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

By: Quinn Newman and Ryley Bruun

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

1995 to Present: An Expansion of Mayor Control

The results of CSRA’s reforms at decentralization are difficult to measure, partly because every school was supposed to have an elected council made up of 6 parents, 2 community representatives, 2 teachers and a principal. The transition from a centralized system to a very localized one takes time, resources, dedication, and oversight; which limited restructuring investment was put in place for the transition. 

The restructuring process did not include training for everyone involved, nor implemented incentives for people to run for council, or create a system of accountability between councils, other schools, and the broader community. The council system also lacked people who wanted to run, leaving more than 1,000 positions open. On the accountability front, some council members changed student grades, improperly suspended students, and even abused students. 

In 1995 Springfield, the GOP controlled the Governorship, the Illinois House, and Illinois Senate. The GOP did not want to increase education funding but reform the system in some way. To compromise with Democrats, particularly then Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, the GOP’s initiatives were to put a hold on union strikes for 18 months, limits on union contracts, and the ability to more easily remove teachers. In exchange, powers were expanded to the Mayor of Chicago to appoint a CEO and a 5 member Board of Trustees for the school district. The compromise also included removing mandates to close a $150 million dollar budget gap for schools in 1995. 

The 1995 Chicago School Reform Amendatory Act was signed into law by then Gov. Jim Edgar without a media event due to wanting to avoid highlighting the conflict between the Mayor and the GOP controlled state legislature. While the act was supposed to be temporary for four years, it was expanded in the 1999 Amendatory Act to become permanent and allow for the school board to contain seven members. In 1996, the Illinois Charter School Law also passed through the state legislature allowing for the creation of 45 charter schools, with 15 dedicated to Chicago. Noble Network of Charter Schools opened its first campus in Chicago in 1999.

In 2001, Mayor Daley appointed Arne Duncan to CPS CEO in order to help improve declining schools and would become the longest serving big city education superintendent in the country. Duncan would later be appointed by President Obama as Secretary of Education in 2009, continuing to push school reform through the US based on Chicago’s reforms of 2004.

The Bush Administration’s passage of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires states to show continuous student improvement with required testing for grades 3rd through 8th in reading and math. Even if underperforming students at the beginning of the year improved dramatically from three years behind to one year behind, the NCLB Act would punish teachers for not bringing them up to their current grade level. 

Partly as a result of Chicago’s underperforming schools, the Illinois Legislature increased Charter Schools to a total of 60 in 2003, giving all 15 new charter schools to areas in the CPS district for a total of 30. In 2009, Charter Schools would increase to 120 for the state of Illinois, 70 Charter Schools would be dedicated to Chicago. 

In 2004, Mayor Daley officially announced Renaissance 2010 (Ren10), a plan to ‘redo’ underperforming schools, stating “[w]e must face the reality that–for schools that have consistently underperformed–it’s time to start over.” With Chicago schools being the third largest school district in the US, the Mayor intended on re-establishing over 10 percent of the schools throughout the city. Of these schools, one third would be new charter schools, another third as independent contract schools and the remaining third as small schools operated by the district. The Mayor’s plan resulted in over 70,160 students in Chicago experiencing school closings or total staff switch-ups since 2002. Of these students, 88 percent were black. Only 533 white students have experienced school closings throughout Chicago between 2002 and 2019. 

The above chart shows the demographics of CPS students. The two largest groups are Hispanics and African Americans who make up 46.7% and 36.6% respectively. White students account for 10.5% of the total CPS population. More information and data pertaining to demographics can be found at CPS.edu.

Under Ren10, underperforming schools were closed and replaced by new schools, two thirds of which were allowed to place qualifications on enrollment. Requirements such as needing to meet a certain testing score level in order to enroll in these new schools ensured that the new schools would not be cited for underperforming and thus not result in closure. For example, Edward Hartigan was closed in 2004 citing low performance, replaced by Bronzeville Lighthouse. Bronzeville Lighthouse was closed in 2018 citing low performance and was replaced by Bronzeville Classical Elementary School, a selective school which requires high test scores in order for students to enroll. These selective schools leave students behind who need the most support from the community. 

After Daley left office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel continued the Ren10 policy of school closures and replacement openly until 2013 when 50 schools were closed at one time, the most in US history. Even after Chicago placed a 5 year moratorium on school closures in 2013 (as a result of extreme backlash after closing or overhauling 200 schools since 2002) CPS used a method of zero enrollment where students would not get assigned to certain schools. For these schools, it meant that after the last students left or graduated the school would be closed, leading to the closure of 19 schools between 2013 and 2017. A WEBZ interactive guide to these closures between 2002 and 2019 highlights how communities of color are disproportionately affected and continue to be impacted by school closures, consolidations, and disinvestment. 

Mayor Emanuel’s first appointed CPS CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, stepped down after 17 months and was replaced by Barbara Byrd-Bennett. In 2015, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty for giving $20 million in contracts for SUPES Academy, a firm she once worked at. Having a CPS Salary of $250,000 a year, then into her third year as CPS CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett planned on receiving a bribe of $2.3 million, along with other hundreds of thousands of dollars in wire fraud once she would leave office. Barabara Byrd-Bennett was sentenced to 54 months in Federal prison. Forrest Claypool was Mayor Emanuel’s third CPS CEO in the time frame of four years, with Jesse Ruiz being an interim.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot ran her mayoral campaign with a promise to make the CBE an elected office and bold reforms to CPS, however, in 2019 she stated that she would keep the CPS CEO Janice K. Jackson and replace the entire board to her own choosing. Her announcement in 2019 of her choices drew praise from allies and a few city officials, while stating that any changes to the CBE would need to be a result of changes in laws in Springfield. Mayor Lightfoot has stated that she does not want CBE to be a“dictatorship” nor a rubber stamp council.

In Part IV, Prairie State Policy will look at what’s currently being deliberated in the General Assembly and the potential impact of an elected Chicago School Board.

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