Lawmaker proposes more charters for Chicago

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Hoping to avert a legislative battle over private school vouchers this 
year, a Downstate legislator has filed a bill to authorize five 
additional charter schools in Chicago, each one “devoted exclusively to 
students from low-performing or overcrowded schools.”

Hoping to avert a legislative battle over private school vouchers this year, a Downstate legislator has filed a bill to authorize five additional charter schools in Chicago, each one “devoted exclusively to students from low-performing or overcrowded schools.”

State Rep. Roger Eddy, a Republican from Hutsonville, is sponsor of House Bill 190. Eddy is also the superintendent of Hutsonville School District.

Eddy was a key figure in a strenuous debate last year over Senate Bill 2494, an initiative of Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) to create a 30,000-pupil “pilot program” in which parents of Chicago elementary students would receive state-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools.

The Meeks bill squeaked through the Senate, relying heavily on Republican support, and came within two votes of passing the House. Eddy played a role in slowing the bill’s momentum in the House and was “blamed” by voucher advocates for its ultimate failure.

While he says he is not unalterably opposed to vouchers, Eddy said the Meeks bill was poorly drafted and would create a pilot program so large that it would be difficult to dismantle if evidence later showed that it did not achieve the goals its advocates sought.

“I understand their concerns” about the plight of children attending overcrowded and persistently failing schools, Eddy said, suggesting his charter school expansion measure will address the needs of the children without abandoning the public school system.

The five charters Eddy’s bill would establish would be separately authorized and in addition to the new charters already authorized when state legislators lifted the charter cap last year during the Race to the Top competition.

Eddy’s bill defines a “low-performing” school as a school whose students score in the bottom 10 percent on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), and defines “overcrowded” schools as those with 70 percent or more of students from low-income families and determined by the Chicago Public Schools as being among the 5 percent most severely overcrowded schools in the district.

HB 149 will likely be assigned to the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and could be posted for a hearing when the House and Senate return to the Capitol in Springfield in February. (At this writing, legislators have not yet been assigned to committees.)

Another bill aimed at struggling CPS students is HB 139, sponsored by Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), which would establish a “basic skills” curriculum for students who test at a level two years below their current class standing.

Ford’s bill would assign students in grades 4 through 6 to a basic skills class if their test scores in 3rd- grade reading and mathematics indicate a two-grade lag. A student would stay in the basic skills program until he caught up or completed 6th grade, “whichever occurs first.”

The Illinois State Board of Education would be required, under the bill, to create the curriculum for the basic skills classes, establish the learning objectives and provide the lesson plans for the program.

The House and Senate convened for the 97th General Assembly two weeks ago, but have not conducted substantive business since. They reconvene on February 1 to begin the heavy lifting. The House will be in session 11 days this month, and the Senate nine.

Committee assignments will be among the first orders of business, and the committees will then take testimony on legislation already on file. At this writing, 250 bills had been read into the House record, but only three in the Senate.

February 10 is the deadline for introduction of Senate bills, while the House deadline is February 24. By the end of the month, it is likely that 5,000 or more bills – potential new state laws – will be on the agenda for consideration.

Fewer than 10 percent of those bills are likely to find their way into Illinois statute books.


Jim Broadway is publisher of State School News Service.