Chicago's charter schools start to feel the squeeze

By Elizabeth Purvis

The Illinois fiscal crisis is crowding out important services including public education. With Governor Quinn's proposed cuts of $1.3 billion to education, school districts across the state are having to make cuts due to lack of funding.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a $600 million deficit, with proposed 11%-12% funding cuts to local charter schools. Chicago International Charter School stands to lose up to    $7.5 million in funding. A cut like that will have profound consequences for our students - who are some of the city's most at-risk children as well as some of its most promising. 

Chicago International Charter School (CICS) serves more than 8,000 students on 13 campuses throughout the city. Our schools are publicly funded, tuition-free, and open to all city children without entrance exams. Our demographics are similar to those of Chicago's other public schools; 86% of our students are low-income, 96% are minorities, and many are second-language learners and/or have disabilities. At charter schools, decisions about how to best serve students aren't made at a district office; instead, those decisions are made in the school by teachers and administrators who know the children personally.

If CPS follows through with its plan to cut $1 of every $5 it spends on per-pupil aid, our students, like all publicly-educated children in Chicago, will be negatively affected. At Chicago International, we no longer will be able to afford the best curricular materials available, and the education of our students will suffer as a result. Some class sizes could increase from 27 students per class to 31 and that too can be detrimental to student learning. We will be forced to postpone or cancel much needed updates and renovations to our aging school buildings. 

These are not just theoretical consequences. Chicago International has already been forced to cut back on successful and necessary offerings as a result of the state and city's budget problems. We've already had to scale back  after school programming at our campuses in neighborhoods such as West Englewood and Belmont Cragin, where there are very few positive, safe places for after school development.  These cuts inhibit student education and limit extracurricular offerings, leaving our kids exposed to potentially dangerous environments during the hours at which they are most vulnerable..

In addition to the aforementioned cuts, next year Chicago International will be forced to cancel the only free all-day pre-kindergarten program serving children in West Englewood, due to lack of state funding.  This program was beneficial to the community and its schools in several ways.  It gave children a much-needed head start on academic development while at the same time providing child care to mothers who have few other options.

So what's the solution? We need to tell Illinois lawmakers that we need a long-term solution to the budget crisis in Illinois, not a six-month, temporary budget. We need them to implement real reforms of state spending and address the retirement-related debt that is crowding out funding for more important things, like the education of our children. 

This affects our kids.  This affects our families.  This affects our communities.  The time for lawmakers in Springfield to take action is now.  We owe it to our children and to their futures.

Elizabeth D. Purvis is the Executive Director of the Chicago International Charter Schools.

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