Board of Education approves two new charter schools

By Kelan Lyons

The Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to approve two new charter schools.

“A high quality education will change the trajectory of a child’s life,” said Rashid Bell, speaking on behalf of KIPP Public Charter Schools, one of the two charter school networks approved.

The Board’s approval comes two days after CPS recommended they approve just two of almost a dozen charter school proposals. Following CPS’ advice, the Board denied the majority of applications, approving only the two recommended schools: a new KIPP operator and expansion of one of its existing programs, and another controversial high school in the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

Speaking before the vote, Lori Fink, teacher at Chicago International Charter Schools Prairie, implored the Board to approve more charters so parents would have more high quality options for their children’s education.

“The need and desire for school choice is very apparent,”  Fink said.

Jennie Biggs, from education advocacy group Raise Your Hand, warned the Board of the consequences of their vote.

“We believe that a strong public school system is at the heart of a child’s life,” Biggs said.

CPS distributes funding on a student-based budget, meaning that the more students a school has, the more money that school will receive. When more schools are built in a given community, whether charter or neighborhood, each school stands to lose money as a result of students and their families choosing different schools.

Jelani McEwen, PASS program manager at CPS and South Side resident, disputed the notion that charters hurt neighborhood schools’ funding.

“Enrollment is not based upon the seats,”  McEwen said.  “It follows the quality. Parents know. They live in the communities, they see what happens outside of schools, and they make decisions based on that.”

Speaking before the Board, Linda Thisted, representative of Women Gathering for Justice, cited three reasons for her organization’s stance against charters: lack of evidence that charter schools educate children any better than neighborhood schools, how charters can affect neighborhood schools’ funding and the lack of accountability charters have to parents, communities and the Board of Education.

“We urge the Board to stop opening charter schools until there are adequate resources for neighborhood schools and there is a long-term proof that charter schools actually do a better job educating children,”  Thisted said.

Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, has been fighting against the Noble Network’s proposal to build a new high school in his community, in an abandoned lot on the corner of 47th Street and California Avenue, for a few months now. Speaking before the Board, Brosnan claimed his organization has brought in $1.2 million in support for local public schools in his neighborhood in this year alone.

“Despite our dedication to our neighborhood [and] CPS schools, for the past five months we’ve been treated as outsiders and not as valued community partners,”  Brosnan said, referring to the BPNC being locked out of Neighborhood Advisory Council meetings after Noble supporters filled the auditorium’s available seats before they could arrive.

Brosnan warned the Board of a possible downward spiral should they approve the Noble Network’s proposal.

“When [schools] lose enrollment, the educational quality goes down,” Brosnan said. “Schools lose programs, services, counselors, sports. All of the things that make a school a school.”

Vicky Enciso, a Brighton Park resident and parent of two Noble graduates, spoke highly of Noble and expressed her wish to see a new high school in her neighborhood.

“My family is the proof that education changes lives for the better,” said Enciso, who began to cry. Both of Enciso’s sons are now in college, after spending hours on public transportation to attend high schools outside of their home in Brighton Park.

Michael Lathan, a Brighton Park resident and parent of children in neighborhood schools, praised Kelly High School, a neighborhood school just a few blocks from where the new Noble will open.

“We don’t need another high school,” Lathan pleaded before the Board. “My daughter’s future depends on Kelly High School.”

Before ending his two-minute plea, Lathan reminded the Board who their vote would ultimately affect.

“It’s about the children,” he said. “It’s not the money, it’s not the politics. It’s the children.”

Photo at top: Chicago Board of Education members were urged  Wednesday by teachers and advocates  to approve more charters so parents would have more high quality options for their children’s education. (Kelan Lyons/MEDILL)