School & District Management

Former Obama Adviser Appointed to Chicago School Board

By Denisa R. Superville — December 17, 2018 2 min read
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A former economic adviser to President Barack Obama will be the newest member of Chicago’s appointed school board.

Austan Goolsbee will join the seven-member school board, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week. Emanuel appoints the board members, who are responsible for governance and fiscal oversight of the district.

Goolsbee, who is currently a professor at The University of Chicago’s Booth Business School, served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and as a cabinet member in the Obama administration.

Emanuel is also a former Obama administration alum. He was President Obama’s first chief of staff before heading back to Chicago to run for mayor. Emanuel announced in September that he would not seek reelection to a third term in the February mayoral contest. He was forced into a run-off with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in 2015.

The Chicago Teachers Union, a frequent Emanuel critic, chastised the mayor for his choice, saying that the school system was still suffering from the “consequences of a foreclosure crisis that the administration he served in Washington failed to address.

“We can—and we must—do better,” the union’s president, Jesse Sharkey, said in a statement.

“This unilateral appointment by a lame duck mayor only sharpens the need to give Chicagoans what they have demanded for years: an elected, representative school board that provides the people of our city with the commitment to public education our children and their families deserve,” Sharkey said. “We need an end to the neoliberal policies, runaway privatization and insider contracts that have undermined our schools.”

The CTU has long backed having an elected school board in Chicago. In 2015, city voters approved a non-binding resolution expressing support for a locally-elected school board.

Goolsbee does not have a track record in the K-12 public school system, but according to Chalkbeat, he’s written on policies that impact the K-12 sector, including the economic basis for universal pre-K.

In his announcement, Emanuel said that Goolsbee will bring his experience as a teacher and educator “to expand quality opportunities across Chicago and help address issues facing the district.”

“Austan has a lifetime of knowledge and leadership as an educator in Chicago, and will work tirelessly to improve our schools and fight for educational opportunities that support the unprecedented academic progress our students are making,” Emanuel said.

“Our students deserve the absolute best, and he is inimitably qualified to further strengthen the Board of Education and lead the District into the future so that all families in every Chicago neighborhood can benefit.”

For his part, Goolsbee called the school system “one of our crown jewels,” and said that he was looking forward to working with the district’s CEO Janice Jackson to ensure that the city’s schools work for all.

“The Chicago Public School system is the backbone of the Chicago economy and its workforce,” Goolsbee said. “It has become perhaps the finest large urban school district in the nation.”

While Emanuel is not running for a third term, several of the candidates seeking to replace him have deep connections to the district.

Photo: Austan Goolsbee, the newest member of the appointed Chicago school board, listens as President-elect Barack Obama, not pictured, speaks at a news conference in Chicago in 2008. --Charles Dharapak/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.