Chicago schools: "…being treated like pop-up stores"


Front of the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters

Voices were raised in protest against accepting Federal grant seed money to add 24 new charters in Chicago's already financially strapped system. The rally was outside of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Headquarters, 42 W. Madison, Wednesday morning prior to a CPS Board meeting.

"Our schools are not being treated like long term institutions that need investment and stability. They're being treated like pop-up stores," said Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand (RYH) for public education. "They open and close them using weak to no metrics and no comprehensive standards." 


Jennie Biggs talks with Wendy Katten as she charges her phone in the CPS lobby

"It makes no sense," said Jennie Biggs, a RYH Board member. "We don't have stable revenue so we don't have long term money for what we have for any type of school, both district and charter. So to be adding more charter schools at this time doesn't add up. It is true state wide too. Diluting low resources….makes no sense." 

“Chicago Public Schools just cut $3.3 million from schools in Southwest Chicago in March. The Mayor and Governor don’t have enough money for the schools we have now, how can they open even more charters?” asks Janeth Herrera, parent at Kelly High School. 

It appears that once there is a charter, the Illinois State Charter School Commission (ISCSC), formed in 2011, can overrule a district's decision to close them. In March LSCSC overturned the Chicago school district decision to close three under performing charter schools. In their decision to keep them open they determined that they are to operate outside district supervision, as reported in the Chicago Tribune

"This is a moment of truth. We cannot create more good schools for our children by accepting more failing schools," said Mary Bradley, CPS' top officer responsible for charter schools. 

What prompted the offer?
Governor Rauner and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBoE) applied for a United States Board of Education (USBoE) grant without any public input or legislative vetting, according to RYH.

The full offer from the USBoE came last September when Illinois was one of eight states whose application was accepted from 28 applicants to receive a $42 million grant. 

That grant over the next five years is supposed to add 48 charters in Illinois, with half in Chicago. But it covers no operational funding. Instead, it provides seed money to encourage charters to come to Chicago and the rest of state.

The monies are to cover research, marketing and some startup costs. Those costs can include hiring four staff members to sell the concept of charters to communities. Illinois can spend up to 15 percent of the money ($6,300,000) on those hires and sharing best practices from existing charters. 

“That Gov. Rauner can even consider forcing school districts to open new charters shows just how committed he is to a privatizing agenda,” said Nancy Brandt of the League of Women Voters Chicago, one of the groups in the coalition of 14 organizations working on this effort. 

“Surely they understand the fiscal condition of the Chicago schools and of many other school districts. And yet new charters would make those fiscal conditions worse. The state hasn’t even been fully funding the meager $6,119 per student they set in 2010 and has been shorting districts each year since. CPS may not even be able to open their doors in September. And so we ask: how could the Governor and ISBE decide that Chicago needs 24 more charter schools over five years? “  

Privatization versus public schools
“The number one priority right now is that our existing schools get adequate and equitable funding,” said Representative Will Guzzardi of the 39th district. “These schemes to privatize public education are not grounded in evidence and should be stopped.”

“We’ve seen the devastating effect that school privatization has had on our schools and community in Bronzeville over the past 15 years. Bronzeville has been ground zero for school privatization and the district’s systemic disinvestment in neighborhood schools that has not improved the quality of education our children receive. The promise of improved education for all has been broken,” said Jaribu Lee of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. 

"Charters are being seen as private schools because they have new buildings and new equipment and that is attractive at first," explained a parent mentor from Steinmetz High School. But shiny new doesn't mean that the education is better or even equal.

Parent groups, community organizations and 50 plus elected officials are demanding the state scratch plans to open any new charter schools and renew its focus on sustainable and equitable funding for the schools in the system. 

Organizations asked elected officials in Chicago and across Illinois to sign letters to Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposing the new charters. 

Illinois has been at the bottom of the list for education funding including measures of both equity and adequacy and routinely gets an ‘F’ on national report cards for funding equity, RYH emphasizes. 

They go on to warn that elected officials have signed on to halt the privatization train at a time when numerous bills in Springfield have been introduced to weaken our public schools—such as a bill that would triple charter start-up funding, a parent trigger bill, and a course access bill that would divert district funding to pay online/virtual course providers. 


People were signing in to attend the Wednesday CPS Board meeting

Chicago Board of Education Wed. meeting
While CPS is not revealing how many charter applications they have received for this grant, Katten reports that the subject did not come up at the Wednesday meeting. 

Those represented at the Rally were Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago Jobs with Justice, Educational Village Keepers, Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, League of Women Voters Chicago, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Network 49, Northwest Side Housing Center, Northern IL Jobs with Justice, Parents4Teachers, Raise Your Hand for IL Public Education and Women Gathering For Justice. 

To date the elected officials opposing receiving this grant to add more charters are:

Illinois State Representatives

Carol  Ammons, 103rd District
Jaime Andrade, 40th District
Kelly Cassidy, 14th District
Linda ChapaLaVia, 83rd District
Barbara Flynn Currie, 25th District
John D'Amico, 15th District
Sara Feigenholtz, 12th District
Mary Flowers, 31st District
LaShawn Ford, 8th District
Will Guzzardi, 39th District
Greg Harris, 53rd District
Fran Hurley, 35th District
Camille Lilly, 78th District
Rob Martwick, 19th District
Elgie Sims, 34th District
Cynthia Soto, 4th District
Silvana Tabares, 21st District
Emanuel Chris Welch, 7th District
Ann Williams, 11th District

Illinois State Senators 

Daniel Biss, 9th District
Melinda Bush, 31st District
Bill Cunningham, 18th District
William Delgado, 2nd District
Don Harmon, 39th District
Linda Holmes, 42nd District
Iris Martinez, 20th District
Antonio Munoz, 1st District
Michael Noland, 22nd District
Martin Sandoval, 11th District

Chicago Aldermen

John Arena, 45th Ward
James Cappleman, 46th Ward
George Cardenas, 12th Ward
Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward
Sue Garza, 10th Ward
Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward
Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward
Roberto Maldonado, 26th Ward
Deb Mell, 33rd Ward
David Moore, 17th Ward
Joe Moreno, 1st Ward
Rick Munoz, 22nd Ward
Anthony Napolitano,41st Ward
Matthew O’Shea, 19th Ward
Harry Osterman, 48th Ward
Ameya Pawar, 47th Ward
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward
Milly Santiago, 31st Ward
Debra Silverstein, 50th Ward
Nick Sposato, 38th Ward
Chris Taliaferro, 29th Ward
Patrick D. Thompson, 11th Ward
Gilbert Villegas, 36th Ward
Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward
Alderman Zalewski, 23rd Ward






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