Take 5: Charter slow down, striking teachers and public education in politics

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The Chicago Sun Times applauds Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS for not approving any new charter schools this year. The editorial says it is about time the district took a break. “Though we support quality charter options in Chicago, CPS’ breakneck pace of new charter openings at a time of tremendous financial stress has unfairly siphoned resources from traditional public schools. And crucially, not all charters perform well, leaving CPS in the odd position of taking money from successful traditional schools to give to inferior charters.”

Many hypothesized that Emanuel made the call to avoid what has become a contentious process during the election season. Since 2005, an average of nine charter schools have opened each year. In 2011, the year of the last mayoral election, six new charter schools opened and, in 2007, the election before that, nine opened.

Under Emanuel, the biggest year of charter school openings was in 2013, when the school board approved 12 new charter schools and the Illinois Charter School Commission approved two. Overall, 33 of the city’s 130 charter schools, which includes multiple campuses of the Youth Connection network, have opened under Emanuel.

While it is likely that the election is a major factor in the stall in charter school approvals, other realities might also be in play. Consider that five of the charter schools were approved to open in the fall of 2014 did not. UNO and Concept were dealing with scandals that prevented them from pursuing openings. Other charters are having difficulty finding space.

2. Happy Hancock?… The Sun Times revisits Hancock High School, whose students and staff got the word last week that the school will be converted to a selective enrollment school. The article points out while some support the decision, many are miffed that CPS leaders did not first hold community meetings or get public input. Community groups and staff say they only found out about the announcement after the decision had been made. Interestingly, Ald. Marty Quinn, the area alderman who had been pushing for a selective school on his side of town, has yet to respond to questions about the decision, according to the Sun Times.

As she did in an earlier interview with Catalyst, Sarah Duncan from the Network for College Success voices her dismay that a neighborhood school that just completed a $5.7 million grant program and has improved in almost every indicator is now going to be changed drastically. She and others are upset that that the school is only being renovated as a precursor to becoming a selective enrollment school.

Also last week, the Public Building Commission awarded a $13.46 million contract to Paschen Milhouse Joint Venture III to add 11 classrooms to Walter Payton High School on the North Side. With Hancock, the Walter Payton addition and the new selective enrollment school being built on the Near North Side, CPS will have nearly 2,000 more selective enrollment high school seats and a total of 5,300 by 2017.

3. Bring mommy to school day… Few school districts in Illinois are taking advantage of a law that designates the first Monday in October as “Bring Your Parents to School Day.” The law, which makes the visits optional, is meant to increase parent involvement, which studies have shown helps improve academic performance.

But school officials say allowing parents to follow their children into the classroom presents all sorts of additional challenges, including security, teachers union contract terms and actual classroom lessons, the Chicago Tribune reports. Chicago is one of the districts skipping the program. The original version of the law would have made it mandatory, but the Illinois Association of School Boards lobbied against it. “[Legislators) have an idea, and it’s a fine idea, but when it comes to implementation, it’s a different ballgame,” says the group’s deputy executive director.

4. Striking … Teachers in Hinsdale Township High School District 86 have filed paperwork to strike after contract negotiations stalled last week. The 337-member union’s previous contract expired in June. The district and teachers can’t come to an agreement over the salary schedule and stipends, the Tribune reports. The earliest day teachers in this western surburban district can strike is Oct. 14.

Meanwhile, in Waukegan, teachers remain on strike this week, unable to reach a deal with the district over salary, health benefits and time in the classroom. The Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504 went on strike last Thursday, a move that keeps about 17,000 students out of class. Teachers were expected to remain on strike into Monday, when negotiations are scheduled to continue. The last time teachers in this northern suburb held a strike was 30 years ago, ABC Channel 7 reports.

And just a few weeks ago, teachers in Highland — a tiny Illinois school district outside of St. Louis, MO. — ended their first-ever strike with a three-year contract that includes yearly salary increases.

5. A message to the Democratic Party … A poll commissioned by the newly formed Democrats for Public Education says that Democrats overwhelmingly want more funding for public schools. (Just 45 percent of Republicans feel the same way.) The poll also found that 43 percent of voters have positive views of charter schools, while nearly the same amount — 40 percent — don’t have an opinion or don’t know enough.

The poll comes just a month before midterm congressional elections.  As Politico reports, “candidates across the country have already been playing up education as a theme; the adequacy of school funding is a key issue in the gubernatorial races in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan and in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina.” Education will be a critical issue in Chicago’s upcoming mayoral elections, especially if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis decides to make a run for the gig. Mayor Rahm Emanuel already has already gotten strong backing from Democrats For Education Reform (DFER).