Board Meeting: Choice Arguments Prevail

School board members approve new charter school contracts, Near West Side magnet school Catalyst:  The well-heeled charter school advocates even had a poll to point to.  By contrast, those urging board members to vote against the contracts were a hodge-podge of parents and community members, each fighting for their own specific neighborhood school… Seven new charter schools approved amid chaotic CPS session Medill:  Although the count on how many varied depending on who was asked, an organizer of charter school supporters, Andrew Broy, said, “We brought 800 scarves and ran out at 9, which means we had about 1,000 parents here.”… CPS charter meeting: Long lines, superheroes Tribune:  Charter school supporters lined the four-block radius of CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. as parents wearing superhero costumes–Superman and the… CPS approves University Village magnet school Chicago Journal:  Leslie Recht, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti’s schools liaison who spoke on his behalf at the meeting, said she didn’t know how the school would be funded… Chicago Public Schools: Board votes to expand charter schools Tribune: Many of the details, like when this is going to happen, remain unclear. But charter advocates say the new schools will potentially allow half of the roughly 12,000 students currently on charter waiting-lists to enroll…  Unfiltered: Chicago Board of Education WBEZ: Click on “EXTRAS” below to listen to unfiltered audio from the January 2011 Board of Education meeting.

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  • In relation to the "well-heeled charter school advocates" comment, that came from an article written by Ms. Karp in Catalyst and Alexander is just quoting from that article.

    There are several things that I found interesting about the discussion about charter expansion in the CPS that took place yesterday. Charter school supporters made a concerted effort to display the work their schools were doing with students with disabilities, that was from my perspective a very refreshing experience. One parent in particular from CICS Northtown Charter and another from CICS Irving Park spoke about their positive experiences with their schools. I have no doubt that they are correct about their experiences for their children, in fact I have heard similar praise from parents of students with disabilities from Namaste Charter School and other charter schools.

    Incidentally Namaste Charter School in June 2010 had 18.51% of its enrollment composed of students identified as disabled, in 2010 according to ISBE the CPS as a whole had 13.3% of its students identified as disabled and the average elementary school had only 12% students with disabilities. (charter school data comes from US District Court records in the Corey H case) CICS Irving Park had 8.1% of its students with IEPs, while Northtown had 19.2% students with disabilities.

    On the other hand I have worked with families who have had students with disabilities who have litigated against charter schools for failure to appropriately educate their children. Some like their experience and others do not. Charter schools overall cannot at this time meet the needs of students with severe and profound disabling conditions enrolling very few such students. The average CPS elementary and high school also cannot meet the needs of these students and they are often clustered at specific schools.

    Access Living in April 2009 issued a report on charter schools that were part of the Renaissance 2010 program noting these enrollment trends. Overall CPS charter schools enroll more students with disabilities than do charter schools nationally. But here was our problem then and now, on average charter schools are not producing significantly better academic outcomes for students with disabilities than are traditional CPS schools.

    CICS as a group is a good example, by grade 11 in 2010 only 11% of students with disabilities enrolled in CICS schools were reading at or above standards. For the CPS system wide by grade 11 only 7.8% of these students were reading at or above standards. While CICS's average in this area is better than CPS, it is still below the state wide average where 17.2% of students with IEPs are reading at or above standards. Really nothing to cheer about. Even Namaste by grade 6, the school's highest grade in 2010, only had 10% of its disabled students reading at or above state standards, while the CPS average for grade 6 was 25.2% and the statewide average was 43.8%.

    What this data points to are questions that the Vice President of the CTU, Jesse Sharkey, asked at yesterday's Board meeting about academic performance of charter schools and how many charters with failing AYP scores have had their charters renewed, about financial accountability for charters, and the implications of charter growth inside CPS. The President of the Board dismissed his comments as "rhetorical," to which Mr. Sharkey objected.

    I too share many of these concerns in relation to charter schools. As blog readers may be aware I am opposed to any new schools being opened by CPS be they charter, magnet, or traditional in the current fiscal environment. In my opinion the STEM magnet proposal that was approved was just as fiscally irresponsible as were the charters that were approved yesterday and if the reorganization of South Shore High School costs any additional money at all then that too was an irresponsible act.

    I thought Vice President Sharkey's comments on the number of charter school students within the system should be taken very seriously. This year there are about 44,300 charter school students (FY 2011 budget page 117), CPS as a system this year was expected to have about 410,000 students. Hence charter school students now form 10.8% of the system. I would expect that next year we will see about 50,000 charter school students forming around 12% of the enrollment.

    It appears that CPS clearly intends on expanding charter schools until the Board perceives that there is no more demand for seats. Given that reality it seems that the Illinois General Assembly should seriously consider amending the School Code and creating a completely separate charter school district within the City of Chicago with all the legal responsibilities of a school district. The number of students in CPS charter schools next year will be larger than the enrollment of the second largest school disrtict in Illinois, Elgin U-46. It may be time to create a school district.

    This district could receive a proportional share of the City of Chicago property tax dollars allocated for education based on audited student enrollments, it would also receive direct state aid or not depending of the current fiscal situation of Illinois. It would have to educate all disabled students that want to enroll regardless of the nature of the disablity and cost. This district should be able to open all the charter schools it wants to, assuming ofcourse it does not go bankrupt, which is likely.

    The idea of having multiple school districts within the City of Chicago was first discussed in the 1980s and I think in my files somewhere I may even have a draft of a bill written to break up CPS . Maybe the time has come to think about that option once again.

    Rod Estvan

  • Interesting study. Here is a quote: "States with significantly higher learning gains for charter school students than would have occurred in traditional schools include Arkansas, Colorado (Denver), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana, Missouri"

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    Here is another quote: "States that have limits on the number of charter schools permitted to operate, known as
    caps, realize significantly lower academic growth than states without caps, around .03 standard deviations"

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    Just a clarification... When I said well-heeled, I was referring more to the advocates (it actually says well-heeled supporters) as opposed to charter schools themselves. I was thinking of places like INCS and the National Organization for School Choice Week, which provided 900 bright yellow scarfs. With funding from foundations and philanthropists, these groups do have more resources to market their cause than parents at most neighborhood schools.

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    Blog readers should be aware that the idea of having dedicated charter school districts is not new at all. One example of this discussion is from the conservative Progressive Policy Institute and can be read at

    South Carolina has a state wide seperate charter school district, and Texas also has charter school districts and I know that there is one that covers El Paso. It seems to me that a charter school district covering Chicago would put an end to the charter wars.

    My observations of existing charter districts with the legal right to open as many charters as they chose to is that they open very few new charters at all once they are collectively fiscally responsible for a budget.

    Do I think such a charter district will increase accountablity, well I do not know. As one poster pointed out the CPS isn't holding the charters accountable now, if it did is there any way that Youth Connections Charter which has never, ever made AVP would still be operating and getting additonal seats?

    While there are complex issues involved seperating out charters from district 299, it is far from impossible. Clearly some of the debt CPS has in relation to facilities borrowing would be transferred to the new entity, some property would also be transferred. Maybe, just maybe, if the General Assembly looked at this issue the citizens of Chicago could at least get the legal right to hold bond referendums.

    Every school district in Illinois except CPS can hold a referendum for funding, this is called Chapter 20 funding. Under Chapter 20, an eligible school district can create a working cash or contingency fund; the funding, if approved by the voters, can be used for paying teacher salaries and pensions along with other expenses that the school district may need to be paid, for example if they face a civil judgement, etc. A school district can levy through the ballot measure a "working cash fund" tax not to exceed 0.05% of valued property in the district. Any new working cash fund that is created requires voter approval on a simple majority vote. This issue should also be examined in any revision of the school code that would create a seperate charter school district.

    Rod Estvan

  • I couldn't agree more. When I sit and "listen" to what my fellow neighborhood school parents talk about on the blogs, it's as if we ARE in different school districts, anyway. And the breakfast "controversy" truly is a great example of how a one-size-fits-all approach to CPS does not work.

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