Charter school students and advocates make case against budget cuts

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About 200 charter school parents, students and teachers rallied early this morning in a parking lot at Soldier Field to make their case against budget cuts, especially proposed cuts to charters. Following the rally, the group boarded three buses for Springfield, where they will spend the day knocking on legislators’ doors to make the case for more education funding. (Photos by Sarah Karp)

About 200 charter school parents, students and teachers rallied early this morning in a parking lot at Soldier Field to make their case against budget cuts, especially proposed cuts to charters. Following the rally, the group boarded three buses for Springfield, where they will spend the day knocking on legislators’ doors to make the case for more education funding.

CEO Ron Huberman has said that charter schools will lose 18 percent of their budgets to help fill a nearly $1 billion projected deficit. Charter schools get a set amount for each student they enroll.

The rally started with two baby-faced boys from Urban Prep reciting their schools’ daily creed about believing in their potential and the potential of their “brothers.”  Urban Prep’s Englewood campus has become the poster child for charter schools, after recently announcing that all of their first class of graduates had been accepted into four-year colleges.

David Weinberg, chairman of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools board, then made the sales pitch for charters, saying they can make a difference. “Students at charter schools have a much greater chance at success,” he said. “We have never seen a time as dire or as challenged as today.”

The rally ended with Huberman telling the crowd that the district’s deficit was mostly the result of chronic underfunding by the state. Choosing not to go into the hefty pension payment that CPS has due or the raises owed to the district’s teachers, he chose to focus on the fact that Illinois is 48th among the 50 states when it comes to providing money for schools, but 6th when it comes to wealth.

Huberman is hoping that the state legislature will vote to increase the income tax and provide pension relief to the district to mitigate some of the cuts.

Should they do nothing, he’s already said that regular public schools could see class sizes as high as 37 children. But Huberman’s cuts have not spared sacred cows, such as early childhood programs, bilingual education, magnet programs and charter schools.

While he insists that these cuts are real and not scare tactics, going after these programs is sure rile up high-level activists and parents committed to these programs.

Charter schools are no exception. In response to the proposed cuts, advocates have shot back that smaller, one-campus charter schools would be not be able to survive.

About half of charters would close within three years and some that are planned will not get off the ground, said Jim Publicover, information manager for INCS.  Publicover said that charters are more vulnerable because they don’t have central office services as a cushion and they have to pay rent for their buildings, which eats up some of the per-pupil stipend they get from the district.

As he left the parking lot, Huberman said that it would be “terrible” to see charter schools close. But he said that he took into account the extra costs they are responsible for and decided that 18 percent was reasonable.

“We would like to give them more money instead of less,” he said. “But this is the position we are in