After only two years’ operation under the direction of Governors State University, Governors State Charter School was considered one of the best in Illinois. But last June, the Crete-Monee School District, the school’s sponsor, voted to revoke the school’s charter, citing the school as deficient in meeting some of its proposed five-year goals.
Though a state appeal panel confirmed only four minor deficiencies, an assistant state superintendent not only declared the charter revoked but also then failed to refer the decision to the State Board of Education, thus rendering the state’s charter school appeal process null and void.
The appeal process for charter schools in Illinois is only four years old, created by legislators in 1998 to enhance the effectiveness of the state’s original 1996 charter school law, which permitted only one sponsoring agency: the local school district. The 1998 legislation permitted applicants to appeal a local board denial to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), which would then convene a review panel to make a recommendation to the state superintendent to pass back to the ISBE. If the ISBE reversed the local decision, the ISBE would then act as the sponsor for the proposed charter school.
Although the State Board approved two suburban charter schools immediately after the law was changed, it has approved no additional schools out of the numerous appeals it has received. In fact, only one school besides Governors State–the Rockford YouthBuild Charter School proposal–has made it through the appeals panel. But the State Board acted against its superintendent’s recommendation and denied the YouthBuild charter, with Board members citing their lack of faith in charter schools in general and their reluctance to overturn local decisions.
That view contradicts the purpose for which the appeals process was enacted and effectively nullifies the charter school appeal law.
In the past year, Illinois has approved only one new charter school, the Tomorrow’s Builders Charter School in East St. Louis. The state’s hostile environment for charter schools left Illinois in a unique position at the start of the 2002-2003 school year–with one fewer charter than the state had a year earlier, 22 versus 23, and one fewer charter school site, 27 versus 28.
Paul Seibert is director of Charter Consultants, Inc., a division of The Governor French Academy, Inc., of Belleville, Illinois. His email address is [email protected].