A bitter battle over Chicago's ward remap has been front and center in the news lately, portrayed by the media as a power struggle between the Black and Latino caucuses. But nobody has started talking about the 20 brand-new Chicago school board districts that legislators will soon need to create.
Drawing a whole new map of school board districts is a complicated process that ought to be considered carefully. For starters, we need to talk about race and fair representation without allowing the conversation to be mischaracterized as a battle of Black vs. Brown. The racial demographics of Chicago are very different from those of the CPS student body: Chicago is almost one-third white, while CPS is 90% children of color.
Which one is the future elected school board more likely to look like? CPS or the City?
When lawmakers passed the elected school board law last year, we were promised an elected representative school board. Whether it will be more representative of the families who make up CPS or of the whole Chicago population remains to be seen. A lot of that will depend on the lawmakers who will draw these 20 new districts. The law says districts must be created by July 1, 2023, before the first elections take place in 2024.
If history is any guide, those districts will be drawn behind closed doors, without any input from the public, and driven by the political interests of those with the power of the pen.
This new elected school board presents an opportunity for Chicagoans to enjoy the benefits of more direct representation as board members will be accountable to voters for the first time. If CPS families feel that their votes matter, that their new members are responsive to their concerns, and that they can relate to those new board members, the new elected school board will start out as a public success.
On the other hand, if CPS families feel disconnected from the new board, whether because members don’t have children in the schools, because their campaigns were funded by special interest groups, or because board members don’t share the experiences of their constituents, this new elected body will lose the credibility and trust of the public before they can even begin their work in earnest. If the board significantly over-represents the White student population and under-represents the Black and Latino student populations, this may be the path we are headed down. Imagine how students of color will feel if they see a board that is half White, yet they attend a school that is entirely Black or Latino.
Our elected leaders in Springfield will have the opportunity to draw competitive new districts that can fairly represent the CPS student body and help ensure the success and public acceptance of the new elected school board.
So ask your State Senators and State Representatives, who will soon be facing their own reelection campaigns: what are you doing to deliver on the promise of an elected representative school board for CPS students?
Daniel Anello is CEO and Sean Schindl is Sr. Director of Community Engagement at Kids First Chicago (K1C). K1C is a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes equitable, parent-led, data-informed solutions to Chicago’s most complex education challenges. K1C led a series of intensive workshops with Chicago parents around the future of Chicago’s School Board and works with a task force of parents to advocate for improvements to the current law. Visit kidsfirstchicago.org.
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