Judge denies Chicago’s ‘right’ to elected school board

A federal district judge has rejected a claim made as part of a lawsuit brought by a group of residents and former Illinois Gov Pat Quinn, a Democrat, that would force the city of Chicago to adopt an elected school board, the Chicago Tribune reports.


(public school YouTube channel)

The lawsuit was filed in October and claims that the city’s practice of having the entire school board appointed by the mayor, who is currently Rahm Emanuel, also a Democrat, violates constitutional and civil rights. The school district, now the nation’s third largest, is an independent taxing authority, and the plaintiffs also claimed, therefore, that they were being taxed without having representation in this government unit.

Mr Quinn and his fellow plaintiffs were asking the court to order the Chicago Board of Education to come up with a plan to create an elected school board, but US District Court Judge Elaine E Bucklo rejected those claims in a 31-page opinion issued on February 13.

“Plaintiffs have no fundamental right to vote in school board elections as a matter of law, and the fact that residents of other Illinois jurisdictions have the privilege of voting in such elections in their districts does not confer such a right upon residents of Chicago,” she wrote, adding that the claims:

ignore the constraints that still exist under the current school code. Indeed, the statute establishes a statutory cap on the tax rate and further provides that any increase in annual rates “must be submitted to the voters of such district at any general or special election.” … [Residents’] argument that the legislature enacted a “switch to an even less democratic” process with the purpose of discriminating against African Americans is simply too speculative to support their claims.

The 1995 Act, referred to in the above quote as the “statute” or “a less democratic process,” was enacted by Mayor Richard M Daley, also a Democrat, who therewith took over sole authority of the school board. This act undid one passed in 1988 under Harold Washington, the city’s only black mayor to date, which gave voters some control over selecting the school board. Mr Washington’s act was generally viewed as being favorable for minority parents.

Residents said in their complaint that Mr Daley’s act was a racially motivated move to appease mostly white property and business owners. “The purpose of the 1995 Act was to limit the ability of minority race voters to determine how much of that property wealth can be taxed and used almost entirely for the education of minority race children,” the complaint stated.

Members of the Oregon School Boards Association were in Washington last month as part of the National School Boards Association’s 2017 Advocacy Institute. The Advocacy Institute included two days of workshops to help more than 600 school board members from around the nation understand the policy and political climate related to K-12 education issues in Congress, the OSBA said in a press release.

The state’s delegation said members of Congress appreciated the important role locally elected school boards play in determining how children in their communities are educated. The growing trend, not seen in Oregon as much, is for an increasing role played by governments in education through increased mandates and conditions for funding. OSBA’s delegation said Oregon’s school districts need federal mandate relief and flexibility so scarce resources can be focused on increasing student achievement.

So of course a state school boards association can be expected to advocate for elected school boards, and educators generally agree that they’re closer to the people. But a school board appointed by another elected official is at least accountable to the people through that official, although the running of the schools isn’t likely to be the top agenda item for that politician.

It’s just that taking this idea—that an elected school board is a constitutional right—to a courtroom appears to be a dead end and a waste of legal, political, and even social capital.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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