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
By STEPHANIE BANCHERO
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 firstname.lastname@example.org