Five key education questions for the mayoral candidates

The candidates’ answers to these questions will tell us what we really need to know when voting in February. CPS students need a mayor who is prepared to realize a powerful, inclusive vision of education.

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A sign is displayed on the front of the headquarters for Chicago Public Schools. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A sign is displayed on the front of the headquarters for Chicago Public Schools.

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Chicago’s next mayor will oversee one of the most significant changes in Chicago Public Schools history: the transition from mayoral control to an elected school board.

This transformation of district governance, signed into law over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s objections, will begin in 2025 with a hybrid board of 11 mayoral appointees and 10 publicly elected members. A fully elected school board takes over in 2027.

How will the mayor prepare CPS to thrive as an independent institution? Historically, very few big city mayors have ceded their power over the school district with grace and skill. Despite research showing that mayoral control does not positively impact academic outcomes, local advocacy groups like the Civic Committee have voiced staunch opposition.

The mayor will need to offer a clear vision and rally support from all stakeholders during this transfer of power, while ensuring CPS has the resources and backing necessary to provide a high-quality, equitable education for all students.

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While the move to an elected board is the overarching issue, there are other pressing problems the mayor will have to address along the way. Here are four more questions each candidate needs to answer.

How will you engage communities and prioritize racial equity in decisions making?

While CPS has both an Office of Equity and an Office of Family and Community Engagement, CPS’ Black and Latinx students are disproportionately enrolled in racially segregated schoolsunder-utilized schoolspoorly performing schools and in mandatory ROTC programs. The structural inequities that drive racialized inequalities, most importantly socioeconomic isolation, are amplified by student-based budgetingprivate fundraising and enrollment systems that increase segregation.

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A reimagined CPS must make Black and Latinx communities central to the decision-making process, which will require a persistent and earnest effort to build trust with communities of color. At the school level, this means reversing the precipitous drop in Black teachers and funding collaborations between schools and the local community.

How will you handle the district’s looming financial challenges? 

Behind the scenes Lightfoot has been working to shift costs once borne by the city to CPS to burnish the city’s ledger. Regardless of the political motivations behind the creative bookkeeping, there are significant financial challenges to reckon with.

The mayor and board will have to find ways to increase revenue and cut costs with a $600 million shortfall predicted by 2025. Lobbying in Springfield to meet the full promise of the state funding formula will be an important but uncertain tactic to close the gap.

As outgoing CPS Board Vice President Sendhil Revuluri notes in his resignation letter, CPS needs to produce a long-term financial plan that serves the students who are learning in the schools now.

How will you address CPS’ steadily declining enrollment?

CPS enrollment has been in decline for the 11th consecutive year, with 82,000 students departing over the past decade, largely from Black neighborhoods on the South and West sides. Combined with a net increase of 24 schools since 2001, the district has hundreds of unde-rutilized facilities that require expensive staffing and maintenance.

While it is easy to suggest that under-enrolled schools should be closed or combined, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disastrous shuttering of 50 schools in 2013 led to thousands of students fleeing CPS, academic outcomes declining and thousands of families harmed by the “chaotic” process.

Emanuel never grasped that school and community success are deeply intertwined. The next mayor will have to take a holistic view of CPS’ enrollment decline and draw strategic connections between educational policy, economic development and community investment.

How will you address the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on teachers, students and families?

During this holiday season many of us will be remembering the family members we lost to COVID-19. While there has been significant attention given to the lost instructional time during the COVID-19 pandemic, our failure to address the human, social and economic impacts on families has been demoralizing.

The Chicago Teachers Union successfully bargained for more social workers in schools, but less than 2/3rds have a full-time social worker. The mayor must demonstrate moral leadership as students and families process the accumulated trauma of the past years and integrate trauma-informed approaches throughout the district.

The candidates’ answers to these five questions will tell us what we really need to know when we vote in February. CPS students need a mayor who is prepared to realize a powerful, inclusive vision of education.

Charles Tocci is an assistant professor of education at Loyola University Chicago and the father of four CPS students. Alexios Rosario-Moore is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and a member of Mayor Lightfoot’s Education Transition Committee.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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