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Rauner vetoes bill to curb power of Illinois State Charter School Commission

Amandla Charter School, 6800 S. Stewart, was one of four schools reopened by the Illinois State Charter School Commission after CPS closed them in 2016 for poor academic performance. Amandla now plans to close permanently in June. | Sun-Times file photo

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill, pushed by Chicago Public Schools, that would have curbed the authority of the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which has overruled CPS and funded charter schools the district rejected for failing to meet standards.

Under the bill that passed in December, charter schools who had their applications denied or their operating charters revoked would have to sue instead of appealing to the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

The Republican governor, who has a charter school named for him in Chicago, signed a veto late Wednesday, saying the commission “is more well-equipped to facilitate the appeals process than local courts, and should continue to be empowered with the charge of ensuring that all Illinois children have access to a high-quality education.”

Within Chicago’s borders, six schools currently operate under commission authority totally separate from CPS. Their funding comes directly from the state, with the commission, rather than CPS, withholding a percentage to oversee them. Two schools were opened under the commission after CPS denied their applications. Four more were reopened by the commission after CPS closed them in 2016 for poor academic performance, though one of those, Amandla Charter School, now plans to close permanently in June.

Two other Chicago schools are seeking commission help. The Board of Education voted to shut down ACE Tech High School in June, saying that officials running the high school at 5410 S. State were warned about its academics but failed to implement a remediation plan. After visiting the school, district leaders also said the school couldn’t provide a high quality education for its 300 students.

Chicago Classical Academy didn’t meet academic, financial and operational standards in its application to open for about 500 students in the South Loop. CPS pointed to “insufficient” support for diverse learners and English learners that didn’t fully comply with state regulations.

District officials have testified against both appeals; a final decision is expected on March 20.

“CPS sets high standards for new school applicants and existing schools to ensure charters are only able to operate in Chicago if they offer students a quality education,” CPS spokesman Michael Passman said. “We have concerns with any body that limits a school district’s ability to hold schools to a high standard, and we are disappointed that this bipartisan effort in support of quality education has been overturned.”

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools, which had lobbied hard for the creation of the commission, said in a statement that it would “work with our partners in Springfield” to ensure the veto is upheld.

“In practice, the Commission allows skilled educators and community members the opportunity to open new and innovative school models,” the statement read.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which bargained to have a cap on charter schools CPS can authorize, chided the governor, saying he “embraces local control for municipalities when they seek to crush unions.

“Yet Rauner demands top-down control for his pet projects _ like overruling local school boards’ decisions on how best to manage their schools,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said.