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Charter school supporters make annual trip to Springfield

Charter school students, parents and other advocates gathered at U.S. Cellular Field before heading to Springfield for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools' annual Lobby Day. They want legislators to pass a budget and support charters schools. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Several hundred parents, along with dozens of students and other charter school advocates, rallied at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday, before boarding buses to head to Springfield to urge lawmakers to pass a budget and support the under-attack charter system.

It was part of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools’ 6th annual Lobby Day.

Demetrius Davis, director of recruitment and a teacher at Catalyst Maria High School — a charter in the Marquette Park neighborhood — told the crowd gathered in a windy and wet parking lot at the ballpark that the mission Wednesday was about preserving freedom of choice.

“It is you making the loud-and-clear statement that you support your freedom to choose the best schools for your sons and daughters and that that should be unbound by zip codes or attendance maps that seek to divide our city by class and by race,” Davis said.

There are 143 charter schools statewide, serving some 64,000 students, with most in the Chicago area, according to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

At a time when Chicago Public Schools is dealing with an extreme funding shortage, there have been calls for a moratorium on new charter schools, including from the parent group Raise Your Hand. The Chicago Teachers Union has also been highly critical of charter schools, saying they suck funding from traditional neighborhood public schools.

The charter school network last week, on the day of a one-day CTU strike and rally, had issued a news release emphasizing that its students and teachers were in class and learning and were not “allowing adult politics to take precedent over their students’ learning and growth.”

A charter network spokeswoman said Lobby Day doesn’t reduce learning time because no schools were closed. Also, she said, many charter public schools have more session days than district-run schools, and heading to Springfield to meet with their elected officials is considered a worthwhile civic learning opportunity. Four students are serving as legislative pages on Wednesday.

Andrew Broy, president of INCS, said the group heading to Springfield is, to a certain extent, on the same page with most CPS parents, teacher and students who simply want the state to pass a budget.

“Every public school is affected by the funding crisis in our state,” Broy said. “We need a budget done, we need education prioritized, funding fixed. Secondarily, we are very concerned about the attacks against charter public schools across the state.”