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Elected School Board OK'd By Senate, Putting Rahm's Control Of CPS In Doubt

 Elected School Board protest.
Elected School Board protest.
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Chicago Teachers Union/CTUNet

CHICAGO — Chicagoans would be represented by an elected — not appointed — School Board under a measure that won approval late Wednesday by the Illinois Senate.

The Northwest Side sponsor of the bill predicted the dramatic change in how the city's schools are run will become a reality, saying "we are this close."

Amid a flurry of action on the last day of the General Assembly's regular session, the Senate voted 53-2 to approve the plan to end Mayor Rahm Emanuel's control of Chicago Public Schools.

The bill approved by the Senate — which would go into effect in 2023 — would create 15 board seats and launch an independent commission to draw district maps.

But that differs significantly from the version of the bill approved by the House May 25, which creates a 20-member board led by a president who would be elected to four-year terms. State lawmakers would determine how the city is divided into electoral districts.

Currently, the board is made up of seven members, including President Frank Clark, who are appointed by the mayor.

The changes made by the Senate mean the House — which approved the initial version of the bill 105-9 — will have to consider the measure again. Another vote could happen this month, when lawmakers return to Springfield to attempt to hammer out an elusive budget agreement.

State Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Jefferson Park), said in a video posted on his Facebook page that another vote was likely at the end of June.

"We are this close," Martwick said, holding his thumb and pointer finger roughly an inch apart. "I wish I could tell you this was all done, but we are getting closer and closer and that's good stuff."

A similar measure passed the Illinois House in March 2016 on a 110-4 vote, but never came to a vote in the Illinois Senate.

In 2015, Chicago overwhelmingly voted in a nonbinding referendum for an elected board. The idea was pushed by leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union, which called the absence of an elected school board the "most pressing civil rights issue" in Chicago.

Emanuel's office, as well as CPS leaders, lobbied against the statehouse bill.

Earlier this week, CPS head Forrest Claypool said an elected school board "would not change the fundamental problem, which is funding."

Also Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that remakes the way the state funds schools. Supporters said it makes the formula more fair for districts with a large number of low-income students.

Emanuel praised the bill, saying it "will bring much-needed stability to Illinois school districts, and I hope the governor does what is in the best interests of children across the state and signs this bill into law."

Gov. Bruce Rauner said in September that he opposed efforts to overturn the 1995 law giving Chicago's mayor control of the school district.

However, both chambers of the legislature passed the measure by a wide-enough margin that any veto by Rauner could be overridden.

During his 2015 re-election campaign for mayor, Emanuel opposed the push for an elected school board, saying since local school councils are picked by voters, Chicagoans' voices are heard.