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Public Finance for Public School Elections: the Case for a Public Financing Model for Chicago’s Elected Representative School Board

Lead 2022 Senior Fellows: Cliff Helm (2019 Fellow), Jianan Shi (2020 Fellow) and 2022 Fellows: S. Mayumi "Umi" Grigsby, Riley Jones, IV, Janet Vargas, Ana Agarrat, Christina Rivero, Dixon Romeo, Dakarai Howard, Kate McMahon

The Public Financing project assessed the implementation of an equitable public financing system for the Chicago-elected representative school board.

The goal for the Public Financing project was to understand the landscape of public financing across the country through an equity lens and to assess the viability, feasibility and practicality of implementing a public financing system for the Chicago-elected representative school board.

The Why

Chicago must look at campaign finance mechanisms that make it more accessible for those who are most impacted by education policies to run for office in our first-ever school board election.

In 2024, Chicago will have its first-ever school board election. For decades, mayoral control and top down policies have had disproportionately negative impacts on the Black and Brown families that make up Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The elected school board was a decades-long campaign organized by families and educators who believe those most impacted by the issues should be able to hold board members directly accountable. Like in all political contests, there are numerous barriers that potential candidates face, including the role of money in elections. As Chicago navigates this new form of democracy, we must look at campaign finance mechanisms that make it more accessible for those who are most impacted by education policies to run for office.

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The Collaborators

This project was led by CUE Senior Fellows Cliff Helm and Jianan Shi, with contributions from research completed by 2022 CUE Fellows.

The two CUE Senior Fellows who worked on this project are Cliff Helm, Program Counsel at Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Jianan Shi, Executive Director at Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. Local and nationwide research was also completed by 2022 CUE Fellows: Ana Agarrat, Christina Rivero, Dixon Romeo, Riley Jones, Umi Grigsby, Dakarai Howard, Janet Vargas, and Kate McMahon.

The How

We researched the different types of public financing mechanisms and connected with local organizations to learn about their impact on educational policies in communities of color.

We started our research by identifying and examining the different types of public financing mechanisms used across the country. The three primary models we searched were matching funds, lump sum grants (often described as “Clean elections” programs), and democracy dollars/vouchers. We deepened this research by examining its implementation and design in respective states and cities, the history of the organizing/advocacy that led up to the work and its potential implications given Illinois law. CUE fellows then reached out to local organizations to learn more about the impact it has had on communities of color most impacted by education policies and other potential considerations not found in the research.

The Outcomes

We will produce a report that lays out the history of the Chicago School Board and campaign financing, and assess how public financing mechanisms would impact our newly elected school board.

The outcome of this project will be a report that lays out 1) the important context around the Chicago school board and campaign financing in Illinois, 2) a national look at school board campaigns across the country, 3) the different types of public funding for elections, 4) a review of the models through a racial equity lens, and 5) how to set up a future Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) on how public financing mechanisms would impact Chicago’s elected representative school board.

The CUE Influence

CUE allowed us to incubate the Public Financing project and bring a racial equity analysis to campaign financing reform in Illinois.

Chicago United for Equity allowed us to incubate, research and start the process for having a larger conversation around campaign financing reform in Illinois. Through the creation of this report, the Public Financing project wants to bring a racial equity analysis on how to make school board elections more accessible to families who are most impacted by education policies.