A major change is about to come for Chicago in 2024: For the first time, voters will have the opportunity to elect the school board that will oversee Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This change has been in the works since legislation authorizing an elected school board passed in 2021, and while there are still details to work out, it is certain that the shift to an elected board will affect school leaders in CPS. Having a functional and responsive elected school board will be essential to provide good governance that will continue the favorable conditions in which CPS principals lead their schools. As these changes unfold, The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund) is committed to supporting school leaders as they navigate and successfully engage with the new board.
Unresolved Questions and Implications for the New Board
Even though the election is rapidly approaching, there are still several unresolved questions about how new board members will be chosen and how the board will operate. Most notably, the Illinois General Assembly has not yet set the districts from which board members will be elected. An attempt to draft maps during the fall 2023 veto session brought the House and Senate closer together on districts, but it also raised additional dissent on the requirements for board candidates and the schedule for electing board members — whether to have a half-elected, half-appointed board for two years as in current law, or to elect all 20 members (other than the president) at once in 2024. The legislature will have to resolve these questions early in their spring regular session to allow candidates to begin campaigning in advance of the June 24 deadline for nomination petitions.
Regardless of the outcome of these discussions, the Chicago Board of Education will triple in size from its current seven members to 21 members, making it one of the largest school boards in the country, and at least some (and eventually all) of the members will be chosen by voters rather than by the mayor. These changes will significantly alter the dynamics of the board, which means school leaders (as well as The Fund and our partners in the nonprofit sector) will need to develop new approaches for engaging with the board in its new form.
Researching Other Elected School Boards
To develop these approaches, we have researched other elected school boards to identify policies and practices that help them govern their districts effectively. Our findings show that the transition period is essential in setting the new board up for success, and that community-based and nonprofit organizations can help lay the groundwork for successful practices. Equipped with this knowledge, we have identified several ways to help school leaders — and Chicagoans in general — adapt to and support the new elected school board.
Encouraging Public Participation
This research from other districts also tells us that an elected board cannot be successful without robust public participation. However, a recent poll shows that only half of Chicagoans are even aware that the elected board is coming. To facilitate sharing information about the upcoming board, The Fund is partnering with a group of students through Mikva Challenge to develop communications tools and start discussions about how Chicagoans see the role of the school board in the governance of their schools.
Helping Chicago School Leaders Stay Informed and Connected
We are also working to ensure school leaders have ample opportunity to learn about and engage with the new board. Because school boards play such an important role in implementing district policies and monitoring progress toward goals, keeping strong communication between board members and principals is essential to setting the conditions for effective school leadership. As the future of the elected board continues to develop, The Fund is committed to sharing information with principals in a way that will help them effectively engage with these new stakeholders. Additionally, we are exploring new ways to help principals in this effort, including through our Educator Advisory Committee, which is currently developing policy recommendations for the board and other decision-makers.
Chicago’s principals are leading in a time of many changes, and none have the potential for such long-term impact as the shift to an elected school board. Many principals (and Chicagoans in general) remain unsure of how this will affect their schools. However, as we explore the implications of these developments, The Fund remains committed to ensuring principals have the knowledge and relationships they need to effectively lead their schools. As with all changes, the elected school board is an opportunity, and we will continue to ensure Chicago’s school leaders and citizens are well-positioned to seize it.