Chicago Public Schools Touts Expansion of Charter Program

Chicago Public Schools has announced its intention to open 60 charter schools over the next five years as part of a $20m application from the Gates Foundation.

Charter schools in Chicago appear to be a success, so Chicago Public Schools has plans to create an additional 60 charter schools over the next five years. On completion of the program privately run charter schools will account for almost a quarter of all schools in the district. While this figure may seem large, it is only testament to the flourishing of the program and has already been far surpassed in some other urban areas; for example, in New Orleans almost 70% of children attend charters schools.

Noreen Ahmed-Ullah of the Chicago Tribune reports that there is a waiting list for 10,000 students awaiting entry to charter schools and that the number of student ‘on hold’ has been increasing for the past seven years.

“I’m not looking for a quota, I’m not looking for a percentage, I’m looking to respond to a need,” said CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard. “As a whole, people are not satisfied with their neighborhood schools. Clearly, there’s a demand.”

The plan is detailed in an application for a $20 million charter school grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The application has been made jointly by stakeholders in charter schools and CPS.

The rapid growth of charters has not been met with unanimous enthusiasm however. The Chicago Teachers Union consider the growth to be indicative of a decline in CPS-run neighborhood schools and challenge assertions that pupils are better with their own data which indicates the charters aren’t performing any better than the schools they replaced or cannibalized. Critics accuse charter advocates of abandoning neighborhood schools for an untested, unproven alternative.

“If a new charter opens up or a charter expands, they are heavily marketed and parents are aggressively recruited,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher with the Chicago Teachers Union. “So the neighborhood schools have had a declining enrollment, and that further facilitates the excuse of why (CPS) should close down these schools. More schools will be on the chopping block.”

The application by CPS to the Gates Foundation is the latest step in a process began last December when they signed a pledge for greater collaboration and cooperation between charter and neighborhood schools in the district. This gained them an initial award of $100,000 and allowed them to apply for funds from the larger pool. The Gates Foundation plans to award $40 million to successful applicants in the coming fall.

Securing more money would open Chicago up to national charter operations that have shied away from the city because of a lack of facilities and what they say is insufficient public funding, said Phyllis Lockett, president and CEO of the charter advocacy group New Schools for Chicago.

Chicago public schools current has a total of 675 school and of these 110 are privately controlled charter schools which receive tax dollars. An additional 27 schools are managed by private organizations.

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