One of the issues that CTU took up during the strike was that the CPS school board is appointed not elected. Every school district in Illinois has some sort of an appointed school board except Chicago, and 96 percent of school districts nationwide have an elected school board. So, why does Chicago take so much issue when it comes to having an elected school board?
Firstly, it wasn't always that way. It wasn't until 1995 that the Illinois State Legislature signed a law that allowed then-Mayor Daley to have an appointed school board, and only the Illinois legislature can change that rule. What has the school board accomplished since then?
A report released in Nov. 2011 by the University of Chicago Consortium showed that the reform efforts led by the Board have actually hurt minority students, or, in other words, 90 percent of the CPS population. The Board initiatives of top-down accountability, a sharp focus on standardized tests' results, and an expansion of selective-enrollment schools, including charter schools, has expanded a two-tier education system in Chicago. How can a board that is supposed to help the students of CPS succeed be hindering them instead? Just who are the members of this exclusive club?
Chicago's Board of Education is wrought with corporate executives in a city where 87 percent of students enrolled in CPS are low-income. That means eighty-seven percent of families in CPS have no say on the reforms that are supposed to benefit their children's education. However, School board member Penny Pritzker, of Hyatt Hotels, recently benefited from a $5.2 million TIF subsidy around the time that CPS's proposed 2013 budget chose to cut seven schools that surround the hotel by $3.4 million. For those of you that don't know, TIF's are tax increment financing calculated per area of Chicago that are meant to benefit the public. Except in this case.
Yet, when the people of Chicago find out about these injustices and pressure the school board for change, the Board is unresponsive to the community's input and concerns. Some parents have even gone to extreme measures to be heard and have held hunger strikes and a 43-day occupation of a field house to get their school a library.
So, Chicagoans have a greedy, non-responsive, and corrosive policy-creating appointed school board, what can they do about it? They can vote to help change that on Nov. 6 by going to the ballot boxes and checking the box that says "I want an elected school board." Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE) presented 10,000 signatures to the Chicago Board of Elections in August and got the elected board referendum on the ballot. If it passes, the vote can put impetus on the illinois legislature to change the 1995 law. What will it mean for CPS if it gets an elected school board?
An elected school board means, in short, democracy for CPS. School boards are key links between education and democracy. An elected board will make citizens take a greater interest in their schools. When citizen involvement diminishes, so does the commitment to public institutions like public schools. Elected school boards also shield schools from local politics and allow the members to serve in the best interests of the schools. There's also an added benefit of accountability when school boards become elected. If a member of the school board isn't up to par, the families of CPS students can vote them out. Diversity in the school board will also flourish if the Board is elected. The average CPS parent, minority and low-income, will have the opportunity to have their voice heard without resorting to hunger strikes.
Public schools can only be as good as the public support behind them. So, teach CPS students about the value of democracy, and vote yes on Nov. 6 for an elected school board. Oh, and did I mention 77 percent of Chicagoans are already in favor of an elected school board according to a WGN poll. Seems like an easy choice to me.
Check here to see if it will be on the ballot in your precinct. Enter and submit your address. Once you're on the next page, click on "sample ballot."
Check out my other posts on CTU and education: