The Illinois General Assembly has started its spring legislative session, and CTU is there advocating for what our schools need. Our goal is to build on our recent victories and to pass legislation that makes concrete improvements in school governance and oversight and that allows us to be more effective in our work.
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General CTU Announcement
Background: Illinois’ charter schools receive millions in public funds but are not required to follow the same accountability provisions, both financial and operational, as traditional public schools. The absence of such accountability measures creates easy opportunities for misuse of public funds and abuse of the public trust. HB 6005 and SB 3030 as amended address these shortcomings. This bill ensures fairness across the school system without impacting charters’ pedagogical autonomy, discipline policies, or educational focus areas. In fact, for those charter schools already hewing to the spirit of existing statute, this bill would have little impact. This bill addresses weaknesses in the current law that enable bad actors and tarnish the system as a whole.
- Drive money to classrooms, where it belongs.
Charter schools have much higher shares of administrative costs than traditional public schools.
Issue to Address How bill addresses it… 1. Charter management fees as high as $550 per pupil. Many charter schools have for-profit educational management organizations that collect fees and divert money away from classrooms. Management fees across 8 large Chicago charter networks diverted more than $14 million to private companies and UNO at a time when budgets for traditional public schools across the state were slashed. This legislation limits for-profit EMOs to renewal or replacement of current agreements but does not allow for future for-profit EMOs in Illinois. 2. Excessive CEO pay. The legislation caps excessive charter CEO at a percentage of the district superintendent’s pay. Addresses issues in Chicago where some charter CEOs make more than the district CEO. Increases money available for classrooms. 3. Administrative expense monitoring Provides for an audit trigger if administrative expenses are particularly excessive (20% higher than the host district). 4. Spending public money to on charter school marketing The bill prohibits the use of public funds for school marketing purposes. Money raised through private fundraising could still be used for marketing expenses.
- Close glaring funding loopholes related to involuntary student mobility.
Issue to Address How bill addresses it… 1. Charter expulsion rates As a recent Chicago Tribune story highlighted, charter schools in Chicago expel students at 12 times the rate of traditional public schools. Catalyst magazine found that 85% of those charter expulsions would not have resulted in expulsions in traditional schools. 2. High charter mobility rates A joint WBEZ-Catalyst report from November 2010 found that 11% of charter students left their schools in 2009. Such student mobility points to a variety of issues, including a deeper charter funding issue. Namely, charters are able to capture funding for students and then remove them from the rolls without returning the money. This legislation would bill charters on a per diem basis to recover those funds. This provision is similar to ones included two other proposals in the House (HB 4591 – Martwick, HB 5887 – Chapa La Via)
- Address abuses to admissions process.
Issue to Address How bill addresses it… 1. Unfairly weighted admissions lotteries A Chicago magazine article outlined how UNO charter schools gamed admission procedures for political reasons through selective (rather than blind) admissions lotteries and through manipulating its waiting list. As such, deserving students were denied admission. 2. Centralized admission lotteries and waitlists Moving the admissions lottery and waitlist to central administration is the best way to ensure that the process is fair. The Illinois Network of Charter Schools agreed to such a proposal in the 2011 Gates Compact with the Chicago Public Schools.
- Eliminate employment conflicts of interest.
Issue to Address How bill addresses it… 1. Conflicts between the CMO/EMO and the charter school itself The former UNO CEO’s role as head of the parent organization and head of the charter school network created a conflict of interest between the charter schools’ goal of education and the organization’s goal of acquiring political power and distributing money and contracts to friends and relatives. This legislation would prohibit a person from working for both the charter management organization like UNO and a charter school, thereby eliminating this potential for abuse.
- Enforce equal reporting standards.
Issue to Address How bill addresses it… 1. Getting information from charter schools is often a difficult process and reduces trust and accountability. Many charters have been lax in their reporting of key data related to student discipline, compliance with FOIA requests, Special Education compliance, and even making required pension payments. This legislation remedies this lax reporting by including stiff penalties for non-compliance (withholding of general state aid) and increases charter transparency and accountability.