A Chicago legislator wants to link charter-school expansion to a school district’s ability to pay for them, an effort aimed at slowing the spread of the privately run, publicly funded schools in the city.
The bill introduced Friday by state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, would block the opening of any new charter campuses in any school districts with the Illinois State Board of Education’s two lowest financial ratings. The Chicago Public Schools system has been on that list for years.
“Our priority must be investing in the schools we have,“ Guzzardi said Monday outside Prosser Career Academy High School on the Northwest Side, where he was accompanied by other lawmakers, members of the Chicago Teachers Union and parents from the neighborhood.
“If your district is broke, take care of the schools you have before you open new schools,” Guzzardi said. “This isn’t about shutting down any charter schools that are already here.”
Prosser, 2148 N. Long Ave., sits across an intersection from the ITW David Speer Academy, which the Noble Network of Charter Schools opened in 2014. With CPS facing budget cuts and declining enrollment, Noble is considering expanding that campus citing high demand to get in, and a long waistlist.
The bulk of Illinois’ 857 school districts would not be affected. In 2016, ISBE reported 32 school districts on the financial watch list — the state’s worst rating — and another 61 a step above on the financial early warning list.
Chicago has a charter moratorium of sorts in place right now, signed into agreement in the last fall’s teachers contract, which capped the number of charters citywide at 132 — the number CPS had in July 2015 when the deal took effect. There’s room, though, for more schools because several have since closed.
CPS has slowed its charter expansion in recent years and ruled out all candidates for new charters in the latest round of applications before the Chicago Board of Education had to take a vote. That’s significant because a state charter commission, funded by charter schools, can overrule a Board of Ed. denial of applications, allowing the schools to open anyway.
The Illinois Network of Charter Schools opposes Guzzardi’s plan.
“I find it curious that it applies only to charter public schools and no other new school type,” said Andrew Broy, president of the charter lobby group. “That shows this for what it actually is: simply a moratorium by another name. Only one lens — quality — should drive critical decisions about what schools serve Illinois students.”
Guzzardi said his plan wouldn’t limit growth of district-operated schools.
“I have confidence that districts in difficult financial straights are going to look at their numbers and see what they need to do in terms of district schools.It’s the privately run district operators that are going to try to continue to make gains despite the financial health of the district. We’ve seen that here in Chi Pub Schools, right? That no matter what financial condition our district is in, the private charter operators aren’t stopping.”
CPS did not return messages seeking comment.
Several charter operators in Chicago have laid off staff or threatened layoffs as funding has declined in the wake of the state budget standoff. One closed in June, citing financial troubles.
Charter schools are slated to lose another $189 more per student of their funding on April 15 — their share of budget freezes that already have taken effect in CPS schools. That’s unless more money comes before then from the state, either via a speedy ruling from a Cook County judge or from an agreement among the Democratic-led General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.