Quick Hit Micah Maidenberg Monday January 17th, 2011, 1:10pm

Flashpoint On Charter School Expansion

Charter school expansion remains a flashpoint in the debate about the future of public education in Chicago. At a community forum Saturday on the South Side, charter supporters and opponents squared off over proposals that would add eight new charters to the Chicago Public Schools system. Catalyst reports that the United Neighborhood Organization, a charter operator (and political powerhouse), brought pro-expansion parents to argue for allowing UNO to add three new middle schools as well as high school courses at one of its existing schools. The Tribune described the forum as akin to a rally. Last month, the Chicago Board of Education deferred voting on several applications for new charters but a final vote on the applications is expected at the board's January 26 meeting. Another community forum about the proposals is scheduled for tomorrow.

At that session and the Board of Education's meeting near the end of the month, charter opponents are sure to continue their critiques about the efficacy and transparency of charter schools. On Saturday, such critics "managed to fill the question and answer session with questions about charter teachers' qualifications and how they are verified; how CPS can find funding for charter schools when there is a budget crisis; and why UNO does not offer students bilingual classes." Not to mention the fact that 11 percent of students at charters left their schools in 2009, a rate that nearly doubles the volatility seen at CPS magnet schools -- which, like charters, use a lottery system and draw students citywide to fill their classrooms.

Ultimately, Chicago's next mayor will set the tone with regards to charter expansion. (The General Assembly doubled the number of charter schools allowed in Illinois 18 months ago.) Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico have signaled they're ready for more charters, according to a survey conducted by Catalyst; Carol Moseley Braun, Miguel del Valle, Williams Walls, and Patricia Van-Pelt Watkins are more skeptical. If the Chicago Teachers Union ends up endorsing a candidate for mayor, it is likely Mosely Braun or del Valle will get the nod, in part because of this kind of committment.

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