While Chicago’s Board of Education on Wednesday approved just seven of 17 proposals for new charter schools, the growth of privately run schools in the city remains on a pace sought by advocates.
Five of the seven schools that got the go-ahead are scheduled to open up this fall, at the same time as 10 charter schools previously approved by the board. So the rejection of 10 charter proposals Wednesday was not seen as a setback by the charter community.
“It’s a somewhat modest number, but it’s good,” said Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “It’s progress.”
With the 15 new charters opened this past August, Broy said the district would still be on target to meet its goal to open 60 new charters between 2012 and 2017.Chicago Public Schools has promoted the growth of charters as one way to fix the city’s troubled educational system because they can offer a range of innovative learning environments and offer parents more choices.
But charter expansion efforts this year have met with especially strong criticism in large part because they follow the decision last year to close nearly 50 district-run schools because of underenrollment, in addition to tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts at schools.
CPS has made clear it intended to be conservative in charter growth this year, and on Wednesday again stressed that only a handful of the 10 schools approved earlier appear on track to open in the fall.
The board Wednesday followed the recommendation of CPS staff to approve seven of the 17 proposals. Only three of the schools approved Wednesday will be located in communities with overcrowded schools, which CPS had said would be target areas for new charters this year.
None of the four district-recommended charters in “non-priority” areas passed unanimously, with one board member, Carlos Azcoitia, voting against all four. Those schools are slated for communities on the South and West sides, which saw large scale school closures this past summer.
“This is a very difficult decision, and it’s very difficult for me,” said board member Andrea Zopp who voted against one of the seven recommended proposals. “I think we have some real challenges. It is hard to balance what we’ve done already this year with opening schools that are in communities where we have said we have too many seats. I struggle with that significantly.”
Zopp said voted for three other charters planning to locate outside CPS’ “priority communities” on the Northwest and Southwest sides because they had demonstrated strong community support.
Right now, 126 of the district’s 658 schools are charters. Charter schools can employ non-union teachers, and the Chicago Teachers Union has led protests against charter expansion, culminating with an overnight vigil outside CPS headquarters that ended early Wednesday.
Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, a charter proponent, spoke passionately about her desire for a Noble Street Charter campus in her neighborhood. Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, spoke out in favor of a charter that was part of a play by mayoral ally the Rev. Charles Jenkins to redevelop the old Johnson Products Co. site on 85th Street..CPS officials said they settled on recommending seven charters as opposed to all 17 based on the quality of applicants, strong track records, solid finances and evidence they could meet additional requirements.
Noble Street Charter Schools, a favorite of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s, won approval for two new high schools which will increase its number of campuses in the city to 16. Concept Schools, which has a high school in Rogers Park and opened two campuses this year, won approval for two more.Intrinsic Schools, which opened its first campus this year, needs to meet further requirements involving academics and other factors before getting final approval for a Fall 2015 starting date for the new high school it wants to open.
Bishop James Dukes, part of group of South Side pastors who applied for a new school through the Connected Futures Academy charter network, which targets troubled youths and dropouts, made clear his disappointment with the board’s rejection of that group’s proposal.“It’s a sad day in Chicago that of all the applications you have the usual organizations being approved, none of the charters (that were approved) are lead African American organizations and yet all of them are going to operate primarily in African American communities,” Dukes said.
The board followed a recommendation made earlier in the day from Chicago Public Schools staff to move ahead with seven of the 17 proposed charter schools.The board approved proposals from the following charter operators:
• Concept Schools: two schools at 5401 S. Western Avenue and 8522 S. Lafayette Ave.;
• Intrinsic Schools: one school at 4540 W. Belmont Ave. in first year before moving to another unspecified Northwest Side location;
• Noble: two schools, at 5321 W. Grand Ave. and 17 N. State Street;
• Chicago Education Partnership: one school, with grades K-6 at 400 N. Leamington Ave., grades 7-8 at 415 N. Laramie Ave.;
• Great Lakes Academy: one school, location to be determined.