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Throw out the Illinois Charter School Commission

5/08/2015
By Brian Harris, President of ACTS (AFT/IFT) Local 4343 

It is unbelievable that the Chicago Tribune claimed that the Illinois State Charter School Commission has “a history of cautious decision-making." Of the four charter school applications overridden by the commission, one was for two schools that would be operated by Concept Schools. Chicago’s extremely pro-charter Board of Education rejected Concept Schools’ application for very compelling reasons: The poor performance of its current schools did not qualify the network for replication, its board meetings would be held in Indiana and entire sections of the application — such as an outline of supports for at-risk students — were missing.

Despite the board’s very sensible rejection of the application, the commission overruled it and ordered CPS to fund the schools. In just over a year, Concept found itself under criminal investigation by the FBI for misusing federal dollars intended for the neediest of students. The commission should be stripped of its appeal powers on the basis of the incredibly poor judgment of this decision alone.

Another of the commission’s poor decisions was to overrule District 50’s decision not to renew the charter of Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake. Cook County Judge Thomas Allen ruled in March that the commission’s decision was “clearly erroneous” because it did not consider the objections of the district, nor did it comply with its charter by increasing student diversity.

A recent decision of the commission was to overrule elected school board of Waukegan’s 5-2 vote to reject an application by LEARN Charter School Network. The chairman of the commission is Greg Richmond, the president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizer, a charter advocacy group. When it comes to the charter approval process in Illinois, we literally have a situation where appointed industry lobbyists can overrule elected school boards.

If parents really are clamoring for these charters, they can hold their school boards accountable by voting them out or, in the case of Chicago, hope the mayor replaces them. The people of Illinois don’t need an appointed board chaired by a lobbyist overruling local school boards and imposing charters on their communities.

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