Archives for category: Charter Schools

The corporate style reformers–the cheerleaders for charters, vouchers-and high-stakes testing–like to claim that they are leading the civil rights movement of their day. They imagine themselves locked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., in their efforts to end collective bargaining rights, to eliminate teacher due process rights, and to privatize public education.


I am not sure if they actually believe this or if they think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the media and the public.


In this fascinating interview, Josh Eidelson of Salon puts the question to Linda Darling-Hammond: Would you agree or disagree that the Vergara case–which would end teachers’ job protections–is an extension of the civll rights movement, as its proponents claim?


My guess is that Linda either fell off her chair laughing, or was momentarily dumbstruck by the absurdity of the idea.


She responded:


“I can’t understand why anyone would agree. To me, it’s completely unrelated to the agenda from Brown, which was about getting equal access to educational opportunities for students — you know, initially through desegregation, but the heritage of Brown is also a large number of school finance reform lawsuits that have been trying to advocate for equitable resource distribution between districts and schools. And Vergara has nothing to do with that …


“Even if you got rid of teachers’ due process rights for evaluation, you would do nothing to remedy the inequalities in funding and access that students have. And in fact you might exacerbate the problem.”


See, Linda remembers that the Brown decision was about equity, equitable resources for schools, and desegregation, and today’s self-proclaimed reformers avoid discussing things like that. They say that poverty is an excuse for bad teachers. Martin Luther King Jr. would never have said that. They certainly don’t care about desegregation. As the UCLA Civil Rights Project and as researcher Iris Rotberg have documented, charter schools exacerbate segregation. Indeed. the so-called reformers like to boast about all-black schools that get high test scores; segregation just is not an issue for them. They don’t see any reason to reduce class size–Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg think it should be increased. If pressed, they say that we are spending too much on education already. Things like desegregation, equitable resources, and class size are not on their agenda.


Eidelson asks whether the plaintiffs are right in saying that it should be easier to fire bad teachers, and Linda responds:


First of all, just to be clear: It is extremely easy to get rid of teachers. You can dismiss a teacher for no reason at all in the first two years of their employment. And so there is no reason for a district ever to tenure a “grossly ineffective” teacher — as the language of the lawsuit goes — because you know if a teacher is grossly ineffective pretty quickly, and it’s negligence on the part of the school district if they continue to employ somebody who falls into that classification when they have no barriers to [firing them]. And districts that are well-run, and have good teacher evaluation systems in place, can get rid of veteran teachers that don’t meet a standard and [don’t] improve after that point.


But in fact, the ability to keep teachers and develop them into excellent teachers is the more important goal and strategy for getting a high-quality teaching force. Because if what you’re really running is a churn factory, where you’re just bringing people in and, you know, firing them, good people don’t want to work in a place like that. So it’s going to be hard for you to recruit. Second of all, you’re likely not paying enough attention to developing good teachers into great teachers, and reasonable teachers into good teachers.


That’s not to say you shouldn’t get rid of a bad teacher if you get one. But you ought to be very careful about hiring and development – that makes that a rare occurrence.


When Eidelson asks Linda what should be done to fulfill the promise of the Brown decision, she responds:


First of all, we have a dramatically unequal allocation of wealth in the society, which is getting much worse … We need another War on Poverty … Because we have a quarter of our kids in the country, and more than half in the public schools of California, living in poverty.


And so that’s No. 1: We need to do what other developed nations do, which is ensure that kids have healthcare, housing and a context in which they can grow up healthy – in communities which still have the kinds of recreation facilities, public libraries and other supports, [including] early childhood education, that would continue to allow children to come to school ready to learn.


Then we need schools that are equitably funded, with more money going to the students who have the greatest needs. I’m proud to say that in California, we’ve just passed a school funding law that is probably the most progressive in the nation, and that will actually, over the next years, allocate more money to each child that is living in poverty, is an English learner, or is in foster care than to other children. And we will begin to redress some of the profound inequalities that exist today … Cities in California typically are spending much less right now – before this kicks in — than affluent districts. That’s the real thing — if we were litigating the successes of Brown — that’s the real thing that would be first on the agenda to correct.


And then beyond that, I think we have to be sure that the state builds a high-quality teaching force, well-prepared for all candidates. If we were a highly developed nation that is high-achieving, we would be offering free teacher education to everyone that wants to teach, in high-quality [preparatory programs] … and getting rid of the [programs] that can’t meet the bar, so that everyone comes in ready and competent.


Wait a minute, that’s not what Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and other leaders of the Status Quo want!

Last year, Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski published a book called “The Public School Advantage,” which shows through careful scholarly research that public schools have inherent advantages over private schools, especially p charter schools and voucher schools. In doing so, they stirred up a hornet’s nest.

In this post, Chris Lubienski responds to Patrick Wolf and Jay Greene of the “Department of Educational Reform” at the University of Arkansas, which is heavily funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Walton is well known as one of the nation’s leading–perhaps THE leading–funders of school privatization. For several years, they have handed out $150-160 million annually, almost all dedicated to charters and vouchers. On the political spectrum, they are far to the right.

Patrick Wolf is not only the 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas, but the “independent” evaluator of the voucher programs in Milwaukee and the District of Columbia. He is an avowed proponent of school choice in general and vouchers in particular. Greene, who previously worked for the conservative Manhattan Institute, is now chair of the “Department of Educational Reform” at the University of Arkansas.

Both were students of Paul Peterson at Harvard, where he runs the Program on Educational Policy and Governance and edits Education Next. The editorial board of Education Next is made up of senior fellows at the conservative Hoover Institution (I was one of them for some years). Peterson is perhaps the nation’s leading advocate for school choice, at least in the academic world.

Lubienski not only challenges their criticisms of his book, but questions the ethics of releasing purportedly scholarly studies to the media without any peer review. This happens more and more frequently, as “think tanks” release studies and reports to a credulous media, who simply report what they received, not realizing that peer review never took place.and so the public hears about a study or a report in the newspaper not knowing they are getting “research” commissioned by advocates and carried out by sympathetic researchers.

The one thing that comes up again and again in these debates is the failure of the media to do due diligence before they report the findings that were recently released with great fanfare. They should ask who paid for the study, they should check the allegiances of those who conducted it, they should check to see if has been peer reviewed, they should determine whether it is part of a larger political agenda.

The blog known as “Better Living Through Mathematics” ponders the criteria of an ethical charter school.

That would be a school that doesn’t kick other kids out of their school. And a school that enrolled the same proportion of students with disabilities and English learners as neighborhood public schools.

That would be a school that has a fair discipline policy, suspending no more than neighborhood public schools.

If your charter meets those criteria, let the author of the post know.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State  Legislature passed a budget bill that allows charters to have free space inside public schools, even though the charters are private corporations. Not only that, the charters that are already located inside public schools may expand as much as they want, pushing public school children out of their buildings. In some cases, the charters will push out programs for students with profound disabilities to make way for a larger, highly privileged charter school.  If the charters rent private space, the city is obliged to pay their rent. All this, despite the fact that many charters have billionaires on their private boards of directors. Today, leaders of New York City parent organizations and community councils rallied on the steps of the New York Public Library, then marched to the office of Governor Cuomo.


The Governor should remember–this being an election year–that there are 1.1 million children in New York City who attend public schools. There are 60,000 children who attend charter schools. Parents will remember in August what Governor Cuomo did in April.


For immediate release
April 10, 2014

Noah E. Gotbaum: 917-658-3213;
Rashidah White: 646-229-1610;
Electeds and Parent Leaders Representing 1.5M NYC Public School Parents Say “All NYC Kids Matter”
Rally Against the Governor’s Giveaway of Public Space To Hedge-fund Backed Charters
This afternoon, in an unprecedented show of unity, elected officials, including State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and Council Member Danny Dromm, chair of the Council Education Committee, Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP NY State Conference, and hundreds of parents and children from across the five boroughs filled the steps of the New York Public Library to say that all kids matter, and that the privileged few who attend charter schools should not be allowed to hijack space in our already overcrowded public schools. Then they marched to Governor Cuomo’s office where children present his representative with a large signed post-card, with counterfeit dollar bills attached, to symbolize how he has enabled his wealthy contributors in the charter lobby to engineer a hostile takeover of our public schools, over the needs of NYC’s 1.1 million public school children.

Said Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, “It would be a mistake for Albany to force the City to provide public space for all charters or else require the DOE to pay charter rent for private space. Our City doesn’t benefit from Albany’s meddling; it can only breed resentment and the vast majority of New Yorkers will not stand for it. If Albany truly wanted to be helpful, it would make funding available to alleviate overcrowding and support class size reduction. In too many Manhattan school districts, pre-k seats have been eliminated to make room for kindergarten seats; and, year after year, class sizes continue to rise. New York City must have the ability to determine best uses for our public school buildings without intervention from Albany.”

“Governor Cuomo’s education budget is unfair to New York City schools,” said NYC Council Education Chairperson Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst). “Giving privately operated charter school students preference for space and more per pupil public funding than public school students if the city is forced to pay their rent is totally unjust. Forcing co-locations in favor of privately run charter schools and forcing out public schools creates a logistical nightmare that begs the question about where will our public school students go. We stand united against gubernatorial control of our schools.”
“Despite school leaders’ best efforts and the best intentions of the Department of Education, a co-location disadvantages students from both schools by forcing them to share already-overburdened resources,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas of Queens. “I applaud the dedicated efforts of community parents, teachers, and students in working towards a vision that will benefit every New York student with fair and equal access to a quality education.”

John Fielder of Community Education Council in District 7 in the Bronx said, “The new charter law is absolutely disgraceful. Our public schools are losing classrooms and programs right and left because of co-locations. PS 162 in District 7 had one of the best music programs in the Bronx; now with the charter school being forced into the building it may lose that program. I say, let charters pay for their own buildings because they can afford it, instead of hurting the education of our public school kids.’

According to Lisa Donlan, President of the Community Education Council in District 1 in Manhattan, “Parents, educators, students and community members are coming together to send a strong message to Governor Cuomo: these are our public schools , and we will not allow the Governor to bully us and hijack them to satisfy private interests. The Governor needs to improve opportunities for ALL students, not for the small number who are already protected by wealthy special interests. He could start by addressing the fact that makes our state’s schools the most segregated in the country, with NYC charter schools the most segregated of all.”

“Perhaps we should thank Gov. Cuomo for finally uniting 1.1 million families across all five boroughs. To minimize co-locations in New York City’s public schools, we stand as many…we stand as one,” said Deborah Alexander, a member of Community Education Council in District 30 in Queens.

Miriam Aristy-Farer, President of Community Education Council 6 in Upper Manhattan said, “To ignore what the state owes the public school children from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was wrong. To further fuel the divide in our city by giving more funding and power to charters was not only short sighted but foolish. To then allow these same charter lobbyists to flood parents’ mailboxes with propaganda, saying we should thank the Governor, is particularly outrageous.”

“Traditional public schools will now suffer even greater financial strains, thanks to the NY legislature and Governor Cuomo mandating NYC pay rent for all charter schools. I appreciate charter schools and the competition they create for better schools. I just wish we had more safeguards in place to ensure charters retain all students, especially those with disabilities. Far too many charters counsel students out of the school. The charters “cream” the high performing and less costly students while the local zoned public schools absorb the costs of providing services to the students with the most needs,” pointed out Mike Reilly, Community Education Council member from District 31 on Staten Island.

Noah E. Gotbaum, Vice President of Community Education Council District 3 in Harlem and the Upper West side said, “12,000 New York City public school students have traded classrooms for rat-infested trailers, almost half a million of our children sit in schools above capacity, and all 1.1 million face class sizes at levels not seen in decades. So why have Governor Cuomo and the Senate Coalition leadership given unregulated expansion rights to all new and existing charters, and handed over control of our public school buildings to the charter school lobby, while defunding the 94% of kids in public schools? Because the hedge fund-driven charter lobby told them to.”

“During the Bloomberg years, our communities had a difficult time communicating the educational needs of our schools to the disconnected educrats in Tweed. Now the people making decisions are in Albany and even more removed from direct input from the stakeholders. What does a state charter school authorizer know about my Brooklyn neighborhood!? NOTHING! And now these folks are in charge! Is this any way to run a school system? As we say in Brooklyn, you bet it ain’t!” said David Goldsmith, President of the Community Education Council 13 in Brooklyn.

Andy Lachman of Parent Leaders of the Upper East Side said: “For the majority of NYC public school children this budget spells D-O-O-M. It dooms public education and puts control of education in the hands of private citizens and corporations. It will mean less funding for public schools and larger class sizes in an already overcrowded system. It will mean fewer essential services, and less space for art and physical education, already lacking in too many schools.”

Rashidah White of Community Education Council in District 5 in Central Harlem said, “In the national competition to “Race to the Top”, Albany legislatures have not only neglected to provide standard state regulated learning environments for some of our country’s most needy public school children, but their decision last week leaves them ill equipped to even enter the race at all. The parceling off of NY State’s constitutional obligation to provide equitable education to all students and the funneling off of public resources to corporate backed charters is wholly unconstitutional and must be reexamined.”

Kemala Karmen of the group NYCpublic said, “The voters of New York City gave Bill de Blasio an overwhelming mandate to charge charter schools rent. Now Andrew Cuomo, who seems to take his marching orders from the wealthy hedge-funders who donate to his campaign, has reversed that popular mandate to make the city pay charter rent. This is outrageous and undemocratic. Every single public school child in New York City is a potential victim of this budget. Lock up your teachers and your guidance counselors, because the city may have to lay them off to pay for the leases of well-financed charters.”

Ellen McHugh, member of the Citywide Council on Special Education said, “Please Governor Cuomo, be a Governor for every child. If you want to be a champion of education, see to it that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement is implemented. Don’t abandon the most vulnerable 109 students with special needs at PS 811, who will be evicted by the charter school for the sake of a favored few. Where will these students go? To a Success Academy, which refuses to enroll disabled children? I don’t think so.”

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters said, “ While the Governor claims he is the ‘students lobbyist’ his new budget favors the pet charter schools of his contributors while cheating 1.1 million public school children out of space and resources, at a time when our schools are already hugely overcrowded and our class sizes the largest in fifteen years. Kudos to our elected officials and the parents elected to serve on Community Education Councils, for speaking out against this unfair and damaging mandate, and insisting that all NYC kids matter, not just a privileged few.”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio was being hammered by $5 million of emotional attack ads accusing him of “evicting” 194children from one of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools in Harlem, the Mayor called Paul Tudor Jones to plead for a truce.

Paul Tudor Jones is a billionaire hedge fund manager who is heavily invested in privately-managed charter schools. He manages $13 billion in his business. Being so very rich and successful, he decided to fix poverty. He created the RobinHood Foundation to raise money from his rich buddies, and it has done some good work. It raises $80 million in a single night at its nnual dinner.

Jones now has a big goal. He wants to save public education.

Never having been a teacher nor a public school parent (not clear if he ever attended a public school), he nonetheless feels fully qualified to redesign American education based on the same principles he learned as a successful hedge fund manager.

The money of Jones and his friends is now used to destroy a basic democratic institution, which they don’t like. Their money supports schools that cherry-pick students who are winners, just as they manage their investments. The idea of equal opportunity has no role in his world.

That may be why the negative TV commercials about de Blasio never explained that no students were being evicted from charter schools; they wanted more space to grow a middle school in PS 149 in Harlem, which meant the actual eviction of students with severe disabilities.

But in the world of Paul Tudor Jones, students with disabilities don’t count. They are not winners. They must be evicted to make more room for kids with high scores.

Aren’t we lucky to have Paul Tudor Jones to redesign American education? To tell us how to train teachers?

A few years ago, Michigan governor Rick Snyder decided that the best way to fix the financial problems of districts in deficit was to put them under the control of an emergency manager to straighten out their finances. Some districts, however, are so poor that they don’t have enough money to educate their children. It is the state’s duty to help them.

In 2011, an emergency manager decided to give the Muskegon Heights school district to a for-profit charter chain, called Mosaica. It has not been profitable, and the district’s deficit continues.

Mosaica just received an emergency bailout from the state because it couldn’t meet its payroll. The corporation ended its first year in deficit because of the cost of repairs.

Years of deferred maintenance required expenditures of $750,000 to bring the buildings up to code. Meanwhile revenues have shrunk as enrollment dropped from 1400 to 920.

Lingering question: why did the state allow this impoverished, largely African American school district to fall into such shabby condition? Will for-profits be more cautious in the future about taking over neglected districts? Or will they have a commitment from the state for subsidies that were not available to the school district when it had an elected board?

Amanda Potterton of Arizona State University presented this paper at the recent annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Now that these charter chains are going national, it is a good time to review them.

Potterton writes:

Last November, I wrote a commentary published in Teachers College Record about two “highly performing” charter school management organizations (CMOs) in Arizona, BASIS and Great Hearts Academies; I summarize the findings below. These top-ranked schools rarely serve all students. When the demographics of these schools are compared to demographics of all public school students in the state, it is clear that disadvantaged students are vastly underserved by these schools. This is a critical issue that should be considered alongside enthusiastic calls for increasing the numbers of charter schools.

I compared the demographics of these schools using the most recent data available(2010-11) in Common Core of Data (CCD) (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). The BASIS schools I examined did not serve any students who received free or reduced lunches (a common indicator of family poverty), or who were English Language Learners. In comparison, 45% of Arizona’s public school students received free or reduced lunchand 7% were English Language Learners. Few students who had Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) attended BASIS schools, compared to 12% of Arizona’s total student population. Similarly, the Great Hearts Academy schools provided little to no service to students with special needs and to those who were English Language Learners. Five English Language Learners attended Great Hearts schools, four of whom attended Teleos Preparatory Academy. With the exception of Teleos Preparatory Academy, which serves a diverse population of students, all of these top-ranked schools served between 53% and 86% white students. In comparison, 43% of Arizona’s public school students are white. On the other hand, American Indian students, Hispanic students and Black students were underrepresented at these schools compared to state averages (except for Teleos Preparatory Academy, whose majority percentage of students were Black/ non-Hispanic). Among the schools noted above, Teleos serves the greatest number of poor and minority students. According to state accountability data, student achievement at Teleos is lower than student performance at the other Great Hearts Academy schools (Arizona Department of Education, 2013). Producing high test scores with low income minority children is apparently as hard for charter schools to do as it is for regular public schools.

I also highlighted some recent reports about BASIS schools that document questionable methods for enrollment procedures, high attrition rates, and methods including “counseling out” of students who might negatively affect average school performance rankings (Safier, 2013; see also Welner, 2013). The figures above suggest that “highly-ranked” BASIS schools serve a privileged demographic; Safier’s story suggests that they likely select even further amongst that privileged group. Visually striking declines in student enrollment at Arizona’s BASIS and Great Hearts schools in 2010-2011 are evident in the figure below:

Enrollment Declines: Arizona’s BASIS and Great Hearts Schools

Other researchers have highlighted declining enrollment numbers in the years nearing graduation at BASIS schools (see, for example, Casanova, 2012). BASIS school representatives responded (BASIS_Communications, 2012) by challenging interpretations of the low numbers shown in the data, albeit without adequately addressing Casanova’s main concern about the “enrollment drop across grades.” Casanova’s analysis highlights the low numbers of enrolled students in the upper grades. The graph displayed above raises a question of basic comparability: is it even fair to include these schools in a comparison with Arizona’s public schools, since they are not drawing a representative population of Arizona’s public school students?

Finally, Ann Ryman (2012) documented business practices within BASIS and Great Hearts Academy schools that reveal potential conflicts of interest between board members and owners (see, also, these comments from Gene V Glass, 2012, here and here). These charter school organizations make large profits at the expense of the government and community members, through fees, book purchases, and building contracts. Other investigators have highlighted questionable practices that provide considerable access to policy makers who influence Arizona’s lawmakers. For example, Mercedes Schneider (2013) created a map of Great Hearts political connections, highlighting significant access between CMO executives and policy makers who influence laws, including members at the Goldwater Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The connections between executives of CMOs and policy leaders who influence lawmakers further complicate the problems of educational inequality and appear to provide charter schools with unfair competitive advantages. Children and taxpayers are the losers when public education dollars are at stake.


Potterton, A. U. (2013). A citizen’s response to the President’s charter school education proclamation: With a profile of two “Highly Performing” charter school organizations in Arizona. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from


Arizona Department of Education (2013). Teleos Preparatory Academy > Great Hearts Academies- Teleos Prep. Retrieved from

BASIS_Communications. (2012, April 13). Re: The newest problem with graduation rates. [online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Casanova, U. (2012, April 13). The newest problem with graduation rates. Retrieved from

Glass, G. V. (2012, November 18). May I have the envelope please. And the Pulitzer for education reporting goes…. Retrieved from

Glass, G. V. (2012, December 2). “Judge us by our results”. Retrieved from

Ryman, A. (2012, October 12). Insiders benefiting in charter deals. Retrieved from

Safier, D. (2013, April 17). BASIS charter’s education model: Success by attrition. Retrieved from

Schneider, M. (2013, March 25). Arizona education: A pocket-lining, “conflict of interest” mecca. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Search for schools, colleges, and libraries. Retrieved from

Welner, K. G. (2013, April). The dirty dozen: How charter schools influence student enrollment. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from

In recent years, Indiana has gone overboard for charter schools, believing that they held the secret to raising the test scores of low-income students.

But blogger Steve Hinnefeld analyzed the passing rates by income levels and discovered that public schools outperform charter schools in Indiana.

He wrote:

“I merged Department of Education spreadsheets with data on free and reduced-price lunch counts and ISTEP-Plus passing rates. Then I sorted by free-and-reduced-lunch rates and focused on schools where 80 percent or more students qualified for lunch assistance. Results include:

“For charter schools: Average passing rate for both E/LA and math, 48 percent; passing rate for E/LA, 62.3 percent; passing rate for math, 62.5 percent.

“For conventional public schools: Average passing rate for both E/LA and math, 57.2 percent; passing rate for E/LA, 64.1 percent; passing rate for math, 68.1 percent.

“The data set includes only schools that enroll students in grades 3-8, who take ISTEP exams; it excludes high schools and many primary-grade schools. I also tried to screen out nonstandard schools such as juvenile detention centers and dropout recovery schools.”

He also reported that fewer charter schools get high grades from the state than public schools.

Not what you would call a high-performing sector, despite the boasting and promises.

Charter schools regularly mobilize students and parents, put them on buses, and ship them to legislative hearings dressed in identical tee-shirts to lobby for more charter schools or more funding. This works to the benefit of the billionaire hedge fund managers who control these charters, as it expands their power to create even more racially segregated schools while boasting of their leadership in “civil rights” activism. These tactics also demonstrate that charter schools are not public schools. No state would allow a superintendent or a principal to bus their students and parents to demand more funding. This is nothing more than a cynical use of children as political pawns.

The article included a graph showing the rapid growth of charter schools, which was abetted by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top. States had to lift their cap on charters to be eligible for RTTT’s $4.3 billion in funding. To show how bipartisan this effort is to create more segregated schools, note that the CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Nina Rees, previously worked as a senior education advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

The hearings occur with this backdrop: top officials at UNO, Chicago’s largest charter chain, resigned after disclosure of alleged nepotism and conflicts of interest in spending $98 million of state funds for new construction; the Chicago Sun-Times published a study showing that charters do not outperform district public schools; the Noble Network of charter schools, financed by some of the city’s wealthiest citizens, collected $400,000 in fines for minor disciplinary infractions from low-income families.

This story appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

Charter-School Fight Flares Up in Illinois

Protesters Rally at Capitol to Denounce Bills That Would Curb Growth of the Public Schools

April 8, 2014 9:16 p.m. ET

Hundreds of protesters filled the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol on Tuesday denouncing nearly a dozen bills that would curb the growth of charter schools—the latest scuffle over expansion of the independently run public schools, which are spreading nationwide.

The Illinois legislature is considering 11 bills that would, among other things, limit where charter schools can be located, ban them from marketing themselves to students, and abolish a commission that has the power to overrule local school boards and grant charter licenses. The skirmish follows recent charter flare-ups in Massachusetts, Tennessee and New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio got into a standoff over the schools.

Teachers unions often oppose charters—funded by taxpayers but run by independent groups—because they typically hire nonunion workers and, labor leaders argue, drain money from struggling traditional public schools. Proponents say charter schools offer parents a choice and are free to adopt innovations such as instituting a longer school day and year, or laying off teachers based strictly on performance.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said this year’s legislative session is the “worst session for charter schools in the history of Illinois” and said passage of the bills could be the “death knell” for charter expansion. “These bills…weaken the communities that charter schools serve, which, in Illinois, are mainly African-American and Latino.”

Others say the bills, many of which are being pushed by teachers unions, are necessary to boost accountability and provide a check on charter-school growth. Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said charters exacerbate inequality and segregation in schools by “skimming off” more advantaged students. She also noted data showing Chicago charters, on average, have higher suspension and expulsion rates than other city schools.

“Charters are being used to destroy traditional public schools and, in this budgetary climate, we see no reason to open more of them,” she said.

In the past decade, the number of charter schools more than doubled to 6,440 nationwide and student enrollment more than tripled to an estimated 2.6 million, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit that advocates for charters. Still, that is only about 5% of total public-school K-12 enrollment in the U.S., according to the group.

Nina Rees, the group’s president, said charters’ rapid growth makes them a prime target for opponents, and she worries that a “union win” in Illinois could “embolden” those in other states. “It could send a message that if they [unions] gather enough momentum and coalesce, they can win,” she said.

Ms. Rees and others also are concerned that the recent skirmishes highlight a political divide among Democrats, who had been seen as increasingly supportive of charters. Both Mr. de Blasio, who sought to rein in charters, and Mr. Cuomo, who wants to see them flourish, are Democrats. The governor eventually negotiated a budget deal mandating that the city provide charters space inside traditional school buildings, but also included money for expansion of regular public-school pre-K programs, which the mayor wanted.

In Chicago, shrinking public-school enrollment and the budget deficit prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close about 50 schools last year. But the board of education, appointed by the mayor, this year approved opening seven new charters, incensing the teachers union and many community activists. A few months later, the state launched an investigation into spending at one of the city’s largest charter organizations.

Charter tensions, which had been largely confined to Chicago, moved to the suburbs when a group tried to open an online charter school last spring that would draw students—and revenue—from 18 communities. Local school boards voted it down, but the group appealed to a new state commission with the power to overrule the local bodies. State lawmakers enacted a moratorium on virtual schools so the issue became moot.

But Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat who represents some of the suburban districts, said the specter of a commission trumping local wishes prompted her to file a bill to eliminate it, only a few years after she voted to create it. Ms. Chapa LaVia said she didn’t realize at the time the group would have “so much power” and said she opposes “an outside authorizer who can overrule a school board.”

Lucy Reese, who attended Tuesday’s rally and is the mother of two charter-school students, said parents should have the right to choose the best school for their children. “I am not going to get a lot of second opportunities when it comes to educating my kids,” she said.

Write to Stephanie Banchero at

Jersey Jazzman reports on Camden’s portfolio district plan.

What does that mean? More charters.

What is the secret of their success?

Excluding children with disabilities.

Excluding the kids with the highest needs.

Doesn’t federal law prohibit this?

Apparently this is not a priority for the U.S. Department of Education or the Obama administration.

As hedge funders will sometimes acknowledge, those kids are not our problem.


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