Archives for category: Illinois

I received the letter at the bottom of this post at the beginning of January. I thought it deserved a response.

This was my response:

Dear Jonah,

You don’t know me but I have followed your career. As the son of illustrious parents, much was expected of you.

Stand for Children was a great idea, when it actually defended children and public schools.

But somewhere along the way, you changed and Stand for Children changed. In 2007-08, you began to accept gifts of millions of dollars from “ultra-wealthy political donors,” and you began leading campaigns against teachers, their unions, and public schools. You demanded test-based evaluations of teachers, a useless metric that punished teachers who taught the neediest children. You boasted at an Aspen summer meeting in 2011 (which I attended) that you had outsmarted the Chicago Teachers Union by hiring all the best lobbyists. The big political donors gave you money to support pro-charter candidates in school board races.

Early supporters of Stand for Children started to call it “Stand on Children.”

I agree with all the goals you describe in your letter, and I must ask you if you will continue to promote charter schools, even though they drain money from public schools; whether you will continue to support test-based evaluation of teachers, even though it has consistently failed; whether you will continue to support school board candidates who favor charter schools and privatization.

If you truly intend to reject donations from “ultra-wealthy political donors,” if you truly reject all forms of privatization, including charter schools, if you truly mean to demand “that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism,” then we can stand together. Please let me and the Network for Public Education know where you stand on the issues that could unite us.

Diane Ravitch


On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 10:36 AM Jonah Edelman <info@stand.org> wrote:

Diane,

Reflecting on 2021, I see reasons for hope. The widespread availability of vaccines. A return to in-person learning. An economy that rebounded with record speed due to bold government action.

At the same time, there is cause for grave concern. Tens of millions of children and young people are struggling to recover academically, socially, and emotionally from the pandemic. Tragically, instead of using their power to help children and young people get on track, politicians are passing bans on conversations about race and discrimination that deny children the honest and unbiased understanding of the past they need to create a better future. At the same time, extremists are targeting and harassing school board members, principals, teachers, parents, and even students who want an accurate portrayal of U.S. history with diverse viewpoints.DONATE

Public education is the pathway to economic opportunity and the backbone of a healthy democracy.

That is why we must stand together against the politicians, media moguls, and ultra-wealthy political donors who are stirring up fear and hate and conspiring to make public education a political battleground at the expense of our children’s learning and well-being.

And it is why, together, we must continue to use our collective voice and votes to ensure that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism and the harm it does to us all.

We are deeply grateful for your partnership and support, and we hope you will continue to stand with us in 2022.

Standing together with you,

Jonah Edelman

Stand for Children

2121 SW Broadway #111

Portland, OR 97201

Organized parent groups in Illinois are suing school boards, the state board of education and the Governor to remove mask mandates and other safety measures from the schools. They want their children to be unprotected from the coronavirus. They don’t want the pandemic to end. This is the latest from Illinois Families for Public Schools. The overwhelming majority of lawsuits against public health mandates have been turned down by the courts. Let’s hope this one loses too.

Action alert: Sign this petition to oppose lifting the mask mandate and other covid safety measures in IL schools!

Last week, a lawsuit was filed against 145 school districts including Chicago Public Schools, Governor Pritzker and ISBE by groups of parents at these districts to lift the mask mandate and other covid safety measures in the schools. Each group of parents gave Attorney Tom Devore $5000 totalling $725K donated to make our schools and communities unsafe. 

Parents in Algonquin launched a petition to say these parents do not represent them and they do not want the mask mandate and other safety measures lifted at their schools. They got over 1200 signatures over the weekend and are asking for support in signing and sharing with other parents and community members who want schools to remain safe. 

Sign and share this petition

Please sign and share this petition with other parents and community members who actually want this pandemic to end. Over 6.2 million children have tested positive for covid since the pandemic started and 1.1 million just in the first six-weeks of this school year. 

As much as we’d like this pandemic to be over, it’s simply not, and no amount of covid-denying magical thinking will change that. The vaccine will be available for school-aged children 5-11 very soon, so let’s keep our schools open safely now.

Here’s another recent relevant article on the topic of school board culture wars happening around the country: 

WBEZ: What it’s like to be on the front lines of the school board culture war

Fred Klonsky writes here about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recent visit to Illinois. She came to support a member of Congress who is running for re-election and shares Greene’s extremist views.

She campaigned in the most conservative part of the state, where the Ku Klux Klan was popular in the 1920s. Note the sponsors of one of their rallies, whose rally brochure is portrayed on Fred’s blog. Ford Motor Company was one prominent sponsor. There was no shame attached to being an outright racist and anti-Semite and all-around bigot at that time.

Fred described the setting as follows:

It turns out that Effingham and nearby Sangamon County – home of our state capital in Springfield – once held giant Ku Klux Klan rallies, including at Illinois the state fair grounds.

It was common for Klan rallies in the area to draw tens of thousands of locals.

I’m not picking on downstate Illinois. In the 1920s Chicago had the largest KKK membership of any metropolitan region in the United States.

According to WBEZ journalist Dan Mihalopoulos, Greene spoke for nearly an hour, and true to form, she spent most of her time mocking other members of Congress. She ridiculed another Illinois Congresswoman because she has a transgender daughter.

Greene peppered her speech with other bigoted comments about “the great Chinese pandemic” and Muslim members of Congress and their allies, who she called “the jihad squad.”

The Midwest director of the Anti-Defamation League said it’s time to end the politics of hate, but it’s unlikely that Greene has any other mode of expressing her views. That’s who she is.

A federal investigation of Gulen charters in Illinois concluded with a large fine. Gulen charters are associated with the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. Gulen charter schools can be recognized by the dominant presence of Turkish people in the board and the staff. In the past, they have been criticized for steering contracts to Turkish-owned firms, regardless of whether they are the low bidder.

The article, written by veteran reporters Dan Mihapoulos and Sarah Karp, describes the conclusion of a lengthy federal investigation.

A politically connected charter school chain based in the Chicago area has agreed to pay $4.5 million to end a long-running federal corruption investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Concept Schools Inc. — which has four publicly-financed campuses in Chicago and dozens of other charter schools in the Midwest — allegedly engaged in a bid-rigging scheme to steer federally funded technology contracts to insiders.

The costly, civil settlement with the government comes more than six years after federal agents raided the charter operator’s northwest suburban offices and other sites connected to Concept in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In a statement this week, the Justice Department alleged Concept officials violated the federal False Claims Act “by engaging in non-competitive bidding practices” when they awarded contracts funded with taxpayer dollars from the government’s E-rate program. Through the program, the government subsidizes internet access at “needy public schools,” officials said.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing vigilance to ensure that those doing business with the government do not engage in anticompetitive conduct,” said Jeffrey Bossert, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Government contractors and schools that seek to profit at the expense of taxpayers will face serious consequences.”

Concept has denied wrongdoing. The nonprofit organization is based in Schaumburg and runs 30 taxpayer-financed charter schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio.

Documents show all of Concept’s revenues come from managing taxpayer-funded schools.

Chicago Public Schools officials — who approved and oversee two Concept campuses in the city — are set to provide about $17 million for those schools this year. The two other Concept-run schools in Chicago are regulated by the state, which is giving them another $22 million for the current year.

The four schools in Chicago, in turn, pay a total of $3.8 million a year to Concept in management fees, records show...

The federal corruption probe came into public view in June 2014, when agents raided Concept’s headquarters at the time in Des Plaines and the Chicago Math and Science Academy, in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Court records show authorities launched the raids because they suspected a long-running “scheme to defraud a federal program.” The feds said at the time that Concept funneled about $5 million in federal grant funds to insiders and “away from the charter schools,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

In announcing the settlement, the Justice Department accused Concept of giving its E-rate business to “chosen vendors without a meaningful, fair and open bidding process” and alleged the charter operator paid those vendors “higher prices than those approved by the [federal government] for equipment with the same functionality.”

And some of the equipment the federal government paid Concept for was “discovered missing,” the Justice Department said.

But in a statement last week, Concept officials sought to portray the settlement as an exoneration, because the probe did not result in criminal charges. They pointed out that in its press release on the settlement, the Justice Department said the “claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability…”

Concept officials also said they had been the subject of unfair allegations of wrongdoing from “foreign actors.” Although the statement from the charter operator did not specify what foreign critics they were referring to, the charter chain run by Turkish immigrants has faced criticism from the government of their homeland for several years.

In a civil case in federal court in Chicago in August, the Turkish government sought information about Concept and a long list of “relevant individuals and entities.”

Turkey says Concept and other charter school networks across the U.S. “were created to siphon public, taxpayer funds away from the education of children in order to finance the international political activities of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric residing in the State of Pennsylvania.”

Gulen once was a staunch supporter of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the two men have become bitter enemies, with Erdogan pressing the U.S. to extradite Gulen. Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup against him in 2016.

According to the court filing here, Turkey “has initiated an investigation within its own borders to determine whether the proceeds derived from these illegal activities in the United States are being unlawfully transported and transmitted to individuals in Turkey in violation of Turkish criminal law, including international money laundering and fraud…”

Concept also has connections to one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois — state House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan of Chicago…

The speaker, his wife Shirley and other Madigan allies repeatedly travelled in Turkey as guests of a Gulen-led foundation and other Turkish groups in Chicago.

According to economic-interest statements he filed with the state, Michael Madigan made four trips to Turkey from 2009 through 2012 — before Gulen fell out with Erdogan.

This is a longer version of same article with details about Missouri Gulen schools.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/2020/11/6/21552520/concept-schools-charter-school-chain-investigation-settlement


A well-educated citizenry is essential to democracy. The Education Law Center reports good news for the schools and students of Illinois:

On September 30, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in Cahokia Unit School District No. 187 v. Pritzker, a case challenging inadequate and inequitable school funding that could potentially alter the landscape of school funding jurisprudence in the state.

The plaintiffs in the Cahokia lawsuit are twenty-two, low-wealth school districts across the state. They filed their lawsuit in 2018, charging that the State of Illinois has persistently underfunded their schools, depriving their students of their right to a high quality education under the Education Clause of the Illinois constitution.

The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas Geoghegan of the law firm Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd. in Chicago.

In 1996, in Committee for Educational Rights v. Edgar, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Education Clause was a non-justiciable political question because the “quality of education” was not “capable of or properly subject to measurement by the courts.” The Court held that defining the quality of education was a matter for the State Legislature.

In the ensuing years, the Legislature took up that mantle, adopting the Illinois Learning Standards, which detail the specific educational experience to which all students in Illinois are entitled. The State also adopted tests to measure students’ progress on the Learning Standards.

In 2017, in response to intense political pressure, the Legislature enacted the Funding Act of 2017, designed to provide the resources essential for all students to achieve the State’s Learning Standards. In 2018, the State Board of Education determined, pursuant to the Funding Act’s criteria, that an additional $7.2 billion was required to provide adequate and equitable resources for all students. The Funding Act established a deadline of 2027 for full funding of the adequacy amount.

However, even in the first year of the Act’s decade-long phase-in to full funding, the state failed to provide the requisite installment of state school aid. This failure lies as the heart of the Cahokia lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs contend that the State is already so far behind on funding the new formula that full funding will not be achieved even by 2047.

The Cahokia plaintiffs presented data establishing a correlation between inadequate State and local per-pupil funding and failure rates on state assessments. The plaintiffs also demonstrated a wide disparity in passing rates on state assessments between students in low-wealth districts, which are inadequately funded, and in affluent districts.

In July 2018, the State defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that the case was beyond the reach of the courts, or “not justiciable,” based on the Supreme Court’s 1996 Edgar ruling. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. In April 2020, in a split decision, the Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed the dismissal, noting that the Legislature’s enactment of the Illinois Learning Standards did call into question the holding in Edgar. However, the appeals court also ruled that overturning this precedent is the exclusive province of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Appellate Court Justice Milton S. Wharton filed a vigorous dissent, asserting that the court has a duty to address the issues in the case “instead of ignoring or postponing this critical issue of utmost urgency and importance to our citizens and our State with an overly broad application of Edgar ‘s holding.” Justice Wharton concluded that since Edgar, the Legislature has “determined the education students must receive” and, as a result, “courts no longer need to make that determination in order to resolve claims that students in under-resourced districts are not receiving the high quality education mandated by our State constitution.”

The Cahokia plaintiffs filed a petition for leave to appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court in July. The Supreme Court’s decision to accept the case provides the opportunity to revisit its decision in Edgar in light of the Legislature’s actions since 1996 that have defined the substantive contours of a quality education for Illinois public school students.

In 2017, in a case very similar to Cahokia, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reconsidered its previous ruling that constitutional education adequacy claims were non justiciable. In William Penn School District, et al., v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, et al., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs (a coalition of school districts, parents, children and advocacy groups) were entitled to proceed to trial on their school funding claims. The Court declined to follow its earlier decision, now holding that it was possible to devise a judicially enforceable standard of educational adequacy. The Court further held that failure to adjudicate school funding claims would make a “hollow mockery of judicial review.”

A similar decision by the Illinois Supreme Court would allow the plaintiffs to proceed to trial to prove their case and would finally provide, as Justice Wharton declared, “an avenue [for] under-resourced school districts like the plaintiffs to insist on funding that is adequate to serve their students” in the manner to which they are entitled under the Illinois constitution.

Education Law Center is providing assistance to the Cahokia plaintiffs’ attorneys and working with the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on an amicus brief before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

Fred Klonsky writes here about Illinois’ inequitable flat tax. Black and brown communities have paid $4 billion more than they would have if the state had a progressive income tax.

Governor J.B. Pritzker is acting like a responsible, intelligent leader. Imagine that! He actually wants to protect the lives and health of the children and adults in school. He won’t permit them to decide whether they can be free to infect others with a deadly disease. He understands that public health takes precedence over private whim.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker took the unusual step Thursday of preemptively filing a lawsuit to ensure school children wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when schools reopen in a few weeks.

The action filed late Thursday in Sangamon County Circuit Court by the state attorney general seeks a judge’s approval of Pritzker’s order that schoolchildren, teachers and staff wear coverings over mouths and noses among other measures to reduce the chance that the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus can spread.
‘As a father, I would not send my children to a school where face coverings are not required because the science is clear: face coverings are critical to prevent the spread of coronavirus,’ Pritzker said in a prepared statement.

It’s typical for the governor to be in court as a defendant seeking validation of a policy or action. In this instance, no lawsuit has been filed, but a public school district and two private academies have informed the Illinois State Board of Education that Pritzker no longer has authority under emergency rule-making to require face masks in schools and that they will be developing their own safety rules.

It was time to get ahead of the issue, Ann Spillane, Pritzker’s chief legal counsel, told The Associated Press.

‘Students need to prepare, parents need to know what’s coming, administrators need guidelines. Confusion on these things leads to risk,’ Spillane said. ‘œWe’re sending a signal that this issue is not up for debate. The governor doesn’t have an option.’

A lawyer representing Hutsonville Community Unit School District No. 1 in southeastern Illinois, Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville and Families of Faith Christian Academy in Channahon wrote letters in the last month to the state board explaining that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in a 1922 case that government cannot make rules ‘œwhich merely have a tendency to prevent’ the spread of infectious diseases, particularly if ‘œarbitrary and unreasonable.’
Thomas DeVore of Greenville also noted that Pritzker has said there’s not enforcement for violators of the guidelines, which DeVore contends turns ‘œrules’ into ‘œrecommendations.’ He did not return a message left at his office after hours Thursday.

With the surging spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, Pritzker on March 13 ordered public schools closed – eventually for the rest of the term. Despite a leveling off of cases in Illinois, there are concerns here and, especially in other parts of the nation where case numbers are rising again, about reopening the classic community center, the school, in an age where people are urged to wear face masks, stay 6 feet apart, and step up the hygiene protocol dramatically.

Pritzker in June released of a set of guidelines for safe congregation in schools from kindergarten through college, but among others, the state’s two major teachers’ unions have continued worries about keeping congested classrooms, hallways and playgrounds safe.

With public health officials announcing 25 additional deaths Thursday among 1,257 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, the state has now lost 7,251 lives to virus-related complications. Nearly 160,000 have been infected; tens of thousands of those have recovered.

Dissidents who bristle at government telling them what to wear and how to act in public gained traction last spring when Republican Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia, represented by DeVore, won an opaque victory in Clay County against Pritzker, arguing that his ability under state law to impose emergency rules ended after 30 days – on April 8.

Despite the fact that it only applies to Bailey, and the ruling precludes further challenge, supporters have taken up the charge. DeVore has notified the government on behalf of individuals, retail establishments, and now schools, that they don’t plan to comply.

The expose published by ProPublic and the Chicago Tribune about the isolation of students with disabilities in locked “quiet rooms” got immediate response from the Governor and the State Board of Education in Illinois.

This is known as seclusion.

The governor said he will introduce legislation to end and prohibit the barbaric practice. 

The Illinois State Board of Education announced Wednesday that it will take emergency action to end the seclusion of children alone behind locked doors at schools, saying the practice has been “misused and overused to a shocking extent.”

Responding to a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation published a day earlier, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the isolation of children in the state “appalling” and said he directed the education agency to make emergency rules for schools. He will then work with legislators to make the rules into law, he said.

The rules would not totally ban the use of timeout rooms but would end isolation. The state board said children would be put in timeout only if a “trained adult” is in the room and the door is unlocked. Timeouts also must be used only for therapeutic reasons or to protect the safety of students and staff, the board said.

The board also said it will begin collecting data on all instances of timeout and physical restraint in Illinois schools and will investigate “known cases of isolated seclusion to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action.” State officials had not previously monitored these practices.

H/T to Laura Chapman for alerting me to this important news.

ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune collaborated to produce this shocking investigation of the mistreatment and abuse of students with special needs in Illinois.

This is a story of shameful cruelty to children. Read it and weep.

THE SPACES have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.

But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.

The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.

In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”

For this investigation, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained and analyzed thousands of detailed records that state law requires schools to create whenever they use seclusion. The resulting database documents more than 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year and through early December 2018.

Of those, about 12,000 included enough detail to determine what prompted the timeout. In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion…

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1.

The story contains stories of children locked in small rooms, where they urinate on themselves, bang on the walls and doors and scratch them. Some of the children have serious mental or emotional disorders. Some are disobedient. None deserves to be treated with such inhumanity. Experts say that punitive “seclusion” is not only cruel but ineffective.

After reading this report, I asked ProPublica where seclusion has been banned.

This was the answer:

These four states ban any type of seclusion (Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Pennsylvania) and that these are the remaining 15 you’re looking for: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming (with varying levels of exceptions).

Thanks to ProPublica for shedding light on this horrible practice.

 

Mike Klonsky, veteran activist in Chicago, reports that Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill abolishing the state Charter School Commission.

As Mike says, “We count our victories one by one,” and this is a big one. It spells the end to the reckless charter expansion encouraged by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, concentrated in Chicago. Rauner and Rahm believed in the magic of privatization.

No doubt about it, the glow is off the charter school hoax. The bloom is off the rose, or as we said in years past in New York City, the bloom is off the berg.

Since 2011, when the Commission was established and signed into law by former Gov. Pat Quinn (yes a Democrat), I’ve worked with several struggling school districts around the state when they’ve had to go before the Commission to plead their case. Together we built a research base which was used to debunk the false claims of the charter operators in an effort to stop invasions by powerful, charter school networks. In some cases we were successful and others we weren’t.

I found the decisions by commission members to be be completely arbitrary and biased. Keep in mind that the commission was originally the dream of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and that the money for the commission’s original staffing and other expenses came from the pro-charter Walton Foundation. The Commission has been riddled with conflicts of interest from the start.

Commission members have been generally charter-friendly political appointees chosen by the governor and approved by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). In the eight years prior to Pritzker’s election, commission members were handpicked by Rauner, a right-wing governor hellbent on starving and ultimately taking over local school systems, including CPS, using charters and school vouchers as weapons.

But Rauner wasn’t the only problem. You might remember when the Commission, acting under pressure from House Speaker Mike Madigan, reversed CPS’s rejection of Concept (Gulen) charter schools’ application at a time when the FBI was investigating Concept’s operations. Records show that the Commission’s Springfield lobbyist, Liz Brown-Reeves, a former Madigan aide, accompanied him on his Gulen sponsored trip to Turkey in 2012….

Currently, there are 140 charter schools in Illinois, 126 of which operate within Chicago Public Schools diverting money, students and teachers away from regular CPS schools. So far there is no evidence that these charters outperform the CPS schools they are trying to replace. In the CPS budget for next year, the district expects to receive $4 million less funding than expected from the state this past school year because “diversions to schools approved by the Illinois State Charter School Commission (SCSC) were higher than expected.”

The power to overrule the decisions of local districts now goes to the state board, which is appointed by the governor.