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Chicago inches toward elected school board after House vote

June 17, 2021 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago moved a step closer to having an elected school board under a measure approved Wednesday by the Illinois House.

The House voted 70-41 on a plan that would phase out the current decades-old system where the mayor appoints seven board members and create a 21-member elected board by 2027. The plan, which has already won Senate approval, requires Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. The first-term Democrat has supported the idea.

Chicago is among the few American cities to have a school board entirely appointed by a mayor. Los Angeles has a seven-member elected school board while in New York a 15-member panel is partly appointed by the mayor.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was elected in 2019, supported the idea of an elected school board while running for office but has objected to the current plan as “deeply flawed” and “unwieldly.” Her spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday.

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Under the proposal, the shift would start with the November 2024 ballot, with 10 elected members and 11 appointed by the mayor, including the board president. Two years later, all 21 members — 20 from districts drawn by legislators plus one elected at large — would be chosen by voters.

Supporters, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have said that an elected school board will better represent neighborhood concerns in the nation’s third-largest school district. Chicago voters polled on an elected school board in 2015 strongly supported the idea.

“Today’s vote represents the will of the people, and after more than a quarter of a century, moves our district forward in providing democracy and voice to students and their families,” the union said in the statement.

However, critics have said that an elected school board will lead to expensive races that’ll invite involvement from special interest groups. Some legislators have called for additional rules on campaign finance limits.

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The legislation is HB2908.