Chicago may be inching closer to electing its school board members.
An Illinois House bill that would allow the city to do away with appointed school board members in favor of electing them passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 110-4 on Thursday. The Illinois Senate must also vote on the bill. If it clears that hurdle and eventually becomes law, Chicago school board elections could be held as early as 2018, according to NBC Chicago.
Local activists and the Chicago Teachers Union have lobbied for the school board governing the nation’s third-largest school district to be made up of people elected by the community. Chicago remains the only district in Illinois in which school board members are appointed.
A non-binding ballot question on whether city residents wanted to switch to an elected school board passed overwhelmingly during last year’s primary in the wards where the question appeared on the ballot.
Board members have been appointed by the mayor since 1995. Under the proposal, sponsored by Robert Martwick, a Democrat from Chicago, the new board will be made up of 21 members. The city will be divided into 20 wards, with the board president running for an at-large seat.
The Chicago Teachers Union praised the bill’s passage.
“Nearly one year ago, 90 percent of Chicago voters expressed their support for an elected school board, and now, the city’s students and their families are closer to ending the devastation of mayoral control and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked Board of Education,” Karen Lewis, the union president, said in a statement.
“The CTU now calls on the Senate to pass this bill and give the voters what is long overdue—democracy in our education,” Lewis said. “We are confident that strength and voice will continue to be on the side of the people, and in an atmosphere of deep division, state lawmakers will embrace this awesome responsibility of restoring faith in the leadership of our public schools.”
The union and the district are still deadlocked over a new labor contract. The last contract expired in June last year, and in February the union voted to reject an offer from the district.
The district responded by ending the long-standing practice of picking up the union members’ pension payments.
The district and the union put aside their differences this week to take aim at the state’s Charter School Commission, which on Tuesday overturned the school district’s decision to close three underperforming charter schools when the school year ends.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.