Sixteen organizations want to open new charter and contract schools in Chicago -- even though citywide enrollment is stagnant and the district is in the grips of a financial crisis.
These privately run organizations, which include many newcomers to Chicago’s charter landscape, filed “letters of intent” to apply to open a total of 21 new schools, including four alternative schools, through 2018.
CPS officials released the names of the organizations shortly before Wednesday’s School Board meeting, where members were expected to vote to close two schools -- Montefiore and Marine Leadership Academy -- which district officials already had emptied of students.
The organizations aiming to open new schools include the Noble Network of Charter Schools and KIPP Chicago, which were the only organizations approved during last fall’s contentious charter process to open new schools. Noble wants to add two more schools to its portfolio of 16 (a 17th campus opens this fall).
In a statement, Noble officials said they submitted a letter of interest "as a matter of required bureaucratic procedure so that we may remain in conversation with CPS and local communities. We cannot commit yet to any plans."
KIPP officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Intrinsic Schools, which already has permission to open a second school but hasn’t found a location, plans to seek approval for one more. It is one of three charter operators in Illinois that filed “letters of intent” to apply for state dollars set aside for charter expansion. (The UNO Charter School Network, which has also expressed interest in the state dollars, did not file a letter of intent to apply to open a new school in CPS.)
Not all charter operators that submit letters to intent will necessarily turn in actual proposals for new schools — or be approved. (Proposals are due in late April.) In addition, CPS officials said late Wednesday that operators weren't required to submit notices of intent before submitting formal proposals later on. Officials at some charter operators believed otherwise.
In a statement, a CPS spokesman said the “district will continue to prioritize charter quality in its decisions going forward.” Last year district officials overhauled the charter accountability policy at the same time they approved the controversial Noble and KIPP proposals. The Board then voted to shutter four poorly performing charters -- three of which have appealed those decisions to the state’s charter commission, which has appeared to be sympathetic. A decision on the appeals is expected March 1.
The number of anticipated requests was somewhat surprising because some charter operators had, in recent days, expressed hesitation about filing to open new schools during a politically tumultuous time, and even feared looking greedy or opportunistic. They also questioned the district’s ability to handle the charter process properly, considering cuts to Central Office staff.
Charters as “bargaining chips”
The possibility of new charter schools also comes in the midst of down-to-the-wire contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union. District officials have offered to cap the number of charter schools and students enrolled in them as part of a package aimed at securing a four-year contract.
Critics have called the proposed cap useless, as charter operators denied permission by CPS to open new schools can appeal to the state charter commission.
Michael Brunson, recording secretary for the CTU, called the possibility of still more new charter schools “disappointing.” He said the district can’t continue cutting school budgets at the same time it considers opening new schools. “We need to stop the proliferation of charter schools,” he said.
Meanwhile charter supporters came out in full force during Wednesday’s board meeting to protest the inclusion of a charter cap in the district’s latest contract proposal. A parent of a student at Noble’s DRW campus told board members not to use charters as “bargaining chips” in contract negotiations, a phrase several other charter parents echoed.
Jennie Biggs of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand said politics seems to be trumping smart decision-making about schools. “We’re in a fiscal crisis. We have school enrollment dropping. We shouldn’t be opening any new schools,” she said.
Her criticism isn’t just about new charter schools. She also worries about the possibility of a new selective-enrollment high school on the North Side -- the school previously known as Obama College Prep.
Raise Your Hand is circulating an online petition to cancel the opening of that new school, which the group fears will hurt enrollment at all types of schools — including charters.
Operators that submitted
Here’s the list of organizations that submitted letters of intent to apply to open new schools and other information from documents provided to CPS.*
- Mae Carol Jemison CORE Academy — a new organization that has yet to file for non-profit status. Interested in one school serving 350 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The group's first facility choice is in the shuttered school building of Songhai Elementary in West Pullman.
- Geneses Academic Preparatory Center — a new organization that has yet to file for non-profit status. Interested in one school serving 270 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The group's first facility choice is the shuttered school building of Calhoun Elementary in East Garfield Park.
- Evelyn Ann Charter School — a new organization that has yet to file for non-profit status. Iinterested in one school serving 1,200 students from 9th through 12th grade. Would contract with a management group, Mosaica, which already operates 90 schools across the country. The group's first facility choice is the shuttered school building of Kohn Elementary in the Roseland neighborhood.
- SMART Charter School — a new organization interested in two campuses serving a total of 470 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The group's facility choices include the building that currently houses the CICS Bond campus; or the shuttered Trumbull or Lawrence elementary schools. (CPS sold the Trumbull site last fall.)
- pilotED Schools — a non-profit organization interested in opening a school serving 480 students in 5th through 8th grade. The organization has a web site and appears focused on getting students “on track” for high school. The organization has not yet identified a facility.
- Light House Youth Center — a non-profit organization interested in opening a school for 1,200 students in 7th through 12 graders that would be managed by EdisonLearning, which runs more than a dozen schools across the country. Connected to New Life Covenant Church, which also submitted a proposal last year that was rejected. Like last year, the group is proposing to open inside of Hirsch High School in Greater Grand Crossing.
- Center for Positive Advancement — a non-profit organization interested in opening a school for 340 students in 9th through 12th grade. The organization's design team submitted a proposal to open a new school last year, which it ultimately withdrew. The group's preferred facility is inside Till Elementary in the Woodlawn neighborhood.
- Project Simeon 2000 (PS2) — a non-profit organization interested in opening a school for 500 students in 5th through 8th grade. Organization would contract with Youth Connections Charter School to manage school. The group's first facility choice is the shuttered school building of Morgan Elementary in West Chatham.
- Newcomer Academy — a new organization that has yet to file for non-profit status. Interested in opening an alternative school for 300 students in 6th through 12th grade. CPS has been asking for alternative school operators to cater to middle school students. The group says it is scouting locations in Albany Park and Uptown. The group says it would contract a school manager, Fugees Academy, which also runs a school in Georgia.
- KIPP Chicago — an existing, national charter operator that already manages several schools in Chicago. Interested in serving an additional 560 students in kindergarten through fourth grades at its Bloom Primary school and opening a sixth school serving 920 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. KIPP has not said where it would like to open the new campus.
- Milewski Nature Fund, Inc. — a new organization that has yet to file for non-profit status. Interested in opening an alternative school serving 165 students in 6th through 12th grade. The group's first facility choice is at the private Hubbard Street School, near West Town.
- Connected Futures Academy — alternative school provider interested in opening two charter or contract school, each serving 165 students in 9th through 12th grade. Last year the group proposed to open five alternative schools in CPS but was denied, and appealed to state charter commission but was denied again. The group has not said where it would like to open schools.
- TBD — organization has yet to find a name or file for non-profit status. Interested in opening a school to serve 400 students in 9th through 12th grade. The group's first facility choice is the Corpus Cristi Church near Washington Park.
- Intrinsic Schools — existing charter school operator that already has one school and permission to open a second. Interested in opening two new schools, each serving 1,010 students in 7th through 12th grade. Intrinsic has not yet identified facilities.
- Noble — the city’s largest charter network, interested in opening two new schools serving ninth through 12th grade. Noble has not yet determined the potential enrollment of those schools or identified facilities.
- Perspectives Charter Schools — existing charter operator that already operates four schools in Chicago. Interested in opening a new school serving 504 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Perspectives has not yet identified a facility.
*This story was updated Wednesday evening to include new information from the letters of intent.