Quick Hit Monday April 7th, 2014, 5:36pm

Guest Post: Chicago Teachers Union Advocates for Comprehensive Charter Reform in Illinois

The following is from Stephanie Gadlin, communications director for the Chicago Teachers Union.

Changes could prevent private investors such as Bruce Rauner from raiding public assets and further benefitting from failed school reform policy

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been a vocal critic of Illinois charter operations which compete with neighborhood schools for critical resources and often cherry-picks students based on test scores.  The law that sanctions the privately held, publicly funded charters is deeply flawed and in the wake of the UNO scandal the union and taxpayers have continued to lobby lawmakers to do something about it.

Thus, CTU, along with a number of education advocates, parents and others, currently backs several pieces of legislation under consideration in Springfield that will bring significant reforms to unstable charter movement in Illinois, including a bill calling for the elimination of the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

“Tax payers are demanding more accountability from charter operators; they want to know whether the money going to these schools is actually being spent on educating students,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, NBCT. “With all of this talk of school choice there is surprisingly little information about their students’ rates of graduation, drop out or push out from these organizations. The law as its currently written totally undermines the authority of the Illinois State Board of Education and gives it to a shadow commission with little to no oversight. This is unacceptable in the nation’s third largest school district.”

Charter operations not only lack accountability but with little to no innovation in pedagogy they also fail to outperform CPS’s traditional schools, according to research.  Another crucial and little-known element of charter proliferation is the large financial windfall that can flow toward investors such as billionaire political hopeful Bruce Rauner.  The would-be governor has given about $2.5 million to Noble Street, which has 8,850 students, 98 percent of whom are minorities and 89 percent who come from low-income families. A campus bears his name. His family foundation has also given about $4 million to other organizations that operate or support charter schools.

A vocal opponent of public education and unionized teachers, Rauner once floated a scheme that would call for the transferring of public wealth and resources to private hands throughout extreme leverage (debt) similar to financial structures that led to the Great Recession in 2008.  In 2010, he instigated a plan that would raise $200 million in equity, borrow $600 million and purchase 100 CPS schools that the investor group would then lease to charter operators. In such a plan, the investor group would reap two benefits: First, they would receive steady streams of revenue from the leases, and second, they could claim tax credits from depreciation on the buildings.  In short, the public would ultimately pay to lease back its own buildings.

Such schemes have made charter proliferation big business in Illinois. While CPS cited budgetary reasons for closing and consolidating scores of neighborhood schools, their own charter proliferation policies have caused unnecessary expenditures.  Here is a look at current legislation pending in the General Assembly of which the CTU supports:

1. SB2627/HB3754: Eliminates the Illinois State Charter School Commission
Senate Sponsor: Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D) | House Sponsor: Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D)
Co-sponsors: Sen. J. Collins (D) Rep. Kifowit (D), Rep. Pritchard (R), Rep. Cassidy (D), Rep. Williams (D) and Rep. Dunkin (D), Rep. Cabello (R), Rep. Martwick (D), Rep. B. Mitchell (R), Rep. Davidsmeyer (R), Rep. Hoffman (D), Rep. Meier (R), Rep. Golar (D), Rep. Berrios (D), Rep. Flynn Currie (D), Rep. Ford (D), Rep. Turner (D), Rep. Flowers (D), Rep. Mayfield (D), Rep. T. Jones (D), Rep. Mayfield (D), Rep. D. Davis (D). Rep. A. Brown (R).
What this bill does:  Seeks to eliminate the Illinois State Charter School Commission and return its functions to the State Board of Education (ISBE).
Rationale: The State Charter School Commission (SCSC) is an initiative of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to promote the expansion of charter schools, especially in suburban areas where there is little support for charters. The SCSC eliminates local control of schools by providing a second application round for charter schools. Charters whose applications are denied by the local school board can appeal to the SCSC for approval. Two Chicago charter schools linked to the Turkish Gulen movement were approved in this manner, and a Sun-Times investigation found that these schools had significant conflicts of interest regarding contracts and expansion.


2. SB2779/HB4237: Diminishes authority of State Charter School Commission by mandating a referendum
Senate Sponsor: Sen. Linda Holmes (D) | House Sponsor: Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D) Co-sponsors: Rep. Kifowit (D), Rep. Pritchard (R), and Rep. Dunkin (D)
What this bill does: Would require a voter referendum for any charter approved by ISBE or the State Charter Commission. The municipal election would take place in the district where the charter would be approved.
Rationale: The bill provides for voter approval for charter schools that have been approved over the wishes of the local school board. It is an additional mechanism to return control over district policy to local school boards.


3. HB 6005/SB 3030: Charter School Accountability Act
Senate Sponsor: Senator Jacqueline Collins | House Sponsor: Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia
What this bill does:  Requires the charter school authorizer to host charter school lotteries (rather than the school)

  • Provides that a charter school waiting list must be centrally administered by the authorizer
  • Prohibits a charter school from creating any admissions process subsequent to a lottery
  • Requires the authorizer to inform the next parent or guardian on the waiting list in the event that a student transfers from a charter school
  • Prohibits future charter schools from contracting with for-profit EMO/CMOs
  • Mandates that the physical property of the charter school is owned by charter not EMO/CMO
  • Forbids an employee to be employed by both a EMO/CMO and charter school
  • Mandates that charters pay pro-rated portion of funding for student who leaves to the new school district
  • Prohibits charter schools from spending public funds on marketing
  • Charter is subject to an audit by auditor general administrative costs are 20% greater than those of the host district
  • Requires a charter assessment report every 5 years
  • Includes funding limits if charters are not in compliance with reporting regulations
  • Creates a compensation cap for charter school CEOs—compensation cannot be greater than 80% of the compensation of the school district superintendent
  • Creates a compensation cap for charter school principals—compensation cannot be greater than 10% more than the average compensation of principals in the district

Rationale: The UNO charter school scandal identified important weaknesses in the current law that have yet to be remedied and provide opportunities for future abuse. These reasonable regulations ensure a level governance playing field between charters and traditional public schools.


4. SB 3303: Limits charter expansion in areas where public schools have been closed
Sponsor: Senator Jacqueline Collins
What this bill does: Provides that no charter can be granted within the same zip code, or neighboring zip code, in which a public school was closed within 10 school years.

  • Provides that no charter must be granted unless the General Assembly has appropriated transition impact aid for the school district where the charter school is to be located.
  • Provides that CPS designate attendance boundaries for Chicago charter schools.

Rationale: In the wake of the largest mass school closure in US history and the subsequent approval of 18 new charter schools, this law would provide crucial limits on future charter school openings by ensuring that any new campuses opened only where needed and when resources are available.


5. HB3745: Requires all charter high schools to establish vocational academies
Sponsor: Rep. LaShawn Ford (D)
What this bill does: Requires all alternative schools and charter high schools to establish vocational academies for students in grades 10-12.
Rationale: True career readiness requires access to experiential job training that only vocational education can provide.


6. HB4655/SB3004: Applies sections of the School Code that pertain to student discipline policies to charter schools
House Sponsor: Rep. Will Davis (D) / Senate Sponsor: Senator Kimberly Lightford (D)
Co-Sponsor: Rep. Rita Mayfield (D)/ Senator Jacqueline Collins
What this bill does: Amends the school code as it pertains to school discipline policies, and seeks to apply sections of the school code disciplinary policy to charter schools. The bill seeks to redefine what school behavior rises to the level of expulsion or suspension, sets limitations on out-of-school suspensions, in-school arrests, and requires behavioral support services and alternative educational services to be provided to certain students. The bill also provides that a student may not be issued a monetary fine or fee as a disciplinary consequence.
Rationale: Charter schools should be held to the same discipline standards as traditional public schools. Fines and harshly punitive discipline measures have resulted in an expulsion rate in Chicago charters that is 12 times the expulsion rate in public schools. These discipline actions have a disproportionate racial impact, as Latino and especially Black students are subject to such discipline at far greater rates than white students.


7. HB4527: Mandates charter school compliance with state and federal SPED and ELL laws
Sponsor: Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D)
What this bill does: Requires charter schools to comply with all federal and state laws and rules applicable to public schools that pertain to special education and the instruction of English language learners.


8. HB 5328: Mandates Chicago charter schools be administered by a local school council
Sponsor: Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D)
What this bill does: Requires a school that is initially placed on academic watch status after a fourth annual calculation or that remains on academic watch status after a fifth annual calculation to be approved by the school board and by the school's local school council, if applicable.
Rationale: Parents and community members should have a role in the governance of institutions that receive public money and claim to be public schools. This bill ensures that parents have meaningful roles in charter school operations.

9. HB 5887: Creates restrictions on virtual school options for students
Sponsor: Rep. Chapa La Via
What this bill does: Provides that the State Charter School Commission must require Commission-authorized virtual charter schools to (1) ensure student access to teachers and report to the local school board or boards information regarding teacher accessibility, the teacher/student ratio, and the amount of teacher/student contact time; (2) provide opportunities for peer interaction and collaboration; and (3) adopt protocols to prevent bullying or other inappropriate online behavior. Sets forth requirements and limitations that the Commission must impose with regard to entities proposing virtual charter schools.

  • With respect to Commission-authorized virtual charter schools, requires the Commission to limit the withholding of State funds from a school district in proportion to the per pupil expenditure used for building maintenance, classroom supplies, transportation, safety and security, and other costs unique to brick-and-mortar schools.
  • With respect to all Commission-authorized charter schools, provides that the Commission must require that proof of continuing enrollment and attendance be submitted quarterly, with prorated refunds to the school district upon withdrawal of students from the charter school.

10. HB4591: Requires funding to follow charter students who transfer to district schools
Sponsor: Rep. Martwick (D)
What this bill does: Provides that if a charter school dismisses a student from the charter school after receiving a quarterly payment from the school district, the charter school must return to the school district on a pro rata basis, for the time the student is not enrolled at the charter school.
Rationale: Because of high dismissal rates, charters are able to keep funds for students they no longer educate. Such funding should follow the student if that student transfers from a charter to another charter school or to a public school.


Login or register to post comments

Recent content