House Sends Bill Restricting Chicago Selective Enrollment School Changes to Senate Despite Rebukes From CTU, CPS Board

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

An increased moratorium on closing Chicago Public Schools – including charters –  for an additional two years easily passed the state House Thursday night over the objections of the Chicago Teachers Union, which described the measure as “racist,” and despite protestations from Mayor Brandon Johnson’s appointees to the city’s school board.

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The Chicago Board of Education would also temporarily lose the ability to change admissions standards for selective enrollment schools and to reduce selective enrollment schools’ budgets out of proportion with cuts made to other CPS schools – restrictions intended to protect selective enrollment schools, but which critics say is a de-facto undercut of neighborhood schools.

All of the restrictions would be lifted come February 2027, when the board will for the first time be fully elected. The measure will now head to the Senate.

“We have a duty to protect the schools from irreversible damage until we have a fully-elected school board that will have to be accountable to the voters of Chicago as well as the parents and families,” said state Rep. Margaret Croke, a Chicago Democrat, who sponsored the measure (House Bill 303).

Croke said her constituents worried some of CPS’ best schools would be decimated as the board pursues a vision it adopted in December that Board President Jianan Shi described as “a transformational plan that shifts away from a model that emphasizes school choice to one that elevates our neighborhood schools.”

On Tuesday in Springfield, Shi sought to assure members of a House committee that the board would not devalue selective enrollment schools.

“The district has no plans to close selective enrollment schools, as the board and district have continually repeated. Let me repeat, we are not closing selective enrollment schools,” Shi testified. “The small number of selective enrollment schools in the district are well-enrolled, well-supported, well-resourced and we’re going to continue to support those schools.”

Shi, who was previously head of the advocacy organization Raise Your Hand and fought for an elected school board, also beseeched lawmakers to maintain the appointed board’s autonomy.

He said hamstringing the board would “prevent us from addressing enrollment management, overcrowding and facilities issues across all school types in (an) aligned, comprehensive and timely way.”

“The board and district must retain our authority to adjust admissions policies so that we can maintain both selective enrollment schools while increasing access to them for Black, Latin/a, low-income and students with disabilities,” Shi said.

Raise Your Hand was among the organizations that fought the measure, describing it as a “racist and classist” policy. CTU leadership likewise called it a “racist bill.”

“House Bill 303 would actually require Chicago Public Schools to cut budgets and close schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods,” read a Wednesday post on CTU’s website. “At a time when the state needs to commit and fully fund all Chicago schools, this racist bill would only protect schools that enroll a substantially higher percentage of White students at the expense of everyone else.”

At the time of the union’s post, the proposal would have extended a 2025 district-wide moratorium on school closures to February 2027 for only selective enrollment schools.

Croke said at CTU’s suggestion, she amended the measure on Thursday so the 2027 moratorium would apply to all CPS schools.

Chicago’s school board is going through a transformation. The seven-member, mayoral-appointed board will next year expand to 21. This November, voters will elect half the board while the mayor will appoint the other half plus a president.

Come 2027, voters will choose the entire board.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who previously lent his support to Croke’s plan to stave off major changes to selective enrollment schools until the elected board is seated, reiterated during a press conference on Thursday night that the concept has “merit,” while also blasting those who labeled it or Croke racist as “extreme.”

“That kind of criticism is uncalled for, and especially about the bill that was being discussed and about the person who was leading that bill,” Pritzker said. “We don’t need that. What we need to do is either make change, or don’t make change, but I think accusing people of something quite personal that isn’t true ought not be part of this process. There were people who were somewhere between offended and outraged by what was said.”

Pritzker said it’s “reasonable” to make sure that decisions about CPS’ future aren’t made by people “narrowly appointed, but rather broadly elected.”

During the floor debate, Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, also called it “absolutely disrespectful” that some critics labeled its sponsor as racist.

“We can debate bills, we can have those conversations, but to sit there and call this one a racist? Say the policies are racist if you believe that. Say that some of the things that have happened have racial implications,” Tarver, who is Black, said. “But to call this woman a racist is absolutely offensive. I’m not Margaret Croke’s best friend in life, I don’t know everything about her, but I do know that she’s not racist.”

Critics of the measure, however, say it will in effect block the CPS board from moving to a more equitable way to fund schools.

During the debate another state Rep. Lilian Jiménez, D-Chicago, said the West Side neighborhood school her 5-year-old attends has 200 students without permanent homes, and due to changes in the model for how CPS allocates money to schools, for the first time it will next year have a nurse and two counselors.

“And what we’re doing here is, we’re stopping that progress in its tracks. And I want to know why you think this is OK,” she said. “It’s only been a few months that this board has been allowed to start making progress on changing the inequitable funding and the unequitable policies that we have seen for decades.”

The measure, which passed on a vote of 92 to 8 and next goes before the Senate, comes as Chicago and Springfield are set to face off over a broader CPS funding debate.

CPS projects a $400 million deficit for next year.

The CTU and Johnson, who was a CTU organizer before becoming mayor last year, are beginning new contract negotiations.

Both have said they will look to Springfield to fill the funding gap.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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