Charter Confusion

What a strange time it is for charter schools in Chicago.  The politics are fierce.  The signals are mixed.  Communication seems to have broken down.  The approval, review, and closure processes all seem a little broken.

This is all good for die-hard charter opponents, but it may or may not ultimately be a good thing for parents and children dealing with public schools in Chicago -- both low-income parents with few viable options and middle-class parents who don't want to leave CPS or the city but know that the "good enough" schools are way too few. 

While relatively few compared to other big cities, charters are as controversial if not more so than in other places -- especially this year given all the school closing and consolidation controversy.


The only things missing from the UNO story are an arrest, a TIF angle, or a link to the death of Michael Scott.

A new Tribune editorial praises CPS for closing two charters down -- Aspira Mirta Ramirez and Betty Shabazz International Charter School -- and putting six others on probation.

But at the same time, it  also urges the new Illinois State Charter School Commission to give full consideration to charter applications -- Concept Schools, Pathways,and Alcanzar -- that have been rejected by CPS for approval.

Charter advocates want fair funding, and access to facilities so that they can ramp up and get CPS somewhere near 25 percent charter.  They complain about poor communication from CPS, ever-changing performance standards, and the end of the five-year charter period. Some want a local CPS authorizer alternative to CPS.

Meanwhile, standalone charter design teams complain that getting approved by CPS has gotten ridiculously hard without a network or connections to CPS (as in Intrinsic).


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  • Charter schools, welcome to the club! You are now complaining about things that have been affecting the CPS neighborhood schools all along. Get over it.

  • Why does the district need to be 25% charter? What evidence supports that target? (And, no, other cities having higher percentages of charters than Chicago does not justify this goal.) Charter schools are merely an efficient way to undermine public education - they are distraction from the work of fixing the schools we have, a drain on resources, and a kick in the teeth to teachers' unions. We need real solutions beyond test prep and creaming of students. Sadly, charters aren't offering them.

  • While there is little question that most CPS teachers who read this blog are not on friendly terms with Mayor Emanuel following the strike experience, none the less it appears that the UNO affair has made him gun shy of the charter movement to a degree. I don't think that there is any question that the Mayor would like a quick and clean fix to public education for the "good" lower income students in Chicago it must by now have become apparent to him as a astute politician that charter schools all do not have the "secret sauce" as he once put it.

    Moreover as Alexander points out charters are also asking for more money, because like traditional public schools they are in fiscal trouble. This raises yet another specter for the Mayor and that is charter schools may not be the cheap route to educational success that he may have once thought they were.

    Given the ongoing UNO story I would suggest great reluctance on the part of the Illinois General Assembly doing anything on the funding issue for charters any too soon. Not only do charters have an enemy in the labor movement in general, they also have been tainted in the eyes of do good liberal democrats who see shadows of patronage in the UNO story. Moreover the UNO issue is dividing the Hispanic caucus in the General Assembly because part of the story involves the election of and funding raising for a candidate supported by UNO. This causes some of the Hispanic caucus members to be looking over their shoulder and wondering if UNO wasn't getting a little too powerful and potentially even threaten their own seats.

    The philanthropic community in Chicago suffers from a variation of ADHD and their interest in fiscally propping up charters to help them stay afloat is clearly waning. More and more these funds are coming from charities with a clear right wing agenda like the Walton Family foundation. Mayor Emanuel may also be creating a distraction for Chicago based charitable givers with the Mayor's attempt to extract $50 million over the next five years to bankroll block clubs, safe passage, intervention and mentoring programs and finance student re-engagement for kids kicked out of schools. That will also be $50 million that won't be going directly to charter schools.

    I agree with the thrust of what Alexander posted, these are difficult times for charter schools. But they are very difficult times for all forms of publicly funded education and it is not going to get any easier in the months and years to come.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    Your insight is always truly helpful to me. As a special education teacher in CPS for many years, I've really truly have given up hope. I love my students, see the potential they have and all the help they need getting there, but my hands are truly tied.
    It's pointless to write a quality IEP that truly addresses a student's needs because the time, the resources, and support will NEVER come. On paper, it says one thing, but in reality their support is tailored to the school's availability of services.
    According to the state, they're tested at grade level, even though many of my students aren't even close to reading or math at that level. They're jammed into general education classrooms beyond the allowed state limits (over 30%). Not to mention the state wants to get rid of that limit all together. For REACH evaluations, they're tested at grade level.
    So what is the point of even having special education or IDEA? The funding, services, and laws are being ignored all together, even though as teachers we're held accountable at a level that the district, state, and federal government can't even uphold?

  • In reply to displacedteach:

    "So what is the point of even having special education or IDEA?"

    I do believe the Republicans and Democrats are attempting to eliminate sped and kill IDEA. It's a race to the bottom.

  • In reply to displacedteach:

    You echo my sentiments exactly. Special education teachers in CPS receive no support from anyone-not CPS, ISBE, IFT, AFT or the federal government. CPS does what it wants and there are no repercussions. It is a truly demoralizing situation for the teachers.


  • In reply to district299reader:

    Special Education teachers should know that the IFT, IEA, CTU and all advocacy organizations are working together to oppose the ISBE's attempt to revoke all special education class size limits. While I am fully aware that the current rules are violated in many schools and not just in Chicago, none the less having a rule is far better than no rule at all.

    Call members of the Illinois General Assembly body called JCAR that will have authority over these rules and tell them no to these changes. Tell your parents to do the same. You all need to fight and not give up, you need to post your objections under your own names like Annie has, there will be no hiding from this rule change because it will lead to many special education teachers losing their jobs and many children with disabilities getting stuffed into classrooms across the state. It won't happen fast, but within a few years special education teachers will have a lot more students in front of them including in severe profound programs. You won't be teaching anymore you will be trying to maintain order and just survive.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    I have called and emailed under my real name. anniesullivan is pseudonym originally used to protect myself, my school and my principal. I continue to use it even after retirement because I have family members who work for CPS-CPS CO can be an expert at covert retaliation for those who dare question-look at what it does to whistleblowers.

  • Do you think charter schools would get their own "school district/s?"

  • I have long supported having seperate charter school districts as some of you may know. If done correctly they would get a correct share of property tax dollars based on their enrollment within a defined boundary like the city of chicago. But its not going to happen now for sure, with the UNO story out there.

    It would make things a lot easier because ISBE could hold the seperate district accountable for the performance of individual charters and the charter districts would be libel for special education litigation. Right now CPS has to be litigated against not the charter school that is teaching a student with a disability. Moreover, CPS currently absorbs at the district level some costs for charters, if all the charters were in a seperate district those hidden costs would become more apparent I think.

    Rod Estvan

  • are charters in general really hurting so badly? sure, it may be a difficult year for approvals, but, after all, the UNO soccer academy high school is still opening next year, as are 3 new noble st. campuses and the aforementioned intrinsic schools. by my count that's at least 5 new charter high schools opening next year- which is not insignificant growth (even with 1 or 2 closing).

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Opening new charters is easier than funding a school once it is open. Charters get start up funding which ends after it has expanded its enrollment and then they are more heavily dependent on tuition dollars and outside funding.

    All charter schools in Chicago have a majority of students who are low income and hence state funding to CPS is critical for keeping the tuition payments flowing. The FY 13 state budget that Illinois passed did not include enough funding to meet the $6,119 GSA foundation level established by the General Assembly. Due to this shortfall in funding ISBE prorated the gross GSA for each district to $5,733. This resulted in a nearly 11 percent reduction from the total necessary to make the $6,119 GSA foundation level. It was applied proportionally over 22 equal payments from August 2012 to June 2013. These reduced payments directly impact charters and non-charters.

    Now Governor Quinn is proposing a significant cut to k-12 education. These cuts include $5.3 million from free breakfast and lunch programs for low-income kids and $150 million in General State Aid. A big bunch will be cut from state support for school busing which will not impact charter schools. From the numbers I have seen $300 of the $400 million will be coming from k-12 education.

    On top of this sequestration cuts from the Feds are coming. For FY 13 these cuts will be about $34 million for Illinois schools.

    Let's recall that Ron Huberman at one point cut the tuition payments to charters because of CPS budget problems. There is a very real possiblity this could happen again.

    Rod Estvan

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