Take 5: Fewer tenured teachers rehired, voucher rally, Elgin charter fight

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As promised, many of the educators who were laid off earlier this summer as a result of drops in enrollment were rehired, but rehire rates were different for tenured versus non-tenured teachers.

Of the 299 non-tenured teachers laid off this summer, 177 or 59 percent were brought back for full-time jobs, according to district data that the CTU shared with Catalyst. Meanwhile, of the 231 laid-off tenured teachers, 123 or 53 percent were rehired and more of them landed only substitute of part-time jobs.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says the stats prove that the district’s new student-based budgeting model discourages principals from hiring more experienced teachers because they are paid more. Last week, CPS officials announced they wouldn’t cut school budgets if their enrollment numbers fell below projections. Sharkey says he’s glad principals won’t have to lay off more teachers, but that it’s too late to reverse some of the negative impacts already felt by experienced teachers because of the new budgeting formula.

2. Enrollment drain… Another revelation from Friday’s announcement that CPS won’t cut budgets based on enrollment is just how many fewer students are going to traditional schools. Just a decade ago, about 393,000 students went to district-run schools and only 12,000 students went to charter schools. On Friday, CPS officials said that 309,182 students were in traditional schools on the 10th day. CPS has yet to provide information on the count at charter schools.

Some of the enrollment drop at traditional schools is caused by students being lured away by charter and contract schools. But another part of it is that families are either moving out of Chicago or choosing to send their children to private schools. Overall, CPS officials said total enrollment was down by about 3,000 students. In a large school district, that is a small drop of less than 1 percent. But it bears keeping in mind that for at least the past decade CPS has been losing about 1 percent of students each year and now, for the first time perhaps ever, it will serve less than 400,000 students.

The Sun-Times applauded the move to let traditional schools keep the cash for students who did not show up. In an editorial, the Sun-Times says CPS should stop threatening to take money away from schools that don’t meet their enrollment projections. CPS is such a transient system with students who live transient lives and schools shouldn’t be penalized for their movements, the editorial argues.

3. Are vouchers on the horizon? Last week about 500 people–mostly affiliated with the Archdiocese of Chicago–gathered outside the State of Illinois Building to rally for school choice. They want state education money to follow children into private schools — and expect to see a related bill in the State Legislature sometime this spring.

“The Bill Gates’ of the world don’t need school choice,” said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, state director of Democrats for Education Reform. “We would love to see something that prioritizes the lower-income families.”

Patrick Landry, the principal at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Humboldt Park, says that “parents are the primary educators of their children and deserve the right to choose their child’s education.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Chicago’s new archbishop, Blase Cupich, will handle these issues. A Chicago Tribune article this weekend detailed how Cupich battled to keep inner-city Catholic schools open despite declining enrollment at his previous post in Spokane, Wash., where he oversaw just 16 schools; Chicago’s system is the nation’s largest with more than 83,000 students and 244 schools. The article notes that his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George — who has cancer and will retire from his duties as archbishop —  was big on lobbying legislators for tax credits and private school vouchers.

4. Suburban fight… In July, School District U-46 board members rejected the proposal for the Elgin Math and Science Academy, saying they were worried that the approval would “open the floodgates” for charters in the town. Board members also said they would rather the local not-for-profit leaders work with the school district to improve math and science education for all students in the district.

 But now the charter school operators appealed to the State Charter School Commission and are in the process of drumming up support for the idea. Last week, they won a victory when the Elgin City Council passed a resolution endorsing the charter school. On Tuesday evening, the charter school commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal.

Outside of Chicago, charter schools are pretty rare with only 15 campuses serving about 5,000 students. This past Spring, there was a major effort to abolish the charter school commission, which can override local school board decisions to reject charters. Schools approved by the Illinois State Charter School Commission are funded directly through the state, which winds up costing school districts more. But after being passed by the Senate, the bill to scrap the Illinois State Charter School Commission was sent to the Rules Committee in the House and never left.

5. Money for STEM teachers … Two teacher training programs in Illinois will receive a total of some $18.5 million in federal funds to recruit, train and support more STEM teachers in high-needs districts over the next five years. One grant for $10.2 million will go to a project at Illinois State University run by Robert Lee, who is well known for the Chicago Teacher Pipeline program he oversees. The other, for $8.3 million, goes to National Louis University’s Science Excellence through Residency program, directed by Shaunti Knauth.

The grants, which were announced last week, are also supposed to increase the participation of underrepresented groups, including women, minorities and people with disabilities, in teaching STEM subjects.