Five key educational questions for mayoral candidates

The next Mayor of Chicago will oversee one of the most significant changes in Chicago Public Schools history: the transition from mayoral control to an elected school board.

This transformation of district governance, which was signed into law over the objections of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, will begin in 2025 with a mixed council of 11 appointed mayors and 10 publicly elected members. The fully elected school board takes over in 2027.

How did the mayor prepare CPS to develop as an independent agency? Historically, very few mayors of large cities have gracefully and skillfully relinquished their power over the school district. Although research shows that mayoral control does not have a positive impact on academic outcomes, local advocacy groups such as the Civic Committee have voiced strong opposition.

Mayors need to offer a clear vision and garner support from all stakeholders during this transfer of power, while ensuring CPS has the necessary resources and support to provide high quality and equitable education to all students.

While moving to an elected council is an overarching matter, there are other pressing issues the mayor will have to tackle along the way. Here are four more questions every candidate needs to answer.

How will you involve the community and prioritize racial equality in decision making?

While CPS has an Equality Office and an Office of Family and Community Engagement, CPS Black and Latino students are disproportionately enrolled in racially segregated schools, underutilized, underperforming schools, and in mandatory ROTC programs. The structural inequalities that drive racial inequality, most importantly socioeconomic isolation, are reinforced by student-based budgeting, private fundraising, and enrollment systems that increase segregation.

A reorganized CPS must put Black and Latino communities at the center of the decision-making process, which will require persistent and conscientious efforts to build trust with communities of color. At the school level, this means reversing the drastic decline in the number of black teachers and funding collaborations between schools and local communities.

How will you handle the financial challenges looming in this district?

Behind the scenes Lightfoot has been working to shift costs once borne by the city over to CPS to polish the city ledger. Regardless of the political motivation behind creative bookkeeping, there are significant financial challenges to be reckoned with.

Mayors and councils must find ways to increase revenues and cut costs with an estimated $600 million shortfall by 2025. Lobbying in Springfield to deliver on the state’s full funding formula promises will be an important but uncertain tactic to close the gap.

As CPS Council Vice President Sendhil Revuluri noted in his resignation letter, CPS needs to create a long-term financial plan that caters to the students attending the school now.

How do you deal with declining CPS registrations?

CPS enrollment has declined for 11 straight years, with 82,000 students departing over the last decade, mostly from Black neighborhoods on the South and West sides. Combined with a net increase of 24 schools since 2001, the district has hundreds of unused facilities that require expensive staff and maintenance.

While it is easy to suggest that under-registered schools should be closed or merged, the closure of 50 schools by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013 caused thousands of students to flee CPS, academic results plummeted and thousands of families were harmed by the “chaotic” process.

Emanuel never understood that school and community success were inextricably linked. The next mayor must take a holistic view of declining CPS enrollments and draw strategic links between education policy, economic development and community investment.

How will you cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teachers, students and families?

During this holiday season many of us will remember family members lost to COVID-19. Despite the significant attention paid to lost teaching time during the COVID-19 pandemic, our failure to address the human, social, and economic impact on families has been demoralizing.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union managed to offer more social workers in schools, but less than 2/3 had full-time social workers. Mayors must demonstrate moral leadership as students and families process the accumulated trauma of recent years and integrate a trauma information approach across the district.

Candidate answers to these five questions will tell us what we really need to know when we vote in February. CPS students need a mayor who is ready to realize a strong and inclusive educational vision.

Charles Tocci is an assistant professor of education at Chicago’s Loyola University and father of four CPS students. Alexios Rosario-Moore is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and a member of Mayor Lightfoot’s Education Transition Committee.

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