In Chicago, mayoral hopeful Lori Lightfoot’s education plan: 4 big ideas

Update: On Feb. 26, Lori Lightfoot advanced to an April 2 mayoral runoff election against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

In a 15-point plan for Chicago Public Schools, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday proposed taxing rideshare drivers to fund free public transportation for students, building an early childhood education system that starts at birth, and more.

Lightfoot, an attorney who formerly oversaw police discipline cases as president of the Chicago Police Board, is one of 15 candidates running for mayor. She’s not considered a frontrunner.

But Lightfoot’s ideas provide fodder for discussion of some critical education issues that have taken a back seat in the race. Here’s a look at four of her more unconventional proposals.

Taxing suburban rideshare drivers who work in the city — to help fund free transit for students

Lightfoot would work with the school district and the Chicago Transit Authority to provide free transportation for Chicago students to and from school, and expanded reduced-fare cards at other times for students in after-school programs. She suggested  paying for this in part through via fees levied on rideshare drivers who don’t live in Chicago but operate in the city.

“There are a lot of people coming to Chicago who live outside Chicago to drive rideshare here in the city, and it’s adding exponentially to the number of cars we have on the streets by the tens of thousands. It’s adding to the wear and tear on our infrastructure. It’s adding to pollution concerns,” she said.

An early childhood education system that starts at birth

Lightfoot said she would pilot “early childhood education zones” providing childcare, education and support services, to children from birth to age 4, based on family need. She would place early education centers in closed or underutilized neighborhood schools. To pay for all this, she suggests tapping federal child care assistance programs, proceeds from sales of unused district buildings, state funding, and  philanthropic and business contributions.

Cutting executive sessions short at the school board to improve transparency

Lightfoot wants to shake up Chicago Board of Education meetings by ending the board’s practice of holding lengthy executive sessions behind closed doors, with the exception of personnel matters and other sensitive issues. She said the public should witness deliberations about contracts, other financial decisions, staff briefings and other things the board discusses out of public view.

“Right now the board does all of its substantive work in executive session, behind closed doors,” Lightfoot told Chalkbeat Chicago. “I think that’s a terrible mistake. I think it undermines confidence in the board’s decisions.”

Convening a districtwide equity council

Lightfoot said she would issue an equity policy statement outlining goals, and convene a districtwide equity council of educators to oversee compliance. She suggests employing a “Racial Equity Impact Assessment,” as used in other school districts,  to weigh how policies and decisions could affect various racial groups before new initiatives are launched. Lightfoot pointed toward the district’s response to the sexual abuse scandal as one instance when such a policy would have come in handy.

“No one has stepped back and said, what’s the impact on students of color?” she said.