Would you like to see first-hand why the issue of charter schools in Chicago is so contentious?
A proud charter school mom says she wants fully equal funding for charters – dollar for dollar – the same as traditional public schools.
A proud public school mom says charters get loads of outside funding, don’t perform statistically better than the traditional schools, and they drain many of the more engaged students away, leaving the neighborhood schools with an even higher percentage of troubled kids and special education students.
Antoinette Sea-Gerald represents a brand new organization, Charter Parents United, that was funded by corporate donations and whose logistical support is being largely provided by a well-established, powerfully-connected issues-management firm with close ties to Mayor Emanuel. CPU held a major rally at the federal plaza on May 8 that attracted upwards of 7,000 matching -t-shirt-clad people, mostly charter students bused in with their teachers and some parents.
Wendy Katten helped found Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. She and her group have done exhaustive research on CPS funding, schools closings and the impact of charters.
Also on our panel, respected Chicago journalist Curtis Black (Newstips.org), who has reported extensively on CPS budgeting, the schools closing controversy, the teachers strike, the CTU, the charter movement and many other related topics.
Although charters dominated our discussion, we also talked about the looming schools closure vote. Katten explains some of the research her group has done and the way in which class size has been disregarded in so many of the calculations about which schools to close. Raise Your Hand concludes many of the schools on the CPS list should not be closed in the interests of student achievement, academic progress, student safety and negligent fiscal savings.
A very brief synopsis:
Charters take public tax dollars but are run by private organizations, as they see fit without oversight by the school district. (Charters often pay a Charter Management Organization to administer the school.)
CPS is opening 13 new charters this year, while simultaneously closing 54 neighborhood schools for under-utilization. Originally charters were thought of as a lab for school research and innovation, but they are not primarily used in that way any longer. There is no transparency in charter contract spending. There is no transparency in CPS renting traditional neighborhood schools to charters for $1. And there is no ‘miracle’ of charter performance.
There is a ton of innovation going on in the traditional neighborhood CPS schools that work. If charters are so great, what is it that they do? What are the educational innovations besides a longer day? Why aren’t we talking about this across the system?
This is about equitable funding for charters and choice, Charter Parents Union (CPU) insists.
But charters already benefit from private funding. UNO managed to get themselves $99 mln by going completely around the school district. Charters can attract funding from major corporations and the school facilities are donated by the city.
Regarding funding, the biggest difference seems to be that there is next-to-no physical plant money given by CPS to charters. But when CPS puts a charter near a traditional neighborhood public school, will it draw resources away from the public school? The relationship between the two systems is not benign, there is almost a predatory effect, causing a further deterioration of the traditional CPS schools.
Why is CPS pushing charters when there are barriers to admission, like disciplinary fines.
Why does the district get to push charters and create a separate system?
Parents want choice.
Under-utilization formula that CPS uses takes into account a class sizes of 36 children. It ignores the lower class sizes required for special ed children. We are going to have mass overcrowding and crazy safety issues. Wendy doesn’t understand how some of these consolidations are being proposed, if anyone has a foot on the ground of reality.
Everyone was surprised to see CPS needed to borrow $329 mln for 30 years — with debt service of $25 mln a year or $750 mlm — in order to close 54 schools.
Over the 30-year life of the bond, it will cost more than $1 billion to close 54 schools this year.
And Charter Parents Union — with advice and organizational help from an issues management firm started by President Obama’s advisor David Axelrod — wants more funding.