Take 5: Closing charters, ‘escaping’ neighborhood schools, paying for cops

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Students and staff from Amandla Charter School in Englewood protested outside CPS offices on Wednesday. Board members voted unanimously to close Amandla and two other charters for poor performance.

Photo by Kalyn Belsha

Students and staff from Amandla Charter School in Englewood protested outside CPS offices on Wednesday. Board members voted unanimously to close Amandla and two other charters for poor performance.

Three South Side charter schools will close at the end of the school year, following a unanimous vote by the CPS Board of Education to shutter them for poor performance.

Before the vote, Vice President Jesse Ruiz asked whether the administration could ensure that students from the schools would end up in better schools.

“What we are committing to is that when we work with families we will not present lower-quality options than the options they currently have,” Chief Education Office Janice Jackson responded. “We can’t say 100 percent because parents ultimately make the choice.”

Board members and charter school staff also asked about student safety and whether factors like a unique curriculum and school culture should be considered.

Jackson said that while “there is always something good that happens in every school,” CPS needs to take a stronger stance on charter quality. She reiterated that state law has always allowed CPS to revoke or not renew charters for poor performance. However, she said, the district has used that power inconsistently.

The schools that will close are Amandla Charter School in Englewood, Betty Shabazz International Charter School’s Sizemore campus in West Englewood and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School in Bronzeville. The Board will vote in December on whether to close Chicago International Charter School’s Hawkins campus in Altgeld Gardens.

District officials did not offer a detailed transition plan for the 1,200 or so students who will be displaced but Jackson said the district will offer one-on-one counseling for students, send letters home to affected families and host open houses at the schools so parents can hear about their options.

CPS does not have a good track record of ensuring that students from closed schools end up at better ones. When the district closed 49 elementary schools in 2013 — most of which were ranked on the district’s lowest tier — a Catalyst analysis showed that only a fifth of displaced students enrolled at top-ranked schools, while about 40 percent ended up in the lowest-ranked schools. The rest went to middle-tier schools.

Catalyst also found that CPS didn’t know the whereabouts of 434 displaced students, though district officials had decried the “horror stories about hundreds of children ‘lost’ to the streets.”

2. The “great escape” … Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, is urging  CPS to streamline the “complicated” application process for high school to make it easier for families to choose high-quality schools.

Speaking on a panel at the City Club of Chicago, Broy presented the results of an INCS study that found that 73 percent of CPS high school students bypass their neighborhood schools, mainly for other district-run schools.

Of those who don’t choose their zoned neighborhood school, 69 percent enroll in another district-run school, while only 31 percent choose charters, the study found. In nearly all cases, Broy said, students who opt out of their zoned school wind up attending a school that is performing as well as or higher than the school in their neighborhood.

Neighborhood schools that keep local students tend to be higher performing, Broy noted.

Joining Broy on the panel were former CPS board chair Gery Chico and Urban Prep Academies CEO Tim King.

Chico, who led CPS expansion of selective-enrollment high schools, said he feels “very good” about the array of school options that are currently available. Back in 1990, CPS served 105,000 students in 72 high schools. Now, 100,600 students attend 140 high schools. (See a related Catalyst graphic spread on how CPS has changed since 1990.)

“Parents deserve a choice to find the best option for their child to get a high quality education,” Chico said.

3. A deal for CPS? … Some lawmakers in Springfield are considering a budget deal that ties pension relief for CPS to a local property tax freeze and an overhaul of the state’s education funding formula. Senate President John Cullerton is pushing for a two-year freeze on property taxes and $200 million in pension relief for CPS. The deal also would require the state to change its complex funding formula for schools and have CPS levy a tax for teacher pensions.

Cullerton told WBEZ that SB318 would help avert a teacher strike: “There wouldn’t be any need for them to lose their pension pick-up in their contract negotiations. There wouldn’t be any layoffs. I don’t know what else they’re striking about.”

But the Chicago Teachers Union and some parent activists aren’t in favor, saying that the proposal doesn’t promise a long-term funding solution. The CTU’s political director, Stacy Davis-Gates, says it doesn’t make sense to end the school funding formula before crafting a way to replace it. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called Cullerton’s idea “a contraption” that would kick the can down the road on overdue pension payments.

Meanwhile, at a City Club luncheon earlier this week, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said he supports the broad strokes of the proposed legislation. He also called on Springfield to provide “20 for 20.”

“Chicago’s children are 20 percent of the state’s enrollment, and their families and neighbors provide 20 percent of the income tax money that funds public education in our state, he said. However, Chicago’s students receive only 15 percent of the state’s spending on education.”

Claypool said CPS would get an additional  $458 million per year “if we simply got our fair share: 20 percent of funding.” That sum is close to the size as CPS’s current budget hole.

4. Paying for police … CPS will no longer pay a complicated and controversial extra fee for a police presence inside schools, the Chicago Tribune reports. The district has always paid for some police services, for example, patrols of schools and troubled areas, metal-detector programs and student outreach.

However, in 2010, Mayor Rahm Emanuel upped the charge threefold to help balance the city budget. The Tribune said that “what specifically the district was paying for remains unclear.”

In total, some $58 million was diverted from CPS, a transaction that the CTU has been criticizing for years. According to the Tribune, some $19 million of that payment came from a fund that was “earmarked to pay for substitute teachers.”

The city now will pick up the cost of police patrols in schools at no extra charge to the district.

5. Racial inequality … NPR recently interviewed author and Columbia University professor Carla Shedd on the racial inequality students experience in Chicago schools. After following four CPS high schools for 10 years, Shedd found that black and Hispanic students attending racially diverse schools are more likely to notice racial inequality than children at neighborhood schools with classmates who look similar to them.

“This is mind-blowing for 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds who are making sense of who they are,” Shedd says. “It will form their perceptions of opportunity.”

Two of the schools Shedd followed had no white or Asian students, while the others had at least one-third. In an example, Shedd notes how one black student felt stressed when asked to leave a mall after being suspected of shoplifting while with friends of different racial backgrounds. In comparison, a neighborhood school student who was frequently searched by police thought this was common practice and that police were fair.

Shedd acknowledges that students at all-black schools can have a good educational experience but says the resources at these schools are “starkly divided.” While recognizing inequality can be difficult for students at racially diverse schools, she says, it can help them prepare for situations later in life, such as being the sole minority in a workplace.