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CPS sues state commission after it reverses charter rulings

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool at the Chicago Board of Education meeting Wednesday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday sued a state commission that overturned the district’s decision to close three charter schools, asking a judge not to let the academically weak schools reopen.

The Illinois State Charter School Commission reached beyond its powers granted under state law when it decided to overrule CPS and keep the poor-performing schools open, the school district argues in three lawsuits, one for each school.

“Put simply, the Charter Schools Law does not grant the commission the power to charter and operate schools that the commission itself agrees do not provide an adequate education to students,” read the suits filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

Addressing the members of the Board of Education on Wednesday, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool chastised the appointed commission for an “ill-informed and destructive decision to refuse to hold charter schools accountable no matter how poorly they serve our students.”

CPS said it will guarantee spots in higher-performing schools come September for each student from Betty Shabazz’s Sizemore campus, Amandla Charter High School and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School, which the Chicago Board of Education voted last November to close.

Hosanna Jones, executive director of the commission, said she did not want to comment on lawsuits she hadn’t yet seen. The schools did not return messages seeking comment.

In voting 6-0 in March to let the three charters remain open, state commissioners accused CPS of moving too quickly on new evaluation policies and not giving the schools a fair shake. The vote included two commissioners who typically vote against the publicly funded but privately managed schools.

That means the South Side schools now will be funded directly by the state and will receive a larger share of funding than if they were under CPS’ control. Should enrollment and state funding remain consistent, CPS stands to lose about $13 million in per-pupil funding.

The schools, which will remain in CPS-owned buildings until June, also must find new facilities in coming months and adhere to other conditions the commission set.

CPS, struggling to find enough cash to make a $670 million pension payment in June, now supports efforts in Springfield to curtail or eliminate the commission since it can overrule local decisions to deny new charter applications or close existing schools. The district, though, has yet to back a specific bill.

District spokeswoman Emily Bittner said CPS acted quickly with the lawsuit because students and their families need to know as soon as possible where they’ll go to school in September.