By TIM KIRSININKAS
Capitol News Illinoistkirsininkas@capitolnewsillinois.com
SPRINGFIELD – A bill which would implement an elected Chicago school board passed the Illinois House Thursday, while opponents of the legislation continued to push for compromise amendments.
House Bill 2908 would create elections for 21 Chicago school board members in the 2023 and 2027 consolidated primary elections. Currently, the seven sitting Chicago Board of Education members are appointed by the Mayor.
The proposed bill would divide the city into 20 electoral districts to be determined by the General Assembly, with one member to be elected at-large to serve as school board president.
Proponents of the bill, including chief sponsor Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, said the proposal would bring fairness and democracy to the city of Chicago, the only school district in the state without an elected school board.
“Denied democracy is no democracy,” Ramirez said. “There is no way that we can talk about caring about students anywhere when we decide, for whatever reason, to deny them from that.”
The bill received no support from Republican members in the House, despite having received support from GOP lawmakers when similar bills were proposed in recent years.
Republican leader Jim Durkin questioned the reasoning for the bill, saying the proposal stems from legislators’ personal conflicts with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“I’m not sure what the problems are that prompted this, it seems to be more of a personality conflict that happened when Mayor Lightfoot was elected,” Durkin said. “What’s driving this is not substance, but clearly a personality conflict with the sitting Mayor.”
Democratic Rep. Will Guzzardi, of Chicago, pushed back on that criticism, saying that parents, teachers and community activists have been pushing for an elected school board since the Richard M. Daley administration. He noted the proposal had received Republican support in the past.
“We all supported this idea not as some sort of personal petty grievance, but because we believe that the same democracy that’s good enough in every other district in the state of Illinois to govern our schools is good enough for Chicago,” Guzzardi said.
Durkin and other House members, including Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, raised concerns that the mayor’s office had not been involved enough in the current version of the bill, and argued that additional guidance would be necessary.
“It’s very important that mayor has say in this process, whether she’s late to the game or not,” Ford said. “I hope that moving forward that we and she can get our act together so we can have the best bill that becomes law.”
The Senate Executive Committee passed an elected school board bill as well Wednesday, Senate Bill 2497. According to the Sun-Times, chief senate sponsor Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said he was open to possible amendments, while Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford suggested continued negotiations with the Mayor’s office would be necessary.
“I’m concerned about the bill that Senator Martwick is carrying,” Lightford said during Thursday’s committee hearing.
“I would like to make sure that moving forward on something as significant as the impact of 350,000 students and their families, that we do all we can to ensure that we have the best outcome as legislators,” she added.
Opponents in that committee argued for a hybrid elected school board, with at least a portion of the board members being elected with the rest being appointed by the Mayor.
Lightford filed an amendment to Senate Bill 827 Wednesday establishing a hybrid of elected and appointed Chicago school board members. By 2028, that bill would transition the school board to having 11 members, eight of them appointed by the mayor and three of them elected.
HB 2908 passed the House floor by a 71-39 vote and will be sent to the Senate floor.
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch praised the bill’s passage in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“I am very proud of Rep. Ramirez and the caucus for getting this important reform through,” Welch said. “I also applaud the advocates who have been pushing for this reform for years to help create a more equitable and representative Chicago Board of Education. Like every other city in Illinois, parents and community members deserve to have a seat at the table when it comes to their school district.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.