Families Deserve a Voice in Chicago's School Board Decision

Published originally in the Chicago Tribune on Jan. 29, 2024.

By Blaire Flowers | January 30, 2024 |
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I am responding to the recent Tribune article “Legislators return to face funding issues” (Jan. 16) regarding the debate over the structure of Chicago’s first-ever elected school board.

I was particularly struck by Illinois Senate President Don Harmon’s comments indicating that he is waiting for “clear direction” from the mayor of Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools before pursuing the Senate’s proposal to have all 20 board members elected to two-year terms in November or the House’s proposal, which would have 10 members elected in November and empower the mayor to appoint 10 members and the board president in December.

While I understand Harmon would seek input from these voices, his reliance on them alone makes the same mistake our city has been making. This approach conspicuously leaves out those who have the most to gain or lose in this massive transition in governance: parents and students.

The history of public education in Chicago is marred by decisions made without sufficient input from those most affected — CPS families. The creation of an elected school board was supposed to rectify this disconnect, bringing democratic representation and family voice to a system that has long been criticized for its top-down approach. However, the current debate seems to be following the old playbook: keeping family voices outside the decision-making room.

Springfield legislators must remember that they are elected to represent all constituents, not just a select powerful few. For decades, families have advocated for a voice in the governance of CPS. Families are the foundation of our city’s education system, not politicians and bureaucrats. Their exclusion from this conversation is not only a missed opportunity for richer, more informed decision-making but also is antithetical to the very principles of representative governance.

As we stand on the verge of this historic shift in how we govern our schools, our elected leaders must recognize that families are not just passive recipients of education policies but also are active and essential participants in shaping them.

We urge Harmon and our state legislators to seek the insights and preferences of CPS families before making any decision. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let’s bring families to the table.

— Blaire Flowers, chair, Kids First Chicago Elected School Board Task Force

This Letter to the Editor appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Jan. 29, 2024.

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