Regardless of where you stand on the issue of school closings or charter school expansion, you should be very concerned by the recent trend of massive school closings and rapid expansion of charter schools.
Many charter schools are expanding at a faster rate than can be sustained financially or academically. As a result, some charters have not been able to sustain the academic progress or operating stability they experienced in the past.
Likewise, the wholesale closure of public schools has caused a shock in the system that extends beyond the classrooms. The social and economic costs outweigh any savings to be gained. These costs include disruption to students’ learning; increased violence; displacement of teachers; reduction in salaries and costs of starting up new schools and disposing of public assets (which could be better spent in the classroom).
It should be noted that rapid expansion of any type of school–whether charter, selective enrollment, magnet or neighborhood–without the financial capacity or sufficient population will result in failure.
Chicago Public Schools, if left to its own devices, will continue to start new charter schools in communities with declining populations. As a result, CPS has more available seats than students. CPS has at one point claimed that there are 600,000 seats in the system, and only 400,000 students.
CPS is in the process of preparing to close over 100 schools in an effort to correct the problem. Unfortunately, the data they are using to make decisions are incomplete and inaccurate.
CPS has only recently engaged a firm to help them complete a master facilities planning process. The study–which will only include half of CPS’s school buildings– will not be complete before June 2014. In the meantime, CPS will proceed to close schools without a master facilities plan in place. A list of the schools they intend to close will be released by March 31, 2013.
The consequences of closing schools are significant, and should not be taken lightly. Students stand to initially lose six months’ academic achievement as a result of transferring to different schools. Unfortunately, the replacement schools often perform at the same levels or worse than the schools that close. New schools take at least five years to fully develop.
On top of that, a study of Chicago charter school finances revealed that nearly 40 percent have had significant cash flow problems in recent years, including challenges funding state mandated contributions to teacher pension plans. This does not bode very well for long term sustainability for some charter schools. Unfortunately, the children who are most likely to be impacted are the ones who can least afford the disruptions.
The governor and the Illinois legislature should create an Illinois Educational Facilities Planning Board to regulate the development and expansion of schools in the state of Illinois.
School districts should be able to demonstrate 1) financial ability to complete the proposed construction or expansion project; 2) the capacity to operate the school and make contributions to teacher pension funds or other retirement plans; 3) market demand, as evidenced by demographic trends, number and types of schools, available seats and educational goals and objectives of the district.
Sign onto our petition at (http://signon.org/sign/illinois-legislature)
Valerie F. Leonard
Co-Founder, The Lawndale Alliance