Let Noncitizens Vote in Chicago School Board Elections

Published originally in the Chicago Sun-Times on Feb. 15, 2024.

By Jessica Cañas, Hal Woods | February 16, 2024 |

We write in response to your recent editorial, "Legislators should move ahead on plan for an elected Chicago school board.” While we appreciated that it was insightful, we respectfully disagree with your stance that non-citizens should be denied the right to vote in Chicago school board elections.

As a city, it is past time we acknowledge and respect the significant role that non-citizen parents play in our education system.

Organizations such as Kids First Chicago, supported by parents and community members, have advocated for allowing any Chicago parent, regardless of immigration status, to vote in school board elections. Their position is supported by most Chicagoans surveyed in a fall 2023 Kids First Chicago poll, which revealed that roughly seven in ten respondents are in favor of this approach.

The momentum for such change is not confined to Chicago. San Francisco has already set a precedent by winning a court ruling that grants non-citizen parents the right to vote in school board elections. The issue has gained traction in Springfield as well, with a bill currently in the Senate, although further changes to the state constitution and Chicago voting laws may be required.

The importance of this issue has been recognized by Mayor Brandon Johnson, who campaigned on and included in his transition report a commitment to collaborate with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state legislators to extend voting rights in school board elections to noncitizens.

The involvement of noncitizens in local school councils, in which they are already permitted to vote and serve, exemplifies the positive impact of inclusive electoral practices. Extending these rights to Chicago school board elections is a rational and necessary step toward ensuring that all families have a voice in decisions that directly affect their children, schools and communities.

The rationale for allowing noncitizen parents to participate in school board elections is simple: their children are enrolled in our schools, and they contribute to the tax base that funds these schools. These families have a vested interest in the quality of education and deserve a say in decisions that affect their children's future.

Hal Woods, chief of policy, and Jessica Cañas, director of community partnerships, Kids First Chicago

This Letter to the Editor appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on Feb. 15, 2024.

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