[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n April 8, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) sent advocates of charter schools to Springfield to rally against the 15 bills seeking to regulate and reform charter schools in Illinois. Both INCS and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) have kept a presence in Springfield during this legislative session.
Charter schools are privately run and publicly funded. Enrollment is based on a lottery system, and the idea is that, being privately run, the teachers can implement alternative methods of instruction.
Many of these bills call for greater transparency of charter schools’ fund allocation and a cap on the money flow to administrators within the charter school system. Vince Casillas, community outreach manager at INCS, said these regulations would hinder the charter schools’ ability to do what it’s best at.
“It really paralyzes our ability to teach in innovative ways. It really chips away at the model that charter schools created to provide quality education. For [teachers’ unions] if they can paralyze us from doing what we do, well that puts us in a bad position and the challenges would be enormous for us to provide a quality education. A principal or CEO can make a great school or a bad school,” said Casillas.
Stacy Davis Gates, political director for CTU, says the bills just ensure that the money is channeled to the right people—the students.
“None of these bills tell them that they can’t teach. None are directed at curriculum or pedagogy. These bills that you are reading about deal expressly with transparency, accountability, and ensuring that the money that they’re given goes to the classroom. The problem we have with this whole operation of charter schools is it operates in the shadows. You cannot have taxpayers’ money operate in the shadows,” said Gates.
The Chicago Teachers Union is concerned about the privatization of charter schools. Gates makes a distinction between charter operators and school buildings. She says charter operators buy a vacant building at a low cost, and are allowed to increase the fees of a school, and thus the taxpayers, pay to rent out the building – how much operators are allowed to charge the school, and to whom this money goes to within the school system are obscure, she says. The CTU hopes the bills will make these funds transparent.
While Casillas is concerned about the regulation of charter school funds, he also says that in the end, money doesn’t go very far.
“It’s been proven that funding isn’t entirely tied to test scores. Just because you get more money doesn’t mean that the test scores automatically increase. Educators know it’s not about money—it’s about the quality of classroom, parent engagement, and level of expectation in our schools. No, we firmly believe that it isn’t about the money,” said Casillas.
Meanwhile, Gates says that corporate interests dictate charter schools. She says money and performance are absolutely tied.
“What income does is predict what type of test scores that school will produce. If you’re coming from a lower income environment, the standardized test results will be lower than those from affluent communities. What, now we’re going to pull schools that don’t pass testing requirements for low income students of color?” said Gates.
The answer to whether or not one type of school outperforms another is different depending on who you ask. The Chicago Public Schools’ website cites some areas in which Chicago charter schools excel over public schools. However, there are some areas where they don’t. Gates says these statistics speak little to the quality of education at the schools.
“Charter schools don’t fare better than other schools academically. Charter schools push out students that don’t test well and have behavioral challenges, special education needs, or students with dual language needs. So they get a group of students they feel will perform better on tests. They push the other students out and even then they still don’t do better,” said Gates.
The Chicago Sun-Times recently published an article demonstrating little difference in performance between charter and public schools.
“These bills are not aimed at parents or students or pedagogy or curriculum. They are aimed at making sure that the operators are held accountable, and behave transparently to ensure the protection of these students and the classroom experience,” said Gates, who believes corporate interests dictate charter schools.
Of the five qualities that charter schools pride themselves in, Casillas cited accountability and transparency as two of them that already exist. He fears these bills will lead to the closure of Chicago charter schools, which closes a student’s opportunity to get a different kind of education than what’s taught at his/her neighborhood school.
These pieces of legislature have passed the House and are up for vote in the Senate. The final decision should be made by May 31, at the latest, when this year’s legislative session comes to an end.