Say “no” to charter school proposal

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The body is not even cold, yet after the Austin community experienced the closing of four neighborhood schools (Robert Emmet, Louis Armstrong, Francis Scott Key and Horatio May) this past spring, some black elected officials and ministers are supporting a proposal submitted by the Chicago Education Partnership (CEP) for a charter school in Austin.

The CEP design team is the same team that leads By The Hand Club For Kids, which operates an after-school program at 415 N. Laramie for children 13 and under.

It boggles my mind that after thousands of parents and community stakeholders fought to keep our neighborhood schools open, a faith-based organization operated by individuals not indigenous to the Austin community, and with no experience in operating a school, is able to garner support from Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th); state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th); Ald. Jason Ervin (28th); Ald. Emma Mitts (37th); and local pastors Ira J. Acree and Marshall Hatch.

Did it not occur to the supporters of the CEP proposal the audacity of submitting a proposal after Chicago Public Schools closed four Austin neighborhood schools because of “underutilization?”

The basis of the CEP proposal is that there are 12,000 kindergarten through 8th grades students residing in Austin attending schools outside of Austin. So if Austin had “underutilized” schools, what makes CEP believe that the parents of those students will magically return to Austin?

If you count all the school buildings in Austin (including charters and privately managed turnaround schools), the capacity is less than 7,000 students.

The intent to enroll in CEP Charter School forms submitted by CEP does not indicate what school the intended enrollee is currently attending. About 20 percent of the intent-to-enroll forms contain addresses outside the Austin community

The opening of the CEP proposed school could have a devastating impact on existing neighborhood schools because of CPS’ policy of student based budgeting (SBB).

Schools budgets are now based on a set amount per student. For kindergarten through 3rd grades, it’s $4,429; 4th through 8th grades it’s $4,140; and high school students it’s $5,132.

Every student that leaves his/her current public school will cost his/her current school anywhere from $4,140 to $5,132, depending on his/her grade level. This will cause significantly more instability in an already volatile school funding environment.

CEP is projecting a 2016 enrollment of 180 students in the kindergarten through 3rd grades. If the proposal is approved and CEP reaches its projection, almost $800,000 (180 x $4,429) may be cut from the neighborhood schools, while CEP could see CPS student based revenues of $1,228,860 (180 x $6,827) from CPS.

This year, the budget for Level 2 Henry Nash School (now off probation and outperforming the ACT/KIPP Charter School next to it) was cut by $182,751 resulting in Nash losing one and one-half teaching positions and six support positions.

Ronald McNair School, a special needs cluster for students with serve disabilities, had its budget cut by $321,809. McNair lost three teaching positions and three support personnel positions.

It is also mind boggling that there is no kindergarten through 8th grades magnet school located in Austin (the largest community within Chicago).

For the past five years my wife Cata, Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance and myself have met or attempted to meet with elected officials and stakeholders about the aforementioned fact. I personally brought this to the attention of some of the supporters of the CEP proposal.

Per CPS policy and design, a new magnet school would provide a broader range of academic choices and resources than either our neighborhood schools or the new charter school would offer.

The former Ravenswood Ridge Network schools provided the following for families: 15 gifted/selective enrollment programs, two IB programs, four STEM programs, and 10 fine and performing arts magnet programs. The UIC community boasts five wall-to-wall magnet/selective enrollment schools.

CPS spends between $405,000 to $525,000 in start-up costs for an International Baccalaureate primary/middle program and ongoing costs between $134,000 and $254,000 based on the size of the student population.

In the wake of school closings, George “Mickey” Leland, Oscar DePriest and Duke Ellington (the receiving schools for the above mentioned closed schools) received only one additional teacher and limited CPS magnet funds. The funding for their programs are not guaranteed beyond the current school year.

The LEADERS Network supported the renewal of the charter of Academy of Communication Technology (ACT) in 2012 despite the school being made dormant by CPS because of poor academic performance.

CT high school charter was converted into middle school by CPS. The ACT middle school is managed by Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Charter School. The president of ACT during the renewal process is venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, a Republican candidate for Illinois governor.

Mr. Rauner chose to pull political strings to enroll his daughter into a selective enrollment high school, not a charter high school. I make this point to illuminate how some community stakeholders are undermining education for black children by supporting the effort of others to subvert public education despite the success of neighborhood schools.

Catalyst-Circle Rock Charter, ACT-KIPP Charter and Plato Contract schools are academically performing at Level 3 – CPS’ lowest rating. Neighborhood schools Duke Ellington, Mickey Leland and George Rogers Clark schools are Level 1 performing schools – CPS’ highest rating.

Catalyst Chicago newsmagazine and WBEZ radio both documented that of the 4,390 West Side kindergarten through 7th grades students displaced from school closings, only 176 enrolled into charter schools.

CPS cannot account for another 220 students. No outrage from some of the ministers, no outrage from Ald. Mitts and Ald. Ervin about the missing students. The supporters of CEP proposal overlook the fact that there is no demand for charters schools.

Finally, I admit that I am referring to the 700-pound gorilla in the room – race. The CPS Request for Proposal (RFP) for new charter schools explicitly stated that communities such as Albany Irving, Reed Dunning, Sauganash and Belmot-Cragin (north of Grand Avenue) were priority communities. There were no kindergarten through 8th charter school proposals submitted for those communities.

Again, charter school proposals targeted primarily African-American communities.

CPS was willing to organize Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NAC) for priority communities, but not for Austin.

If the CEP proposal was all that, why not submit a proposal for the priority communities?

Please email me at to voice your opposition to the CEP Charter School. CPS has scheduled a community hearing for today, Dec. 16 from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark Street.

Registration begins at 4:30 p.m. CPS has also scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 7. A community meeting about the CEP proposal will be scheduled for the first week of January. You can also email your opposition to:

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