Chicago Charter School Creation Slowed by Board, Unions

Published March 29, 2016

Charter school operators are asking the Chicago Public School Board of Education for permission to open more than 20 new charter schools over the next few years.

In February, the Chicago Public School (CPS) Board of Education received 16 “letters of intent,” non-binding notifications requesting the creation of new charter schools. The 16 letters proposed 21 new charter schools in the Chicago area.

CPS is currently negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers labor union, to formulate contract agreements, which could include provisions that restrict the number of publicly funded non-government schools CPS is allowed to authorize.

‘More Education Options’ Needed

Lennie Jarratt, project manager for education transformation at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says 21 new charter schools would not be enough to improve the city’s school system.

“Based on the lack of education happening across CPS, children and parents need more education options than just 21 new charter schools,” Jarratt said. “Less than 10 percent of CPS schools had at least 50 percent their students score ‘proficient’ on PARCC testing. They need to allow choice to extend to private schools as well, to rapidly increase the seats in quality schools for the students not being properly taught in CPS.”

Unions Blocking Competition

Jarratt says the teachers union has an economic incentive to fight charter school creation.

“CPS is in total control of the number of charter schools allowed within the district,” Jarratt said. “They will negotiate the number with the CTU during contract talks, because the union wants the number capped. They don’t want the competition and the potential loss of union jobs that accompany more students choosing a nontraditional public school within the system. It’s all about the money flowing to the union’s coffers.”

‘Sad Reality’ for Chicago Children

Jelani McEwen, director of external affairs for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, says the current system is not adequately serving Chicago’s children.

“All students in Chicago deserve access to a high-quality education, but the sad reality is that there are still pockets of our city where few, if any, of these opportunities exist nearby,” McEwen said. “When families face competing priorities, such as safety, logistical ease, and academic rigor, some are forced to sacrifice academic outcomes due to constraints on their resources, information, or mobility.”

School choice is increasingly popular with Chicago parents and students, McEwen says.

“Charter public schools are giving families access to high-quality schools in under-resourced areas, and the demand for them is growing,” McEwen said. “Quality alone, and not school type, should determine which schools serve Chicago students.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.