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As a CPS parent, I would welcome a fully elected Chicago school board

While the children of our city are in real crisis, CPS is barely meeting their needs.

Members of the Grassroots Education Movement, made up of parents of Chicago Public Schools students and community leaders, protest at City Hall for an elected School Board.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Standing with hundreds of other Chicagoans outside of Lori Lightfoot’s home on the occasion of her two-year anniversary as mayor, it occurred to me that we shouldn’t have to be here.

Lightfoot told us she would lift all of Chicago to rise together. But that hasn’t happened. Speaking as a Chicago Public Schools parent, I think Lightfoot has consistently put her interests over the needs of Chicago’s children in a global pandemic. No more.

Case in point: Chicago’s unelected, undemocratic, mayoral-controlled school board. Existing gaps in school funding, staffing and student social emotional support have been magnified by COVID-19. While the children of our city are in real crisis, CPS is barely meeting their needs. Instead, Lightfoot mostly awarded 2020 COVID relief funding to police and businesses. With $1.8 billion of 2021 relief funding coming, the only way to ensure enough goes to our kids is to end mayoral control of the school board.

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Currently, there are three elected school board bills in the Illinois Senate. Two of the bills would mean democracy for Chicago public education, while one would mean more of the same.

SB2497 would establish a 21-member elected school board starting in 2022. HB2908 divides Chicago into 20 electoral districts starting 2022. Both of these bills would ensure a wide swath of school board candidates from across the city, which is crucial in creating a oard that better represents all CPS families.

The third bill, SB827, offers two elected seats and five appointed seats in 2026, increasing to three elected seats and eight appointed seats in 2028. The mayor would name the board president and vice president and draw district maps. The bill also would sunset in 2030. SB827 passage would guarantee widening inequality for Chicago public school families.

Chicago parents deserve to be elected from their communities to help make decisions for their children’s education. The time for a fully elected school board is now.

Naoma Nagahawatte, Advocacy Director, Raise Your Hand

First degree murder and parole

In 1978, Illinois changed its sentencing laws to convert from indeterminate sentences to sentences set within a range. That’s fine, but the law added a terrible addendum: those sentenced for first degree murder had to complete their full sentences. No longer eligible for parole, they were certain to die in prison.

Those already serving long sentences were excluded from the new guidelines, however, and given a C number to distinguish them as being eligible for parole. Last year, 80-year-old C number Chester Weger was paroled after serving 60 years for a 1960 triple murder. This month, 76-year-old C number Ray Larsen was paroled after serving 49 years for a 1972 murder.

Releasing such defendants will save precious tax dollars needed to prosecute and imprison young, still dangerous offenders. It will help reduce the tax burden for every resident of Illinois.

Releasing the old and infirm after they’re no longer a threat, however, is also the humane thing to do — regardless of the grotesqueness of their long-ago crimes.

Walt Zlotow, Glen Ellyn