When will Chicago’s new map for the elected school board be ready? It’s unclear.

By Samantha Smylie - Oct 3, 2023 CHALKBEAT Chicago

People hoping to run for Chicago’s elected school board in the November 2024 election may have limited time to campaign as Illinois lawmakers are still working on a map defining the areas board members will represent. 

It’s unclear when state lawmakers will approve that map. The state set an April 1, 2024, deadline for completing it, after blowing through a July 1 deadline. Meanwhile, preparations for other local and state elections have already begun, with incumbents and challengers kicking off their campaigns for the primary in March 2024 and general election in November. Chicago’s school board elections are nonpartisan.

The Senate Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board is now reviving the conversation about the board map after being mum throughout the summer, and held its first public hearing on Tuesday evening. 

The transition to an elected board will be a major shift for the Chicago Board of Education, which has been under mayoral control since 1995.

Eli Brottman, a political consultant who testified at the hearing, noted the lack of transparency from the committee about the school board map and asked the committee to hold off on approving one during the General Assembly’s fall veto session, which starts in late October. 

“In order for the public to give quality feedback, they need to know what the timeline of this process is, so that they can provide that feedback in a manner that it can be received and implemented by this body,” said Brottman. 

Valerie Leonard, of Illinois African Americans for Equitable Redistricting, was among those who urged the committee to move faster so that potential candidates have enough time to campaign. 

“I really do see the urgency for people running now, because these are large districts,” said Leonard, whose group created a proposed map. “You really want to get out there and meet the voters, and you want to know where the boundaries are. So I would urge you to pass this during the veto session.”

One commenter asked the committee to consider another big change to school board practices: paying members for their time. Compensation is “a critical piece to allowing true representation of our elected board,” said Corrina Demma, who is a part of Educators for Excellence, a nonprofit group that advocates for teachers’ voice in education policy.

In 2021, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that established a 21-member school board for Chicago that will ultimately have all elected seats. Chicagoans will get a chance to vote for 10 members on Nov. 5, 2024, while the mayor will appoint the remaining 10 members and a board president. In November 2026, the 11 appointed seats will be up for election. By 2027, the board will be fully elected.

The newly constituted school board will be one of the the largest in the country. New York City’s school board has 23 members, who are appointed by the mayor and other city officials. In Los Angeles, there are seven elected school board members. Across the country, school boards typically have three to 15 members.

The creation of Chicago’s elected school board map has hit many roadblocks. In May, lawmakers released a draft mapthat proposed seven majority-white districts, seven majority-Black districts, and six majority-Latino districts. But that proposal drew criticism from advocacy groups that have put forward their own maps.

For the past year, some advocates have called on state lawmakers to draw a map reflective of the city’s public school student enrollment, not the city’s overall population. The city is 33% white, 29% Black, and about 29% Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2022. Chicago Public Schools’ student population, meanwhile, is 46.9% Latino and 35% Black, while white students make up 11.1%, according to enrollment numbers from last month

According to a 2022 survey by the Illinois Association of School Boards, school boards across the state are 80% white, 10% Black, 1.2% Latino, and 0.6% Asian. Enrollment data shows that the state’s student population is 46% white, 17% Black, 27% Latino, and 5% Asian.

The Senate plans to have another online public hearing next Thursday, Oct. 12 at 5 p.m. 

Correction: Oct. 4, 2023: New York City’s school board has 23 members. A previous edition of this story said it had 15 members.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education.