Illinois abolishes charter schools commission, eliminating state appeals body for charters

Illinois abolished its charter commission on Friday, the body reviled by school districts but valued by charter promoters for offering a recourse to local disapproval of school proposals.

As widely expected, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1226 into law, close to the deadline for him taking action. The bill will dismantle the commission by July 1 and will hand off oversight of 11 schools, which the commission previously approved, to the state Board of Education next summer.

The state board will take over the responsibility of hearing appeals on charter school openings, closings and extensions. The state also will dole out funds it had collected to oversee the schools that the commission had approved. Once the state board takes over the commission’s role, the board will be able to levy a 3% fee on any state-approved charter school to help cover the cost of oversight.

Related: Overturning Chicago’s denial, Illinois Charter Commission offers Urban Prep West second chance

Since the bill’s passage, the charter commission has been conducting business as usual. It has been preparing to consider applications from schools that will seek to renew their charters. It also has been continuing overseeing schools, including Intrinsic charter in Chicago, which the commission approved on appeal last spring and which will open a brand new high school in the Loop next month.

“Our work is always bent toward making sure that students and families have access to schools,” said Shenita Johnson, director of the commission. “We continue to do our work regardless of any uncertainty.”

Until Pritzker signed the bill, Johnson had held out hope that the governor would veto it. She said she was used to uncertainty, because the commission has long been a lightning rod for criticism from charter critics and districts that don’t want their decisions overruled — both of whom have sought to eliminate the body.

Last year the legislature tried to severely weaken the commission, but then-Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the attempt, and Senate failed to override the veto.

Since its creation in 2011, the Illinois charter commission has grown to support schools serving more than 4,000 students across the state, according to Johnson. In enrollment, that puts it in the top 25% of school districts in Illinois.

Earlier this year, the commission approved two Chicago schools: the all-male Urban Prep, which the district had ordered closed, and the new citywide school run by Intrinsic, which wanted to replicate its highly rated campus.

Meanwhile, public bodies that work with the commission have been wrestling with the uncertainty. In the Chicago Public Schools budget for next year, the district notes that it expects to receive $4 million less funding than expected from the state this past school year because of “diversions to schools approved by the Illinois State Charter School Commission (SCSC) were higher than expected.”