A history of the structure and administration of Chicago’s Board of Education: Part II

By: Quinn Newman and Ryley Bruun

The following is a continuation of Part I. You can read it here.

The Chicago Board of Education Pre-1995

The Chicago Board of Education was created in 1872 and contained an 11-member board to govern the district. Despite all other 851 boards being elected in the state, Chicago’s board was appointed by the mayor. This was most likely done to keep the board non-political in a growing economic hub like Chicago. However, this was not for the city’s benefit. By the 1970s Chicago Public Schools (CPS) would come under incredible scrutiny. 

By 1979, CPS had lost access to its credit as its bonds were classified as C rated due to declining revenues from a shrinking property tax base. Throughout the 1970s, many white families migrated to the suburbs in the infamous “White Flight,” causing Chicago’s population to significantly decline during the 1970s. 

This decline included nearly 601,396 families which represented over 29 percent of the 1970 white population in the city. By 1990, a majority of new jobs in the Chicagoland area were established in the northwestern suburbs instead of the city, leaving those still in the city with a significantly worse economic situation. In effect, people moved out to the suburbs which resulted in decrease in property tax revenue.

Because Chicago was so reliant on local property taxes to fund the schools, this resulted in growing budget shortfalls. Overall funding for Illinois schools is determined by a formula from the federal government (9 percent), state government (27 percent), and local sources (64 percent). The vast majority of this revenue from local sources is property tax revenue.

An over reliance on property taxes and the lack of access to credit resulted in a funding crisis for the city of Chicago throughout the 1970s. The General Assembly responded by passing legislation to create the Chicago School Finance Authority (CSFA) in 1980 to help provide financial oversight of the city’s Board of Education and act as its de facto fiscal advisor to CPS. However, creation of the CSFA did not alleviate all problems and for the rest of the decade Chicago schools suffered. 

In 1987, the Secretary of Education for the Reagan administration William Bennett declared Chicago Public Schools as “the worst in the nation”and the General Assembly responded by passing the Chicago School Reform Act (CSRA) the following year to reorganize the board.

The CSRA first replaced the 11-member Board of Education with a mayoral appointed interim board to create a solution with key stakeholders, such as the mayor and the teachers.

This board was then replaced in 1989 with a 15-member board whose members were selected from a group proposed by a 23-member School Board Nomination Commission. The commission was appointed by the mayor but it was the commission that had the power to appoint the new board.

CSRA also created Local School Councils (LSCs), local school boards consisting of six parents, two teachers, two community representatives, a student and the principal. The idea was that because the mayor retain and appoint Board of Education Trustees, the LSCs allowed communities to democratize education decisions at their neighborhood level. Local School Councils remain in place to this day.

The 15-member board governed CPS up until 1995, where major reforms were again made by the General Assembly to help improve the city’s education system.

In Part III, Prairie State Policy will look at the history of Chicago’s Board of Education after 1995.

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