Will federal funding spawn more suburban charter schools?

 
 
Posted10/7/2015 5:35 AM
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  • Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders speaks before the state Charter School Commission last October about what he called deficiencies with the Elgin charter school application.

      Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders speaks before the state Charter School Commission last October about what he called deficiencies with the Elgin charter school application. Madhu Krishnamurthy | Staff Photographer

Could a proposal to create a charter school in Elgin, defeated last year, be revived with the injection of federal funding?

Illinois is among eight states selected to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The five-year, $42 million grant will provide financial assistance for the planning, program design and initial implementation of charter schools statewide.

As many as 60 new charter public schools could be established in Illinois in the next five years.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Laine Evans said the agency will issue a request for proposals at a later date.

Chicago Public Schools is reviewing proposals for new charter schools and approval decisions will be made late this month. There are no pending charter school applications outside of Chicago.

Had it been approved, the Elgin Math and Science Academy would have opened last month, offering classes from kindergarten through second grade. Its target audience was at-risk students from Elgin.

The school idea hasn't been dropped entirely, said Kerin Kelly, an attorney and vice president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative. But she could not confirm whether the group will be submitting a new charter application anytime soon.

A 12-member design team -- made up of parents, community volunteers and professionals in various fields -- spent three years preparing the first application. A state commission a year ago denied the group's appeal of a rejection of the plan by the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board.

At the time, Illinois State Charter School Commission members said they were impressed with aspects of the application but agreed the proposal was not "ready." They urged charter group leaders to take more time to address concerns raised about finances and how the school would cater to at-risk students.

The proposal did not meet the commission's standards in four categories: education plan, organizational plan, business plan and evidence of capacity.

U-46 CEO Tony Sanders then opposed the charter school proposal, saying it was not "economically sound."

Sanders said the charter group failed to appropriately budget for staffing needs or startup and maintenance costs. He also said the group was seeking too much funding from the district -- $8,115 per student -- and was not prepared to serve its diverse population of more than 40,000 students.

Other suburban charter proposals also have faced roadblocks.

The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley proposed drawing students from school districts from Algonquin to Plainfield for an online curriculum. That proposal was rejected in 2013 by each of the local school boards.

State legislators last year approved a moratorium on the establishment of virtual charter schools until January 2017.

Charter public schools serve more than 63,000 students statewide, but there still is a demand with long waitlists of students, according to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

New charter schools will be awarded sizable grants during their first two years of operation, said Kasia Kalata, spokeswoman for the charter school network.

She urged charter design teams to start brainstorming ideas for their proposals and go through the Illinois State Board of Education's competitive bidding process.

A portion of the federal funding also will be allocated toward developing best practices to help strengthen the quality of charter schools in the state, she added.

"This grant provides hope to parents and an opportunity for students to attend an excellent public school that best fits their needs," State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said.

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