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Chicago Board of Ed approves changes for charter schools

The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday considered renewing agreements with several charter schools. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

As it continues to beg Springfield for money, Chicago’s broke Board of Education approved agreements with more than a dozen charter schools on Wednesday.

Six charter operators are seeking an additional term to stay open, and other want to increase their capacity to educate more students, according to recommendations from Chicago Public Schools administrators.

The large Noble Network of Charter schools asked to leave The Noble Academy, which was thwarted from an Uptown location, in a temporary facility at 1443 N. Ogden for a second year, and open its 17th campus temporarily at 5101 S. Keeler while it builds a permanent school.

Chicago International Charter Schools asked to change the private management company operating three of its schools to ReGeneration Schools.

Rowe Elementary School asked for an additional 180 spots, bringing its capacity up to 1,080 students.

And the Montessori School of Englewood wants to move into a building at 6936 S. Hermitage that the Betty Shabazz-Sizemore campus has occupied. CPS voted to close Shabazz but is still fighting in court with the state whether Sizemore will reopen in the fall.

But a coalition of legislators, parents and community groups asked CPS to stop expanding the publicly funded but privately managed schools, saying that the district can barely afford the schools it already has.

“New charter schools will make those fiscal conditions worse,” Nancy Brandt, a board member of the League of Women Voters, said Wednesday morning outside CPS headquarters.

Inside, charter advocates encouraged the board to approve all the amendments.

“These schools are providing parents across the city with the ability to access education that fits their students’ needs,” said Pam Witmer of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “Several of these small changes will allow our city’s public school students to continue to learn in a comfortable and safe learning environment.”

In their renewals, ACE Technical High School and Chicago Virtual Charter Schools were tasked with changing their admissions application to become “consistent with state charter law” and comply with state requirements for English Language Learners. Those schools and Kwame Nkrumah Academy also had to prove their board underwent Open Meetings Act training, and ACE had to decrease its number and length of suspensions. Several schools also had to prove they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Why are you renewing the charters of six charters with so many conditions that it shows just how out of compliance they are?” Norine Gutekanst, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, wondered.

Charters have been such an issue for the CTU that they turned into a bargaining issue in ongoing contract negotiations, with the district offering to cap the total number of charters in the teachers’ contract. The CTU has long complained that charters aren’t held to the same standards as CPS-run schools. For example, charters can suspend and expel students more easily. And because money follows students to the schools where they enroll, and total CPS enrollment has stagnated, new seats drain money from other schools.

Public hearings for all the affected charters were held during the district’s weeklong spring break.

That shows that “CPS doesn’t really value community input, community engagement,” said Jennie Biggs, a board member of Raise Your Hand, a parent group seeking a halt to charter expansion as CPS struggles to pay its bills.