Lawmakers pave the way to double the number of charters

Print More

SPRINGFIELD:  Charter advocates scored a significant victory at the 11th hour of the legislative session: A bill that doubles the statewide charter cap from 60 to 120.

Senate Bill 612, now awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature, would allow up to 45 additional charters in Chicago, including up to five new charters aimed at dropout recovery. Chicago’s current cap is 30. The rest of the state would get 45 new charters, up from 30 currently.

Teacher unions scored a victory too. Part of the deal ensured that charter school teachers can unionize under the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act.

SPRINGFIELD:  Charter advocates scored a significant victory at the 11th hour of the legislative session: A bill that doubles the statewide charter cap from 60 to 120.

Senate Bill 612, now awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature, would allow up to 45 additional charters in Chicago, including up to five new charters aimed at dropout recovery. Chicago’s current cap is 30. The rest of the state would get 45 new charters, up from 30 currently.

The Obama Administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have repeatedly called for expanding charters. 

Teacher unions scored a victory too. Part of the deal ensured that charter school teachers can unionize under the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act. The issue surfaced in the current union drive at three Chicago International Charter Schools, recently certified by the state’s labor board. In that case, Civitas, which operates the schools, challenged the certification to the National Labor Relations Board.

“Every group is a little bit unhappy, which is probably a sign that this may be the right thing,” said Rep. Michael Smith (D-Chicago), House Education Committee chairman.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools hailed the bill in a statement as a “remarkable feat.”

Other provisions include:

Creation of charter authorizing task force: The Illinois State Board of Education will create a task force to study whether the state needs an independent authorizer, such as a university or ISBE, rather than local school boards. Recommendations to the governor and the Legislature are due by 2010.

More stringent teacher certification in Chicago. By the 2012-2013 school year, at least 75 percent of charter teachers must be certified. Charters established after the law is enacted get a three- to four-year grace period.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers believes the measure will help charter schools improve then pass those lessons on to public schools.

“Charter schools were designed as learning laboratories to try new things and see if they worked,” said Gail Purkey, spokeswoman for the IFT. “It’s using what we learned in these schools to make all public schools better.”

Lawmakers have agreed to revisit charter school caps no sooner than 2013 if the current proposal becomes law.

Meanwhile, SB174, meant to funnel millions of new dollars into education, remains stalled as the legislature heads into overtime. The measure includes corporate and personal income tax increases. It passed the Senate but was not voted on in the House.

Now that the May 31st end-of-session deadline has passed, lawmakers will need a three-fifths majority to pass the bill.

Andrea Zelinski is a freelance writer based in Springfield.