Take 5: No Noble in Rogers Park, UNO eyes preschools, more on bankruptcy

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Charter school supporters filled the UIC Forum earlier this year at a rally for more funding and more schools.

Charter school supporters filled the UIC Forum earlier this year at a rally for more funding and more schools.

The Noble Network of Charter Schools has decided not to try to open a new campus in the Rogers Park area, a decision that was already being celebrated on social media this weekend by activists opposed to having a new charter in the neighborhood. Rogers Park was just one of many neighborhoods across the city that Noble has been eyeing for three potential new schools, proposed to open in the fall of 2016.

Matthew McCabe, Noble’s director of governmental affairs, says that facilities for charters remain a huge challenge in Chicago. “They have to be financially workable, meet the needs of the students and families and have support from the local neighborhood,” he told Catalyst in an email on Sunday. “The potential facility we had been considering in Rogers Park didn’t end up meeting those thresholds.”

The charter network still wants to relocate its existing Noble Academy to the Uptown area. The CPS board delayed a decision to vote on that relocation last month, citing protests from parents, school principals and elected officials over the proposals. Says McCabe: “We are still hopeful that the CPS board will approve the relocation to 640 W Irving Park at the next meeting as we have 370 new and returning families from 45 Chicago zip codes already committed to the school who are hopeful have a permanent home.”

2. UNO preschools? … The head of the beleaguered United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) says the group will continue in operation even if it loses its contract to manage the 16 charter schools it founded. In an interview with Hoy newspaper, the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language publication, Rick Cerda says that UNO is now looking into running preschool or employment agency services.

“UNO will move forward. I’d like to continue being connected to schools,” Cerda says. “We have plans to help students in preschool by opening day cares and helping parents find work. We see that students start school struggling in those first three years to catch up to the rest of students.”

Cerda says the UNO Charter School Network (which goes by the acronym UCSN) board still owe his group $3 million in management fees. The Sun-Times — which first exposed a number of insider deals at the network in 2013 that prompted multiple investigations — had previously written about the rift between UNO and UCSN. The UCSN board has plans to take over management of the schools when the contract with UNO runs out at the end of the year.

At the network’s request, last month CPS board members rescinded UCSN’s  authority to open two new charter schools this fall.

3. The “B” word … Folks are talking about bankruptcy again when it comes to CPS. In a story this weekend, the Sun-Times asks whether that’s something Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussed in a private meeting last week with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

CPS has just three weeks to go before a $634 million teacher payment is due and “CPS is now facing a liquidity crisis that would make the payment difficult to make.” The Civic Federation’s Laurence Msall says that making the payment will mean big budget cuts — unless CPS decides to not make the payment and risk another bond rating drop, or the state swoops in to give an “emergency fix.” The latter option could include “a wildly unpopular request to lift the property tax cap so CPS can fix itself.”

Meanwhile, in an op-ed, the Chicago Tribune floats the B word as well. “Could CPS wind up in bankruptcy? The school system should be prepared for that. A bill to allow CPS and other local governmental bodies to declare bankruptcy has gone nowhere in Springfield, but it should be part of a broad agreement to put the state and local governments on a sustainable path.” In addition, the Tribune suggests that CPS go the way of New Orleans and “boost learning and save money” by expanding its charter footprint.

4. Lead poisoning impact … The Tribune follows up on its report earlier this spring about how children in low-income black neighborhoods are more likely to be exposed to lead poisoning, while the problem has been largely eradicated in more affluent and white neighborhoods. Now the Tribune highlights a growing body of research that shows how lead poisoning is tied to brain development, academic performance and a tendency to commit crimes.

“Scars left by lead have had significant consequences for the study participants and their communities,” according to the story. “As children, they struggled in school more than those who had not been exposed. As teens, they committed crimes more frequently, University of Cincinnati researchers reported.”

The story goes on to point out a Massachusetts study that tract how a lead abatement program impact academic achievement. The research found that the program “helped reduce the number of students who performed poorly on standardized tests by 1 to 2 percentage points, with most of the benefits seen among children from low-income communities… It was equivalent to what the state could have expected if it had closed the income gap between poor and middle-income communities by 22 percent.”

5. Wanted: summer jobs… Employment opportunities for many young people in low-income urban communities are expected to remain slim this summer even though job prospects for young people are up overall, according to a story in Education Week.

Stories of need far outstripping available opportunities abound in cities. In 2014, for example, New York City helped provide 47,000 jobs for young people through its Summer Youth Employment Program, but there were 90,000 applicants the city could not place, according to the story. Meanwhile, the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University projects a slight uptick in the employment rate for young people aged 16 to 19 this summer, to 30 percent from 27 percent last year.

Chicago has is recent years touted its One Summer Chicago program which provides summer jobs and “learning opportunities” for young people. Still, despite its expansion, the program admits it hasn’t met the need here either: Last year, 67,000 young people applied for jobs but only 22,500 landed one, according to data on the program’s website.

One last note … WBEZ’s Becky Vevea reports for the NPR education team about how CPS is mis-classifying students at alternative schools in order to push up the district’s graduation rate. The story is a follow-up to an earlier series produced by WBEZ and Catalyst about alternative schools in Chicago.