Chicago Approves Some, But Not All, Of New Charter School Applications

The growth of publicly-funded, privately-run schools in the city of Chicago remains on a steady pace as Chicago’s Board of Education approved 7 of 17 proposals for new charter schools.

This fall will see the opening of five of the seven schools that received the go-ahead. In addition, 10 more charter schools previously approved by the board are set to be opened up then. Despite not all proposals being approved, the charter community does not see the 10 proposal rejection as a setback.

“It’s a somewhat modest number, but it’s good,” said Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “It’s progress.”

The district would still be on target to meet its goal to open 60 new charters between 2012 and 2017, according to Broy.

Chicago Public Schools has promoted the growth of charters as a way to fix the city’s troubled educational system because they can offer a range of innovative learning environments and offer parents more choices. However, because of their decision to follow last year’s closure of nearly 50 district-run schools because of underenrollment in addition to tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts at schools, the charter expansion efforts this year have been heavily criticized.

CPS stressed that only a handful of the 10 schools approved earlier appear on track to open in the fall. The recommendation of CPS staff to approve seven of the 17 proposals was duly followed by the board.

Communities with overcrowded schools would be target areas for new charters this year according to CPS. As Noreen S. Ahmed-Ulah of The Chicago Tribune reports, with one board member, Carlos Azcoitia, voting against all four, none of the four district-recommended charters in “non-priority” areas passed unanimously. Communities on the South and West sides, which saw large scale school closures this past summer, will see new schools.

“This is a very difficult decision, and it’s very difficult for me,” said board member Andrea Zopp who voted against one of the seven recommended proposals. “I think we have some real challenges. It is hard to balance what we’ve done already this year with opening schools that are in communities where we have said we have too many seats. I struggle with that significantly.”

Meanwhile, based on the quality of applicants, strong track records, solid finances and evidence they could meet additional requirements, CPS officials said they settled on recommending seven charters as opposed to all 17.

“We were looking for high quality,” said Jack Elsey, CPS’ chief innovations officer. “It was a combination of those proposals that were absolutely high quality with those that need to take extra steps to get to high quality.”