to the bill.
After those two-year terms expire in January 2027, each district would be represented by one elected member. Another candidate would run at-large in the 2026 elections to serve as board president.
The legislation also includes a moratorium on school closures in Chicago.
Chicago’s mayor has had control over school board appointments since 1995 when the Chicago School Reform Act was adopted — eliminating a nominating committee that would screen and select candidates for mayoral approval.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has strongly opposed this bill, raising concerns about the size of the board — it would be among the largest in the nation — the potential for the negative influence of campaign finances in board races and a lack of inclusion for undocumented residents.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think this bill is very ill-constructed,” she said during a news conference Monday. “There’s a lot of things I think are deeply flawed with it.”