Illinois Issues: A Schooling in Democracy
By Tara García Mathewson
When parents in Elgin have a problem with their district’s board of education, they have the opportunity to vote elected members out of office. The same is true in Springfield, Decatur, St. Charles, Aurora, Peoria, Rockford, Bloomington, Evanston, Joliet, DeKalb and Wheaton. In fact, it is true in every Illinois school district except Chicago.
Chicago Public Schools is one of the few districts nationwide to have a school board composed of appointed members. Mayor Rahm Emanuel hand-picks the seven-member board, just like Mayor Richard M. Daley before him. If Chicago parents have a problem with the direction of the district, their only electoral recourse is voting out the mayor.
In 1995, the state legislature gave Daley complete power over the school district. Before that, the city council or the mayor appointed members with input from other committees. Community organizations used to make recommendations, but Chicago voters have never elected the governing board of the school district since CPS was founded in 1837.
Democratic Rep. Robert Martwick, whose House District is based in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, calls himself a “democracy purist.” When community groups asked him if he supported an elected school board while he was first running for office in 2011, the answer, for him, was a no-brainer.
“I just feel like citizens, especially when you’re forced to pay taxes and the government that you’re forced to pay taxes to has such a large and dramatic effect on your life, we’re supposed to, in this country, have a say,” Martwick says.
Click here to read the full story at NPR Illinois and listen to a radio interview about the story.