Elected School Board Officially Coming to Chicago After Pritzker Signs Bill

Supporters of an elected school board demonstrate in April 2019. (WTTW News)Supporters of an elected school board demonstrate in April 2019. (WTTW News)

An elected school board is officially coming to Chicago, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation transforming the Chicago Board of Education from an appointed to an elected body, over the objections of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

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The governor on Thursday signed HB 2908 into law, marking a shift from the current seven-member board to a 21-member board with elections beginning in 2024.

“An elected school board will help students and their families have a strong voice in important decisions about the education system in Chicago,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “I applaud the members of the General Assembly for working together on behalf of their constituents to pass legislation that required compromise and thoughtful deliberation. I look forward to ongoing conversations with the General Assembly and mayor, in particular about the district’s finances, board members’ compensation and campaign rules.”

Until now, Chicago Public Schools was the lone district in Illinois with a school board appointed by the mayor. But under the new legislation, the Chicago Board of Education will transition to a hybrid board of elected and appointed members before fully transforming into an elected body by 2027.

Under the legislation, Chicago would be divided into 10 separate 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.

After those 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.

While Lightfoot had previously supported the idea of an elected school board, she was a vocal opponent to this particular plan, criticizing the size of the board and arguing that the bill was rushed through the state legislature.

Bill opponents have also expressed concern about the influence that campaign dollars could have on individual board election races.

"Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature today of HB2908, the historic bill to create an elected representative school board for Chicago, caps a decades-long fight by parents, rank-and-file educators and community activists to provide our school district the same democratic rights afforded to every other district in the state of Illinois," the Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement.

The mayor has instead expressed support for a permanent hybrid board, with seats split between appointed and elected members.

But proponents of the legislation have for years argued that they are being denied their democratic right to vote on the board members, just as residents across the rest of Illinois are allowed to do.

In addition to establishing an elected school board, the bill also puts in place a moratorium on school closures and includes language to prevent individuals with conflicts of interest from serving on the board.

The bill will take effect officially at the beginning of next year.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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