Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Laesch on Proposed Charter School Legislation

John Laesch on Proposed Charter School Legislation

Breaking (4/17/14):  This just in from Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice.
"Our efforts and those of State Senator Linda Chapa LaVia  have  helped to slow the reckless proliferation of charter schools in Illinois.  Your phone calls, emails, and witness slips helped enormously.

The bill to dissolve the charter commission  ( HB 3754 & SB 2627 ) not only made it out of committee, but it passed the full House.  And the  Charter School  Accountability  Act (HB 6005) passed safely out of committee and is still alive in both houses. ( Please note:  it has a new bill number (SB 588 )in the Senate.)  

Please call your State Representative and your State Senator today and ask them to support  both those bills. There may be some negotiation about each of them.  Be sure to tell your State Senator to stand firm for local control in charter school decisions.  Tell all your lawmakers that any entity that gets public funds must be accountable to the public.  Click on this  link  to find contact information for  these lawmakers."   

Note: Representative Linda Chapa LaVia and other legislators have drafted more than one bill seeking changes in the operations of charter schools and the Illinois Charter School Commission.  John Laesch, activist for Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, has outlined his own position below regarding these efforts.  John would urge all of us to take an active part by calling our legislators to validate these bills and others.

Mr. Laesch’s letter:

After the UNO Charter School scandal and most recently, pay-to-play schemes connected to Rahm Emanuel and two Concept charter schools, I am blown away that the Chicago Tribune is still editorializing in favor of publicly funded private charter schools that overpay their CEO’s and underperform academically. 
The charter school commission is far from “independent.”  In fact, the law that created the charter school commission stipulates that all nine members of the commission will be charter school advocates.  Secondly, the commission that has been around for less than two years is sucking 2.75% in fees out of charter school classrooms as a means of maintaining their staff, and they have found their way into an early conflict of interest (I’m being polite and not calling it a scandal yet).  
This “independent” commission has voted on three charter school appeals and approved two of those three.  It should come as no surprise that the two Concept schools that were approved by the commission were connected to one of the “independent” commissioners, Glen Barton.  Barton was one of the nine commissioners who voted to approve Concept’s appeal, and he is also the board president for the Peoria Concept Charter School.  Since this conflict of interest was discovered by a Chicago Sun Times investigative reporter, Glen Barton has since resigned from the commission – shocking, I know. 
And even if there was no conflict of interest/scandal, voters should still be asking Springfield lawmakers why there should be a super-power “independent” commission that can override the will of their elected school board.  Why do we need that?  When did it become OK to do away with democracy and simply appoint supreme, “independent” commissions over them?  The entire idea of the charter commission was created by the Illinois Commission Chairman, Greg Richmond, who states clearly in his point paper to ALEC that the purpose of the commission is to override the decisions of local school boards.  He calls elected school boards “road blocks.”  Imagine that: elected school board members protecting the taxpayers from school privatizers like Richmond, Andrew Broy and Ron Packard. 
Moving beyond the commission, I think it is important to talk about some of the regulatory reforms being discussed in Springfield that address some of the “secret sauce” issues surrounding these taxpayer funded, privately run charter schools.   
The data continues to show, and credible news agencies continue to report that charter schools are underperforming or performing at the same level as their neighborhood public school counterparts.  The only school that seems to perform any better is Noble Street, a privately run charter school that administers excessive fines and bullies kids who don’t seem to be cutting the mustard (that is, the underperforming students).  It is a selective retention process used by Noble Street to make a student’s life a living hell if he fails a test or two.  Eventually the kid is begging his parents to get him out of the charter, or Noble eventually expels the kid.  Either way, Noble keeps the kids who pass tests, and the rest end up back in the public school.  One important law being discussed in Springfield requires the receiving public school to document why the child left the private charter school.  Another proposed law requires the taxpayers’ money to “follow the child” when the child returns to the public school. 
While the Tribune and most of the charter school privatizers continue to advocate for “innovation,” they never really expand beyond that one word.  I have learned that charter school advocates are not talking about innovative teaching techniques.; rather, they are talking about innovative management strategies like selective retention or salary structures that allow the CEO of each charter to make $250,000 per year (common in Chicago) or $5 million per year like Ron Packard (K12 Inc.).  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math and figure out that this money is being siphoned from the classroom.  Rupert Murdoch recently described the education “emerging market” by saying, “when it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”  For this one line sentence alone, I strongly support another law being pushed in Springfield that seeks to curb the profiteering and CEO extortion by making sure that at least 80% of the taxpayers’ money is spent in the classroom.
Furthermore, research of Illinois charter schools shows that charters are excluding children with disabilities (IEP’s) and English language learners (ELL).  This is another form of selective retention or “innovation” that is designed to reduce charter business costs and academic challenges like language barriers.  Another proposed law in Springfield aims to correct this inequality by requiring charter schools to accept equal numbers of IEP and ELL students.
And yes, to go back to the issue of democracy, another very important bill seeks to get rid of the super-power charter commission that exists to override elected school boards, invites scandal, and answers to nobody.  
Finally, let me make my final point with a question. Why are Springfield lawmakers and editorial papers like the Chicago Tribune not advocating for an elected school board in Chicago?  Quit trying to stick the rest of the state with this undemocratic garbage that doesn’t seem to be working very well in your own city.

John Laesch
Aurora, Illinois

Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice

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