Parents speak out against charters for overcrowding relief

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In West Lawn on the Southwest Side and in Belmont-Cragin on the Northwest Side, groups are organizing to send the message to CPS leaders that they want more support for neighborhood schools, rather than an increase in charter schools.

Both Belmont-Cragin and the Midway area, which includes West Lawn, were identified as priority communities for new schools by CPS. Proposals for new schools were due Sept. 31 and applications to be part of Neighborhood Advisory Committees, which vet proposals, are due Oct. 15.

The district’s capital improvement plan includes some money for additions and new buildings, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he will use TIF money to fund other projects, such as an addition to Lincoln Elementary and Walter Payton High School, both in Lincoln Park.

The Southeast Side and the far Northwest Side also are in line for either new buildings or major expansions.

But the Midway area, which encompasses West Lawn, only got one small project, though 57 percent of its elementary schools are overcrowded and it has the third most overcrowded schools in the city, according to last year’s standards.

The area already has seven elementary charter schools nearby, including four run by UNO.

In a press conference held outside Lee Elementary, Silvia Miranda invited CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to visit her son’s elementary school to sit for “even an hour to see what it feels like to be a sardine in a classroom.” Miranda is the president of Chicago’s Academy of Parents in Leadership, a group created by Gamaliel of Metro Chicago, a grassroots, faith-based coalition.

“The modular classrooms are falling apart, and they are only a temporary solution,” Miranda said. Miranda said she applied for admission to a charter school for her son, but that he wasn’t accepted. Her son has speech delays.

Miranda and others are suspicious of the charter schools because they say they don’t provide good bilingual or special education services. The UNO network uses English immersion with its bilingual students. Such programs have made community members feel like they have been cut off from their cultural roots in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and that their children are not receiving the appropriate support.

“It’s not fair to redirect our economic resources to charter schools when they should be invested in our neighborhood schools,” said Lorena Ramirez, a CPS parent and leader in APL. “Our neighborhood schools foster our cultural roots and allow parents to have a voice.”

Parents in Belmont-Cragin are raising similar concerns about charter expansion, in addition to concerns about enrollment and how that affects funding. Four of 13 elementary schools in the area are overcrowded, but two are under-utilized and the rest are efficient, according to last year’s standards.

Christopher House Charter School just opened in the area this fall and parents say that it and other charter schools took students away, which resulted in the budget being reduced.

“In one year we lost close to 200 students, which resulted in the loss of funds and teachers, and last year our school was on the list to be closed,” said Marta Villalobos, a leader and an LSC member at Luther Burbank Elementary School, in a press release. “This is a clear example of how charter schools contribute to disinvestment in public schools, and pave the road for our schools to be shut.”

Communities United for Quality Education, a coalition of parent groups from the northwest side of the city who support investment in public education, organized a town hall meeting at Riis Park on Wednesday to express these concerns to public officials.

“Parents are angry because they asked for additional funds to get more rooms or more mobile units and they’re denied,” said Juan Cruz, a spokesperson for CUQE. “But when they learned about the proposal for more charter schools, they’re confused. Why would you close schools and then open more charters? Why are they [CPS] not investing in our neighborhood?”