WebExtra: More charters heading for CPS?

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Chicago would get 15 new charters, but have limits placed on expansion campuses of existing charters, under proposed legislation crafted by Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and the Chicago Teachers Union.

At least three of the new charters would be required to serve chronic truants and dropouts, an idea hatched by legislators who recently visited several such schools in California.

The compromise proposal is significant because the Chicago Teachers Union and its statewide parent union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, had made reining in charter expansion a centerpiece of their legislative agenda this year. Meanwhile, Jones had sought to double—from 30 to 60—the number of charters allowed in Chicago Public Schools.

CTU spokeswoman Rosemaria Genova said union officers had not agreed to the deal, but IFT spokesman Dave Comerford said CTU lobbyist Pamelyn Massarsky was present for negotiations with the Senate President’s staff and that the CTU signed off.

Both sides got something out of the deal: Jones got 15 new charters for CPS, while the union got a cap on expansion campuses. CPS has gotten around the charter cap by authorizing additional campuses for the city’s first 15 charters.

Under the proposal, charters would be limited to the number of campuses open as of January 1, 2007—essentially barring Chicago from opening any new expansion campuses next year. New charters would be allowed to have only one campus, according to the IFT.

Support from Jones and the unions is a tremendous boost for charter expansion, but final passage of the deal is not a foregone conclusion. It’s not clear where House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, may stand.

It’s unclear when the proposal will come up for a full vote. The spring session is scheduled to expire on May 31, but with a budget deal still in the works—including plans for education funding—lawmakers could continue negotiations into the summer.

Steve Preckwinkle, lobbyist for the IFT, said his union won out because the deal allows for a modest increase in the number of charters but places “limits on overall new growth.”

Charter school critics have argued that multiple campuses operating under a single charter violate the spirit of the charter law, if not the letter. (Current law does not prohibit multiple campuses.)

“I don’t think anyone foresaw that you could have an unlimited number of campuses. It’s really going around the intent of the law,” Comerford says. “If you can have a million schools for one charter, what’s the purpose (of the charter cap)?”

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) was among several lawmakers who recently visited schools serving truants and dropouts recently.

“I was very impressed,” says Davis, noting that the school integrated arts into the curriculum. “The young people were so very well-behaved, so polite and intelligent. And I said, ‘These are kids that dropped out.’ “

One of Chicago’s charters, Youth Connections, already supports a network of small schools that serve primarily dropouts.

Davis, a former teacher and close ally of the CTU, says she’s comfortable with the overall deal. But she remains concerned about adding more charters, given the problems of regular public schools.

“I don’t want to see or hear anyone brag about a charter school when the majority of our [traditional] schools are not what they could or should be,” says Davis.