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In push to end strike, Democratic leaders show support for elected school board

Signaling a big push to try to end the strike, both Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Wednesday signaled support for an elected school board — a priority of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, right, in 2015. File Photo. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, showed support Wednesday for an elected school board, a public show of support for the Chicago Teachers Union.
Seth Perlman/AP file photo

SPRINGFIELD — In a possible attempt to help end the teachers strike, both Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Wednesday showed their support for an elected school board — a priority of the Chicago Teachers Union.

The CTU had pushed for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to publicly back the bill as a condition of a new teachers contract. But Lightfoot had resisted the call, saying it had no place in a contract. After the show of support for the measure by the legislative leaders Wednesday, the union dropped the demand.

Madigan was the first to release a statement on the legislation, reminding the public that the House has made efforts to try to pass an elected school board and to give the CTU more bargaining power — another bill the union wanted Lightfoot to support. The speaker said he will “again give full consideration to these proposals in the upcoming spring session.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the statement intended to serve as a reminder of his support.

“I think probably the CTU membership felt that a reminder was a good thing to have,” Brown said. “A good statement of support, if you will.”

Senate Democrats soon after sent a statement announcing they will push for both measures.

“I thank the Senate President for allowing the bill’s full consideration,” State Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, said in a statement regarding the elected school board.

Also, State Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, provided an update on the school board legislation via Facebook Live Wednesday afternoon.

Martwick, who previously served as a state representative, helped pass an elected school board measure four times in the Illinois House.

“I just received word that as a result of some of the negotiations regarding the Chicago teachers’ contract, this bill, the elected school board is going to receive full legislative consideration in the upcoming year,” Martwick said. “That’s right, ladies and gentleman, we are going to get a hearing on the elected school board here in the Senate, and hopefully we’ll vote on it and then really hopefully we pass it and it becomes law.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday also reiterated his support for an elected school board.

“The Governor believes every student in Illinois should have access to a quality public education and he looks forward to continuing the progress toward that goal next session,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. “The Governor has long expressed his support for an elected school board and changes to the collective bargaining process. He looks forward to reviewing the specifics when these bills reach his desk.”

Cullerton’s office in May told reporters that Martwick’s bill — which cleared the Illinois House on April 4 — was on hold, at the request of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who wanted to take a deeper dive into specifics.

When asked at a news conference Wednesday night about state legislators signaling support for measures creating an elected school board and strengthening CTU’s bargaining rights, Lightfoot said she’d heard otherwise.

In February, Martwick and Lightfoot famously got into a shouting match — at a campaign news conference Lightfoot called to denounce legislation Martwick filed that would change the Cook County assessor post from an elected to an appointed position.

Martwick had endorsed Toni Preckwinkle over Lightfoot in the mayoral race. Under Martwick’s school board proposal, the board would comprise 20 members elected in individual districts from around the city, compared to the seven appointed members currently on the Chicago Board of Education. And a board president would be elected citywide.

This is certainly not the first time legislators have tried to pass legislation to get Chicago an elected school board. Cullerton supported a measure in 2017, but the House didn’t act on it. Martwick re-filed the legislation this year.

Contributing: Jake Wittich