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Gov. Pritzker Says He Will Sign Bill To Establish Elected School Board In Chicago

The bill would phase in a fully elected Chicago school board by 2027, taking that authority out of the mayor's hands for the first time.

Governor JB Pritzker answers questions from the press as the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus discuss legislation that improves economic equity across Illinois at Kennedy-King College in Englewood on March 26, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker said Thursday he plans to sign a bill that would establish a 21-person, elected school board in Chicago.

He will do so over the objection of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who said this week that the bill establishing the board was “deeply flawed” and the 21-person size made it too unwieldy.

Speaking at a Thursday press conference about the state’s budget, Pritzker said he had supported the concept of an elected school board as a gubernatorial candidate.

“I thought it was important to make sure that there was a compromise reached — that people got together and talked about it to make it a better bill. They worked on it, produced one and I’ll sign it.” 

Asked about the size of the board, which would eclipse the size of school boards in other large school districts, Pritzker said, “I would have liked to see fewer. But I think that 21 is not unreasonable.”

The compromise bill that passed the Senate earlier this month and the Illinois House on Wednesday would phase in elections for a 21-person school board beginning in 2024, with some members elected and some appointed by the mayor. The board would be fully elected by 2027. Chicago’s current school board has seven members whom the mayor appoints.

The measure also includes a moratorium on school consolidations and closures through 2025, which could limit options for an incoming schools chief who will have to make tough decisions about a district losing enrollment.

Some lawmakers in the Illinois House shared concerns Wednesday that the bill is unfinished and lacks clarity on some critical details.

Lingering questions include how to untangle about $500 million in overlapped city and school district finances, whether to set campaign finance rules for elections, and how to divide the city into representative districts.

Lawmakers sponsoring the bill say they plan to take up some questions in the fall veto session. Responding to a question about potential changes to the measure during veto session in the fall, Pritzker said he did not have any additional details: “I know that there are discussions but I’m not sure how the bill will be changed.”

Cassie Walker Burke contributed reporting.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.