Charter appeals

Four Chicago charters are appealing to the state. Here’s what happens now

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat Chicago
The operators behind Moving Everest, a charter school in Austin, wanted to open a second campus in 2019, but Chicago leaders are moving to deny that proposal.

2018 ended on a sour note for some Chicago charter schools. The Chicago school board denied all three new charter applications for the next school year, and announced plans to shutter two currently operating charter schools. In addition, the new governor ran on a platform critical of charter schools.

Conditions may not improve this year for the independently operated public schools, but there’s a glimmer of hope — the state charter commission, which has the power to green-light charters rejected by local school districts.

To catch up on the issue, here’s what you should know about why some charter schools rejected by Chicago could have a second chance:

What is the state charter commission and who could it help?

The schools can appeal to the charter commission, which could give them both a license and funding.

The commission was established in 2011 through tweaks to the state charter act and the education administrative code.

Since then, charter school operators have regarded the state charter commission as a recourse to rejection by hostile local school boards.

Nine governor-appointed commissioners sit on the board. Staff members who oversee operations have backgrounds ranging from former charter school leaders to other educators to real estate agents. The commission is divided into subcommittees, each meeting several times a year.

Who’s looking for an appeal?

Last fall, Chicago rejected requests for three charter schools: Intrinsic Charter School, Moving Everest 2 and Kemet Leadership Academy Charter. The school board also voted to close two schools: Kwame Nkrumah Charter School in West Roseland and Urban Prep West in University Village, both for poor academic and financial performance.

Since then, four charter schools have filed appeals with the commission: Intrinsic, Moving Everest 2, Kwame Nkrumah and Urban Prep West.

You can see the application form to renew a school’s charter here.

What is the process?

The commission has 75 days from a school’s appeal to vote on whether to grant or deny an appeal.

Here are the steps of the evaluation process:

  • An interview with the applicant and the district
  • In some cases, a commission site visit to a school.
  • A public hearing for community input
  • A public meeting where the commission will vote on the appeal

If a charter is approved, it must submit a five-year financial schedule and special education plan in order to be certified by the Illinois State Board of Education. Then it can sign a five-year charter agreement with the commission.

But, according to reporting by Sarah Karp at WBEZ, charters approved by the state commission won’t be able to use public school buildings or be accessible for families through the district’s central application process.

And what are their chances?

As of now, the commission has approved and oversees nine schools around the state.

The commission’s two permanent committees will meet Feb. 26 and the commission itself will meet March 19 at 160 N. LaSalle St., Chicago.

What do the tea leaves say for the charter commission itself?

The future of the commission is uncertain. Legislators tried to curb its authority in 2018  but were stymied by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner. Pritzker hasn’t spoken publicly about any plans for the charter commission. But the chair of the Illinois Senate education committee told Chalkbeat that she disagreed with the commission’s ability to override local decisions.

ONLINE SCHOOLS

A new proposal aims to ratchet up oversight of Indiana’s most troubled virtual charter schools

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos/Chalkbeat
Indiana Virtual School is located in the Parkwood office park at 96th St. and College Ave near the northern edge of Marion County.

Indiana lawmakers quietly took an initial step Wednesday that could eventually lead to the closures of the state’s most troubled virtual charter schools, Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

A provision to stop school districts from overseeing statewide virtual charter schools was tucked into a widely supported proposal to require students and their families to take an annual orientation before they can enroll in an online school. The bill passed the House Education Committee by an 8-0 vote and will be sent to the full House for consideration.

The move would prevent Daleville Community Schools, the oversight agency for Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, from renewing those charters. Indiana Virtual School’s charter agreement runs through the 2020 school year. Daleville has not publicly posted the charter for Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, which opened in 2017, so it is unclear when it expires.

If the two virtual charter schools were to remain open after their charters expire, the bill would require them to seek what education leaders hope would be a stronger oversight agency — a statewide charter authority such as the Indiana Charter School Board or Ball State University.

Bill author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he was “trying to do more than engagement, and improve the performance of our virtual charter schools.” He has previously told Chalkbeat that he does not think school districts should oversee large, statewide virtual charter schools.

Read more: Why Indiana education officials want to stop this school district from overseeing online schools

Daleville schools superintendent Paul Garrison attended the committee hearing and testified in favor of the orientation requirement — his suggestion to make the onboarding process an annual requirement was added to the proposal — but he did not address the authorizing provision. Chalkbeat was unable to reach Garrison or Indiana Virtual School Superintendent Percy Clark for further comment.

Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy have in recent years had some of the lowest graduation rates in the state. In 2018, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy graduated just 2 percent of its 1,009 seniors, and it also failed to test enough of its students to receive an A-F letter grade from the state, Chalkbeat found.

A 2017 Chalkbeat investigation showed that as Indiana Virtual School ballooned in size and posted dismal academic results, it had business ties that stood to financially benefit its founder.

Despite receiving $1 million in fees last year to oversee Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, education officials have raised concerns that Daleville is not holding the schools accountable.

“They’ve done a terrible job, and it would be my strong preference that they not be protected any further for their atrocious performance,” Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry has said.

Chalkbeat’s investigations and the continual low performance of virtual charter schools prompted the state board to recommend stricter regulations, including strengthening the oversight of online schools and improving engagement efforts with students.

Read more: Indiana education officials call for a crackdown on ‘too big to fail’ virtual schools

The authorizing provision also seeks to stop other school districts from following in Daleville’s footsteps, closing what some see as a loophole in Indiana law. School districts are only allowed to authorize charter schools within their boundaries, but they are not expressly prohibited from overseeing virtual charter schools.

Last summer, a Chalkbeat investigation examined an agricultural school that sought to open as a full-time virtual charter school overseen by the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson school district. But state officials warned the district that they believed it did not have the authority to oversee a statewide virtual charter school, and Indiana Agriculture and Technology School backed off its plans, opening instead as a blended school offering half of its instruction online and half in-person.

challenging the charters

Illinois requests $1.5 million in interest-free loans for charter school fund

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.

At its first meeting since the inauguration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the Illinois State Board of Education on Monday agreed to ask the state for $1.5 million in interest-free loans for charter school facilities and classroom technology.

The board included the funding in its $19.3 billion preliminary recommendation for public education in the fiscal year starting July, $7.2 billion more than this year’s budget. The final recommendation will be made in February and heads to the governor and General Assembly for approval.

In his first speech after taking the oath as Illinois governor, Pritzker made few concrete promises on education, focusing instead on the task of balancing the Illinois budget, overhauling the state tax code, and finding new revenue. As a candidate, he had pledged to place a moratorium on charter school expansion.

In coming months, Pritzker will have the chance to replace several members of the State Board of Education whose terms are expiring. That could impact the board’s approval of charter-related budget items, as well as herald a new direction on controversial charter-related legislation like the state charter commission, which can approve charters rejected at the district level.  

The state’s Charter School Revolving Loan Fund grew under former governor Bruce Rauner, who sought to promote charter schools.

Unlike some other states, Illinois doesn’t provide funding for charter school facilities, and neither do most districts. That means charters must acquire facilities funding through bonds or other financial deals.

The state created the fund to help build, acquire and improve charter classrooms, and to provide supplies, textbooks and other equipment. Schools could apply for up to $250 per student in funding.

In 2016, the legislature increased the per-pupil loan amount to $750 per student, despite objections from some legislators.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, which drafted the 2016 bill that increased per-pupil funding through the loans, said he was pleased the draft budget includes more money for the fund, but that $1.5 million doesn’t meet the needs of charters when local districts don’t fund facilities facilities.

“Charters have huge facilities needs in the state, and $1.5 million doesn’t even scratch the surface,” Broy said.

Broy noted that because the fund was revolving, any loans that charters received were paid back directly into the fund.

But Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, a national group that advocates for public schools, criticized the fund for funneling public money to the independently operated charter schools.

“Before the state goes ahead and uses taxpayer dollars to pour into another fund to start up new charters, it’s really important that there be a careful accounting of what happened in the past,” said Burris. “I would hope that under the new governor, Illinois would put a pause button on this.”