One of the contract provisions most heralded by the Chicago Teachers Union was a cap on the number of charter schools Chicago Public Schools can open as its enrollment declines further and its coffers remain bare.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool also lauded the cap as “prudent” given the district’s tricky finances and diminishing student body.
But the baseline CPS set has perhaps rendered the cap toothless compared to what many union members believed it would do, angering the union.
Initially alarmed by the possibility, charter champions now agree.
“It certainly much more of a symbolic victory than an actual victory,” said Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, who last month blasted the cap when it was about to become the first in the country to appear in a collective bargaining agreement, saying “political accommodation trumped sound policy.”
The sentence in question on the last page of the agreement teachers ratified earlier this week says that “there will be a net zero increase in the number of Board authorized charter schools over the term of this agreement and the total number of students enrolled by the end of school year 2018-2019 will not exceed 101% of the total student enrollment as of school year 2015-2016.”
CPS contends that the number of its authorized charter schools should be counted as of the four-year contract’s first date. And on July 1, 2015, CPS had 132 of the publicly funded but privately managed campuses.
The fact that it’s now down to 123 means CPS has room to open several more between now and June 30, 2019, Claypool said. That’s even though four of the schools now governed by state authority remain in Chicago and draw from the city’s dwindling school-age population.
“Right now we’re nine schools and 14,000 students under that cap,” he said Wednesday, the morning after 72 percent of teachers voted to ratify the deal. “So there’s plenty of room for high-quality charter operators to apply and see what our process is.
“It’s just for the next few years,” he added. “I think that’s prudent.”
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said he feels duped, believing as many members did, that the cap would be set when the contract took effect.
“First it’s extremely disappointing to hear the Board of Education talking about how to circumvent the plain language on a charter cap before the ink is even dry on that language,” he said.
He said the union had foreseen issues around the number of schools allowed so they discussed adding language about total student enrollment in the charters.
“We did put a belt and suspenders on this provision, and anticipated we’d have to go fight about it. Ultimately, this is something we’ll have to go before a judge over,” Sharkey said. “I’m sorry we got to that so quickly.”
Charter expansion has slowed considerably in recent years, though CPS remains open to new schools in neighborhoods with overcrowded schools or without what it deems as “quality schools.” The district is actively suing Illinois’ State Charter School Commission, which has allowed three schools CPS closed to reopen, and also supports state bills aimed at curbing the commission’s power.
No longer is CPS on pace to open at least half a dozen schools a year. A cash-strapped CPS halted start-up funding for new schools, and then funding giants like the Walton Foundation turned its efforts elsewhere, citing Illinois’ unfriendly climate toward more charter schools.
Six of the operators originally interested in applying this year have since withdrawn. Three remaining on CPS’ list await a public hearing on Nov. 21.
However, the state has about $35 million to help proven schools expand into new campuses, Broy said.
“I think we’ll have modest growth if we’re able to open nine high quality charters in two or three years,” he said.
CHARTER SCHOOLS ADDS AND SUBTRACTIONS SINCE JULY 1, 2015
• KIPP One: New campus opened
• Noble Mansueto: New campus opened
• Intrinsic 2: CPS rescinded its authority to open
• Perspectives Chicago Lawn: CPS rescinded its authority to open
• CICS — Hawkins: Closed permanently for poor performance
• Prologue — Joshua Johnston: Closed permanently for poor performance
• Shabazz — DuSable: Closed permanently for poor performance
• Galapagos: Closed voluntarily, citing finances
• Amandla: Closed for poor performance but reopened under state authority
• Bronzeville — Lighthouse: Closed for poor performance but reopened under state authority
• Shabazz — Sizemore: Closed for poor performance but reopened under state authority
• Shabazz: Transferred to state authority with sister campus
• KIPP — ASCEND Primary: Consolidated with another KIPP school