Update: Youth Connection Charter Schools rescinded its proposal before the board meeting.
Less than a month after Chicago elected a mayor who said she backs a charter freeze, the city’s school board plans to vote Wednesday on opening new charter campuses on the South and West sides.
All of the proposals come from charter operators that already authorized to operate in Chicago. Two of them are among the nation’s largest charter operators, and the third has support from Chicago hip-hop artist and actor Common.
Schools chief Janice Jackson, who is hoping to stay on after Lori Lightfoot becomes mayor in May, is recommending the board approve the proposals.
One of the new schools was previously approved to draw up to 900 students, signaling that some charter growth could continue even in a less hospitable political climate.
KIPP, the nation’s largest charter network, wants to split grades K-4 from its KIPP Academy Chicago elementary school campus and place them inside a nearby church building, creating two locations in the Austin neighborhood.
The move will ensure “that our kindergarten students have a classroom this fall,” wrote Chris Haid, KIPP’s Chicago chief of staff, in an e-mail to Chalkbeat. Asked about its growth forecast in the city, he said the network “has no plans to open any new schools in Chicago.”
The network is assuming the new building by amending its original charter, which extends to 2024.
Another network wants to revive an existing charter that it stopped using in 2015. Youth Connection Charter Schools, the nation’s largest operator of alternative high schools, wants to start using the charter to operate a brick-and-mortar campus for 200 students in Archer Heights.
And under the third proposal, Distinctive Charter Schools would open a school called Art in Motion in South Shore that originally got approval in 2017. Since then, the charter operator — which is backed by the Chicago hip-hop artist Common, whose mother, Mahalia Hines, sits on the city’s board of education — has been searching for a home. Its earlier attempt to share space with an under-enrolled neighborhood high school, Hirsch High School in Greater Grand Crossing, was unsuccessful. In its proposal space, it would open with 200 students in seventh and eighth grades, with the goal of adding a grade every year until enrollment reaches 900.
Lightfoot, who takes office May 20, pledged to enact a moratorium on new charter schools until she has time to study the issue, and the city’s school board recently voted to close two underperforming charter schools and deny expansion efforts by two others.
But charters have other avenues of appeal beyond the school board. The Illinois State Charter Commission, which was established in 2011, is empowered to override local school boards that vote to close or reject charter schools. It currently supports seven charter schools ordered closed, or refused the chance to open or expand, by Chicago.
Corrected: This story was updated to clarify that the measures under consideration Wednesday were all proposed by charters that are already authorized to operate in Chicago and clarify the number of potential students.