Bill to cut state charter school panel advances

SHARE Bill to cut state charter school panel advances

A bill to eliminate the Illinois State Charter School Commission is gaining traction in Springfield.

The bill was voted out of a legislative committee Wednesday and advanced to the House floor.

The commission, a state agency created in 2011 by lawmakers — including  House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago — has been controversial, mostly, because of its appeal process.

If a charter school operator is denied a charter by a school district, the charter operator can appeal to the commission and if the commission approves the charter, the school district has no oversight of the school. 

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year the first charter operator to benefit from the decisions of the commission was Concept Schools Inc., which was denied two charters by Chicago Public Schools. Now those Concept schools get more funding per pupil for those two new schools than the city school system gives other charters.

Greg Richmond, the chairman of the commission, doesn’t think this bill, which is just one of the bills that’s focused on the commission, is about the job his agency is doing.

“I think there’s no question these are anti-charter school bills, not anti-commission bills,” he said. “There has been an appeal mechanism in law since 1996.”

He said the commission has received 38 appeals and approved only two of them.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, the sponsor of the bill, did not respond to requests for comment. 

But the commission is the one issue that apparently has brought together the Chicago Teachers Unions and the Chicago Board of Education.

At the January school board meeting, CTU President Karen Lewis spoke about the commission and told the board: “I will sit on that table with you, begging and screaming to get rid of that law. I bet you if we worked on that together, Springfield would respond.”

Board President David Vitale responded, “Let’s join hands.”

Vitale didn’t respond to calls for comment Thursday.

Joel Hood, a CPS spokesman, said in a statement, “We appreciate the opportunity for dialogue this bill has created, as we believe the Illinois State Charter Commission’s review process can be improved, but abolishing the commission in only its second year makes less sense than trying to assess what is working and what is not.”

CTU policy researcher Kurt Hilgendorf said the union has issues with commission’s role.

“It’s designed to primarily expand the number of charter schools,” he said.

Richmond, of the commission, denies that and said it’s an “independent state agency.”

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said the commission is needed “to ensure that local districts follow the law and there is an independent third party that can decide on the merits of a charter application.”

Another bill, which would diminish the power of the commission, is also moving through the House.

Contributing: Dan Mihalopoulos

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