Our school district is almost uniquely undemocratic. The Chicago Board of Education levies more than $6 billion annually without the approval of any democratically elected body, truly taxation without representation. CPS is the only district statewide with a mayoral appointed board. Nationwide, 98 percent of all school districts have elected boards.
The lack of democracy disproportionately disenfranchises voters of color. Roughly 1 out of 3 Latinx students and 1 out of 2 African-American students in our state attend public school in a district where their parents can’t vote for school board. Nearly half of Illinois’ African-American residents cannot elect their school board—while for white Illinois residents only 13 percent cannot.
Almost a quarter century of an appointed school board has brought neither accountability, transparency nor integrity to our city’s public school system. Policies are enacted without genuine public input, budgets pass with little debate from the board, and capital spending happens ad-hoc and without a comprehensive plan. Instead of bringing stronger fiscal management, mayoral control has included extensive borrowing and the failure to make pension payments, as well as an expansion in the number of new schools during a period of declining enrollment. Equally damning for this system, a 2015 report from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that “there is no conclusive evidence that mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools or raising student achievement.”
A school board is supposed to act as a watchdog for the district, but mayoral control has not saved the district from scandal after scandal after scandal. Questionable contracts continue to be approved without scrutiny or public discussion by the board. A system of checks and balances is desperately needed, one where board members know they will be held accountable for their decisions at the ballot box.
An elected school board bill has overwhelmingly passed both chambers of our General Assembly previously. Now that we have a mayor who has said she wants this too, legislators stand at the ready with the votes to make it happen. Madam Mayor, it’s time to file some language on this statute.
Democracy delayed will continue to be democracy denied for Chicago families, taxpayers and voters. We’re done waiting.
Brenda Delgado-Als is board president of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. A Chicago Public Schools parent of three, she lives in the Washington Park neighborhood and has been elected to serve on LSCs as both a parent and community representative.
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via Crain’s Chicago Business
May 28, 2019 at 02:08PM