Chicago voters would get to decide who sits on the city’s school board in the next two municipal elections under a bill that passed the Illinois House on Thursday and now moves to the state Senate.
All Chicago-based legislators voted in favor of advancing the bill, which would allow for the election of members of the Chicago Board of Education “for the 2023 and 2027 consolidated primary elections only” and requires the General Assembly to “review and revise the election of members of the Chicago Board of Education” at a later date.
A graduate of Chicago Public Schools, state Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, said the bill “will allow — for the first time in a long time — for Chicago to have” the same democracy as other municipalities that elect their local school boards.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin led the questioning for his side of the aisle, asking whether or not elected members would be compensated — Ramirez said they would not be — and whether or not House and Senate leadership would take up Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed hybrid school board model that would allow some members to be elected and others appointed.
The Western Springs Republican said Lightfoot told him Wednesday House and Senate leadership “walked away” from that proposal — the mayor’s hybrid board legislation was filed later Thursday, after lawmakers voted on the House bill.
Ramirez said she knew the mayor’s office was drafting legislation, but she had not seen it.
A spokesman for state Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said he “looks forward to reviewing it.”
For Durkin, the different pieces of legislation seemed to be more about a “personality conflict” than about a substantive issue.
“I’m not sure what the problems are that has prompted this — it seems to be more of a personality conflict that happened when Mayor Lightfoot was elected, because she was the candidate that was not sent,” Durkin said, referring to the Chicago Teachers Union’s support for rival candidate Toni Preckwinkle.
“And what happened immediately after she was sworn into office? Controversy with the CTU, strikes, more strikes threatened … What’s driving this is clearly not substance but a personality conflict with the sitting mayor.”
House members voted 71 to 39, with three voting present, to send the bill to the Senate.
Lightfoot has been a staunch opponent of the legislation, which she has called “unwieldy.”
A party spokeswoman for the Cook County Board president, who doubles as chair of the county’s Democratic Party, has said past squabbles have nothing to do with the current legislation.
A Senate committee passed a different bill creating an elected school board on Wednesday, allowing that version to move to the Senate floor for debate, though some members, including Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, said it was important to continue negotiations to “come up with the absolute best process and the best model that we can” for students and families, the majority leader said.
“There’s so much that goes into this huge change that we will be making, for the better is my hope, but we can’t do it because we’re siding with this group versus that group,” the Maywood Democrat, who is the sponsor of the hybrid school board bill, said.
State Sen. Rob Martwick, sponsor of that chamber’s bill, said he was open to amending it, but the Northwest Side Democrat said concerns mentioned Wednesday were already considered.
“Whether it does it adequately or not, I guess we can debate about that,” he said. “I am always open to hearing how we can improve it.”
Thursday’s House action also including passing bills that would regulate trampoline parks in the state, an amendment to the state’s vehicle code that would allow a driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to be charged with a felony if they strike or kill “a police, service, accelerant detection dog, or search and rescue dog,” according to the language of the bill. Another bill the House passed would require colleges and universities to have menstrual hygiene products in their restrooms.
In the Senate, resolutions passed declaring a day in honor of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and a week “in honor of the young child.”
State Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Moline, rose to eulogize his mentor, and former Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, who died of cancer last week. Schilling held a Quad Cities area seat from 2011 to 2013.
“Bobby ran to win the race and finish the fight,” Anderson said. “He was a good congressman and a good man. But more than anything he was a good friend.”
Rachel Hinton reported from Chicago, Andrew Sullender from Springfield