As political winds shift, no new charter schools apply to open in Chicago

No new charter schools are applying this year to expand or open in Chicago, a sign of the shifting environment for the independently run, publicly funded schools in Chicago and at the state level.

Last summer Illinois abolished the state agency hearing appeals of charter school denials. Chicago schools, both district- and charter-run, are experiencing an ongoing drop in enrollment, leaving schools competing for fewer students. 

A charter school operator named Destiny STREAM Academy for Girls Charter School initially applied to open a new charter, focused on math and technology education for girls, but then withdrew its application. 

Chicago has more than 120 charter schools; the school district runs more than 500 schools. The number of charter school applications has diminished by half over the past three years, according to a Chalkbeat analysis. 

After more than two decades of expansion in Chicago, charter school growth has tapered off.

Last year, the district denied three new charter proposals.

In 2017, nine schools sent in proposals. One was approved, one denied, and seven schools withdrew their applications. In 2016, there were 10 submissions, one of which was incomplete, and the rest were withdrawn. 

That’s a wildly different landscape to just a few years before, when more than 16 schools threw their hat in the ring for a new charter or expansion in 2014-2015 school year (the majority later withdrew their proposals). 

The district is also recommending that two charter schools be closed: Chicago Virtual Charter School, which offers primarily online classes for elementary and high school grades, and Frazier Preparatory Academy Charter School, a K-8 school in North Lawndale that shares a building with a district-run school.

The virtual school is under investigation by the district’s Office of Inspector General and has “the lowest School Quality Rating Policy score, used to rate how schools are performing, of any charter high school, the lowest Freshman OnTrack rate, and one of the lowest graduation rates in the district,” according to the district. Last year, it received a rating of 2, the second-lowest possible. 

Chicago Virtual Charter School has held a charter with the district since 2006. The district renewed its charter in 2015 for five years. 

The district is recommending that the board revoke the Frazier Preparatory Academy charter because it hasn’t been able to get off the academic warning list, which is for schools who received a low school rating three years in a row. During the 2017-18 school year the board proposed the school’s charter be renewed for three years, with conditions. The board approved a co-location with Theodore Herzl Elementary School in 2014. 

As with district school closings, students will get transition support that includes staff to help them find new schools. 

The proposals will be discussed, and likely voted on, at Wednesday’s board of education meeting, to be held at Curie High School at 5 p.m. 

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers found that while charter school closures had decreased since 2011-12, they were holding steady at a rate of 7% from 2014-16. 

The city teachers union, which opposes both charter schools and school closures, issued a critical response to the district’s announcement. 

“The Chicago Teachers Union believes that school closings are racist and irresponsible, especially when schools targeted for closure were once promoted as the future of Chicago Public Schools,” the union’s statement read. “This is what happens when ‘choice’ is forced upon our communities as an alternative to traditional neighborhood public schools.”