More than half of candidates running for a seat on Chicago’s elected school board attend virtual forum

More than half of the candidates running for one of 10 elected seats on the new, hybrid Chicago Board of Education gathered at a virtual forum Wednesday evening to introduce themselves and their platforms.

Funding neighborhood schools, improving disability services and literacy rates, and balancing the district’s budget were among the issues discussed at the event, which was hosted via Zoom by the education nonprofit Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education.

The forum largely focused on addressing the inequity of resources in district schools while balancing CPS’s planned $9.9 billion budget for the upcoming 2024-25 school year.

The twenty-five candidates in attendance—ranging from educators to activists to lawyers—lamented the district’s current financial situation, some offering possible sources of revenue.

“I like to say CPS is a $9 billion organization with hundreds of thousands of lives, over 600 schools,” said Kimberly Brown, a candidate from the 4th district, adding that an elected board offers the oversight needed to tackle CPS’s budget concerns. “And this is a really big deal,” she said

“We’re gonna have to make some tough, tough choices,” said Thomas Day, also of the 4th district, adding that spending increases in CPS in recent years have not yielded better results for students in terms of literacy and attendance.

Day, for example, said a comprehensive audit of CPS and lobbying for state lawmakers to revisit pension reform for the district is needed.

And, as many candidates spotlighted equity concerns, they said electing a school board is the first key political step to remedying the inequities they see in CPS.

“This school board must be the school board of courage, Aaron “Jitu” Brown, a candidate in the 5th district, said about his hope for the race. “Because for the last 30, 40 years, the budget of Chicago Public Schools has been used as a pig’s trough by those who have systematically disinvested in the education of young people based on how they look and where they live.”

Raise Your Hand’s “Meet the Candidates” event was the first public discussion of candidates’ platforms on these issues across the districts. There have been a few local district discussions with candidates, according to Chinella Robinson, the Local School Council parent organizer at Raise Your Hand, but this conversation was the first public discussion with participation from a majority of the 10 districts.

“This is a very important race that will be on the ballot in November,” Robinson said, saying the school board race has not been getting the attention it deserves. “We just want to make sure that people know that,” she said, adding that even those who don’t have children or are not plugged into education issues will be voting and should be informed about their choices.

Chicago Public Schools said they are enthusiastic about upcoming forums.

“Board Elections will usher in a transitional period as these volunteers acclimate to their new roles and responsibilities,” a CPS spokesperson said in a statement. “We welcome any forums that help our community become more informed about the candidates before the fall election.”

Roughly 130 parents, teachers, advocates and community members listened to the discussion. Staff members at Raise Your Hand moderated the forum, which included brief remarks by a few selected community members.

Raise Your Hand said they reached out to all 47 candidates (before three candidates dropped out of the race on Tuesday, leaving the current count across all districts at 44) for Wednesday’s forum. They plan to hold another virtual forum on Aug. 1 to discuss the major issues and candidates’ positions.

Wednesday’s forum was the latest development in what is shaping up to be a competitive race to elect 10 members to the Chicago Board of Education.

With less than four months until the Nov. 5 general election, the Chicago Board of Elections is just beginning the resolution process for a flurry of objections against more than half of the candidates, many of whom were present at Wednesday’s forum. The ballot is not expected to be finalized until Aug. 29, but even then, candidates may be added back to the ballot after that date if they successfully appeal the decision to remove them.

Hearings for objections to candidates in the races began on Tuesday, with the resolution process expected to stretch into the coming weeks. Three candidates—nonprofit administrator Danielle Wallace, educator Darius Dee Nix, and former Chicago Public Schools Principal James Walton—dropped out of the race Tuesday amid objections to their candidacy, narrowing the field slightly to 44 candidates across the 10 districts.

“This was done pretty hastily,” Robinson said of the debate since the deadline for candidate nominations was June 24 and the objection process is ongoing. “We did want to make sure that [all] candidates had the opportunity.”

Once the ballot has been finalized, Raise Your Hand staffers said they hope to organize an in-person debate.


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