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Illinois school choices? Public, charter or pay for it yourself

By   /   January 30, 2013  /   No Comments

By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

CHICAGO — Illinois parents who don’t want to send their children to the local public school have plenty of choices, but the state doesn’t have the money to fund those options.

The city Tuesday welcomed the National School Choice whistle-stop tour with a crowd of charter school parents and students.

Chicago has 96 charter schools, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked about adding dozens more. But Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said there are more students than charter school classrooms can hold.

CHOOSE MONEY: Broy says charter need fair share of education money.

“Eight years ago we had 6,000 students in charter schools, and a wait-list of 3,000. Today we have 53,000 charter school students in Chicago, and a wait-list of 20,000,” Broy said.

Charter schools, which are quasi-public schools, would grow if they got the same government money given to public schools.

“Current law under funds charter schools and does not give them the right to access public buildings,” Broy said. “And those are huge barriers to growth.”

Illinois allows school districts to spend just 75 cents on charter schools for every dollar the district spends on public schools. While Chicago Public Schools spend $13,000 per student in most classrooms, charter schools receive $8,500.

Private schools receive no money from local school districts, or the $6,119 per-pupil funding from the state.

NOT TRUE CHOICE: Paul-McCaughey wants education money to follow the kids.

Sister Mary Paul-McCaughey, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, says Illinois does not have true school choice.

“What $6,000 per-student would do for us,” Paul-McCaughey said. “It would allow us to really expand those options for other families. It would give us the flexibility to accept more children.”

Illinois may save money by spending state dollars on private schools, Paul-McCaughey said.

“We could be a big help to that pension deficit we’re taking a look at,” Paul-McCaughey added.

Because school choice supporters in Illinois had to fight for years just to  get charter schools, the chances are slim for true school choice.

The biggest hurdle facing school choice is not state law, but Illinois’ teachers’ unions.

Chicago teachers went on strike last fall, and they cited plans to expand charter schools as a reason for the walk-out.

PUBLIC NOT CHARTER: Chicago’s teachers’ union fought charters during last year’s strike.

The Chicago Teachers’ Unions declined to sit down with Illinois Watchdog for an interview. In an email, the unions’ Stephanie Gadlin said, “We don’t agree with the rapid expansion of charter schools. We also do not like their labor policies, and that many of them also lack the same supports neighborhood schools receive. We want all of the city’s students to receive a quality, well-rounded education.”

Officials with Chicago Public Schools also would not agree to an interview to talk about school choice and charter schools.

You can contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org

— Edited by John Trump at jtrump@watchdog.org

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Ben Yount