A Brief History of the Board of Education

In 1851 the Illinois State Legislature gave the city council responsibility for the Chicago Public schools. The council hired the city's first school superintendent in 1854. In 1872 the Illinois State Legislature established a Board of Education, with members appointed by the mayor, to oversee all aspects of public education in Chicago. While other school districts in the state established elected school boards, Chicago remained unique in having a board appointed by the mayor.

In 1980, the state-mandated the Chicago School Finance Authority to exercise financial control over CPS, taking away some of the authority of the Board. 

In 1988, the Illinois State legislature passed the Chicago School Reform Act of 1988. This state law rewrote Article 34 of the Illinois School Code, the portion of state law that deals only with Chicago's public schools. The 1988 law established elected local school councils at each Chicago public school. The LSCs had significant power, including the sole authority to

  • select and evaluate the principal
  • approve an annual school improvement plan
  • help develop and approve a school budget, with major control over an average of $500,000 per year in flexible funds from the state.

The 1988 law also abolished the existing 11-member Board of Education. The law expanded the Board of Education to 15 and created a School Board Nominating Commission, composed of 23 parent and community representatives from LSCs across the city and five members appointed by the mayor. The Commission screened candidates and gave the mayor a slate of three candidates for each vacant position on the 15-member board. The mayor had 30 days to choose the 15 board members from the list submitted by the Nominating Commission. If the mayor rejected all three slated candidates for a particular slot, the commission had to come up with three more. The mayor’s choices had to be approved by the City Council.

In 1995, the Republican-controlled legislature, with the support of Mayor Richard Daley, the business community, and the governor of Illinois, passed the Chicago School Reform Amendatory Act. This act reversed the decentralized, local governance trend of the 1988 law. It concentrated power in the office of the mayor, giving him/her sole authority over CPS including:

  • Eliminated the School Finance Authority (SFA) and the School Board Nominating Commission
  • Mayoral appointment of Board members and top administrators.
  • Mayor, rather than the Board, selects the Board president
  • Created position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to oversee CPS administration.

The 1995 law gave the mayor sole authority to appoint a five-member School Reform Board of Trustees to serve through 1999. Thereafter, the mayor was to appoint a seven-member board with staggered, four-year terms. That’s what we have today.


Compiled by: Pauline Lipman, PhD

University of Illinois at Chicago



Joravsky, Ben. (1990, August 16). “Thankless task: how the mayor misused the School Board Nominating Commission.” Chicago Reader.http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/thanklesstask-how-the-mayor-misused...

Herrick, Mary J. (1971). The Chicago Schools: A Social and Political History. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Wong, Kenneth L. Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1122.html