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Illinois Charter School Commission

Charter schools allow parents to be able to choose an appropriate educational setting for their children by judging the merit of the educational institution, classroom setting, and academic performance. The existence of charter schools allows parents to choose a path for their child.  They are very popular in Illinois and around the country because they offer opportunity.

Charter school enrollment rates are increasing at an astronomical rate because parents are becoming actively involved in their child’s academic performance.  Parents are demanding results that failing schools are not delivering.  According to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) charter school enrollment skyrocketed from 6,152 students in 2000 to 54,054 in 2013.  Enrollment would be higher but charters cannot grow fast enough. Illinois Charter School Network estimates that 19,000 students are awaiting an opportunity to attend a charter school but do not yet have the opportunity.

Schools are created to enlighten and educate students and prepare them for a prosperous future; however, there is a power struggle over splitting funding dollars between charter and public institutions.  Charter schools are educational institutions that receive public funding, cannot charge tuition and are part of the public school system.  A key difference is charters are allowed many structural opportunities that public schools are not, such as flexibility and independence to innovate educational techniques in the classroom.

In 2011, the state created an independent commission, the State Charter School Commission (Commission) is primarily tasked to review charter appeals.  Upon review of a charter schools appeal, the Commission may override a denial at the local level if it is “in the best interest of the students the charter school is designed to serve” and grant the charter schools application.

A recent bill passed the General Assembly (HB3754) that would abolish the Commission.  The bill sponsor does not believe the Commission has a necessary purpose.

The Commission, by design, provides a fair hearing to charter applicants after being denied at the local level. Since the Commission’s creation in 2011, it received 29 appeals.  Only two out of 29 appeals were granted (Prairie Crossing Elementary & Southland High School).  Abolishing the Commission removes a level of protection and also hurts the overall charter school movement.  The Commission is a strong advocate for quality education in charter schools.  We should not be taking steps backward in advocating educational opportunities in our most poor-performing districts.

Under the legislation, the Illinois State Board of Education and a nine member panel appointed by the governor are now set to be charged with reviewing appeals.  This board can no doubt handle the technical review, but the Commission is important because it provides oversight, supports and disseminates innovative practices in the classroom and reports bi-annually on charter school performance. The Commission is not simply a clerical bureau, the Commission is challenging educators and student performance.  Charter schools are not a solution for failures in our public system; however, they are a step in the right direction to provide an alternative for families.  We should embrace them.

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