The Illinois House passed legislation Thursday that would create an elected school board in Chicago.
The bill, HB 557, which passed by a 110-4 vote, was introduced by state Rep. Rob Martwick (D-Chicago) "after seeing overwhelming resident support for the idea and in response to Chicago Public Schools' mounting financial problems."
If passed, the legislation would mandate that elected school board members serve one, five-year term starting with an election in 2018. Board members would be able to run for four-year terms following their first term. Chicago public schools would be divided into 20 districts by the general assembly and there would be one board chair that runs citywide, adding up to a total number of 21 board members.
"It will give to the residents and taxpayers, the parents, teachers and students of the city of Chicago a say in the future of their educational system," Martwick said in a speech on the House floor while asking for support. "That is really the best reform I can think of. When democracy fails, the answer is not less democracy, it's more democracy. That's what we've done here today."
State Rep. Will Guzzardi, who is a longtime supporter of an elected school board, released a statement detailing his take on today's developments.
"I've been fighting for years for an elected school board, alongside community organizers and education leaders around Chicago. After my first unsuccessful election in 2012, our volunteer leaders worked tirelessly on this issue, placing a referendum on the ballot in hundreds of precincts that year," said Guzzardi. "Since then, we've been working in our communities and in Springfield to mobilize support for an elected school board, and I'm incredibly excited to see our efforts bear fruit today. I was proud to support Rep. Martwick's leadership in building broad bipartisan consensus on this issue, and we're eager to see HB557 pass the Senate and get signed into law."
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis also responded to the news, calling on the state Senate to pass the bill.
"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. The CTU now calls on the Senate to pass this bill and give the voters what is long overdue--democracy in our education. 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," she said.
The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.