Charter Parents Form Advocacy Group in Chicago

Charter school supporters in Chicago, including parents of the students enrolled in them, are banding together to fight the perception that they’re the bad guy in the ongoing fight surrounding school closures in the city, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The group – called Charter Parents United – was formed in large part to counter the allegations made by the Chicago Teachers Union that they should bear the majority of the blame for the financial crisis gripping the local school system.

Mariana Chavez, one of the group’s organizers, believes that this kind of advocacy has become a necessity in light of CTU attacks. She said that a that a louder voice was needed to make the case to the city and its residents as to why charters deserve funding equity with the traditional public schools.

The catalyst appears to be the city’s plan to close down more than 50 elementary and high school programs because of underenrollment. In the subsequent fight over the plan, teachers and parents of students at effected schools have turned the finger on charters.

In response, district chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has promised that no school closed this year will be handed over to a charter. CPS officials have also indicated they will place charters under greater academic scrutiny, gradually closing two underperforming charter schools and putting six others on a watch list.

Charters already have backing from several advocacy groups, including Stand for Children, INCS and New Schools for Chicago. Advocacy training from those groups, as well as by charter network operators, got charter parents more involved and eventually led to the formation of Charter Parents United, according to Beth Purvis, CEO of Chicago International Charter School.

Although the group is new, it can already count on a lot of practical and financial support from a lot of heavy hitters in the school reform movement. Included among them is the public relations firm ASGK Public Strategies, founded by President Barack Obama’s chief political guru David Axelrod.

According to Purvis, the group’s chief goal is to provide the public with a more balanced view. Until now, the feeling was that they were hearing too much from charter school opponents and not enough from those who have been helped by their growing presence in the city.

On Wednesday, the board will vote on a number of matters involving charters, including new locations for charter campuses and the addition of seats at existing charter schools. CPS will allow two new charter school operators to come into the district this year.

The fact that half of Wednesday’s board agenda pertains to charter-related business was noted by the CTU.