Aldermen, activists raise anti-charter voices

Print More

Just minutes before the City Council went into session today, the Progressive Caucus of aldermen announced that they planned to introduce a resolution aimed at stopping charter expansion this year.

“I have been bombarded with calls against charter schools,” said Ald. Nick Sposato (36th Ward). “We need to solidify our community schools before we consider any charter schools.”

Not surprisingly, the resolution, which also called for an independent analysis of the financial impact of charter schools on CPS, didn’t go anywhere. It was assigned to the Rules Committee, where legislation typically dies a quiet death.

The statement by the aldermen—who have no control or oversight of the city’s public schools—is yet another voice in a rising chorus of opponents trying to convince CPS not to approve any new charters this year. Opponents have stepped up their action against charter expansion in the wake of the recent historic closing of 49 traditional schools.

The aldermen also want a delay on next week’s scheduled Board of Education vote on pending charter proposals. But when asked when they wanted a vote, Sposato said “Never.”

Proposals for creating 21 new charter schools over the next two years are under consideration by the Board of Education. 

The board meeting agenda, set to come out on Friday, should reveal which of the proposals CPS leaders are recommending that members approve at their upcoming meeting on January 22.

Packed forums

On Tuesday night, parents and community activists packed forums at two schools to speak out against charter schools. One was held by the Southwest Organizing Project, which “typically doesn’t take a no-charter stance,” organizer Joel Rodriguez said.

However, Rodriguez said members of the organization feel the charter approval process was “disingenuous” this time around. Few parents knew about the community hearing on the proposals, he said, adding that it was held on a day that school had been canceled due to extreme cold temperatures.

A series of speakers addressed a crowd of about 200 parents and students who packed into Morrill Elementary School’s auditorium.  The speakers outlined Southwest Organizing Project’s vision for education, including the role of after-school programs and parent mentors in schools.

Jose Guido, a 17-year-old senior at Gage Park High School, said he was at the forum because he feared charter schools would draw students away from neighborhood schools, leading to further funding cuts. He said that Gage Park already suffered a budget cut of more than $1 million this year because of declining enrollment.

“How do you expect to get students to come over here when you are taking stuff away from us?” Guido said.

CPS says that Chicago Lawn is a priority area for charter growth due to overcrowded schools. But “many of our neighborhood schools are no longer overcrowded,” speaker Omar Kamran said.

Kamran noted that Gage Park High School now has just 700 students, and that Eberhart Elementary has lost 100 students in the last year.

At another forum, organized by Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Raise Your Hand and Parents 4 Teachers, speakers accused charter schools of levying unreasonable punishments and of spending taxpayer money without accountability. Several hundred parents and students attended, including four members of Charter Parents United, who did not speak. 

Charter opponents pledged to call in today to Board of Education offices, protest Monday outside a location where Mayor Rahm Emanuel was expected to make an appearance, and show up in force at Wednesday’s meeting where the school board will vote on charter proposals.

But even as charter school opponents try to ramp up pressure, many worry that it will make no difference, given that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education have stated their support of charter schools.

At the aldermen’s press conference, Zerlina Smith, sporting a blue Action Now t-shirt, said she moved her daughter out of a school in Austin that was being consolidated with a closing school. Though her daughter’s school was the welcoming school, she feared that programs would be lost as the larger school tried to accommodate more children.

With so many underutilized schools, she said she doesn’t understand why CPS is pushing to open new schools.

“Last year CPS stated it needed to downsize,” she said. “I am upset. Shame on you, CPS.”

But Smith said she is not expecting much from the aldermen’s resolution or the outcry against charters. The message won’t be heard unless people say it by voting against politicians who support charter schools, she said.

“We got you in and we can get you out,” she said.