Chicago's Renaissance 2010

November 26, 2006

The following is excerpted from a new pamphlet published by the Committee to Defend Public Education.

Since 1996 the Illinois business community, led by the Commercial Club of Chicago, has worked with the state and city government to promote and support charter schools in Chicago. The Charter School Resource Center (CSRC), whose parent organization is Chicago's Commercial Club, has as its mission "to create a positive public opinion about charter schools, remove obstacles to high quality charter schools, create a broad and diverse applicant pool, support existing charter schools, and expand authorizer knowledge on charter schools.". . .

In 1996 the Illinois charter school law was passed permitting the creation of 45 charter schools in the state, 15 of which could be in Chicago. The first five charters opened in Chicago in 1997 and by the next year Chicago had filled its quota of 15 charter schools. In April 2003 a new law was passed doubling the number of charter schools in Chicago to 30. The following year the Renaissance 2010 Plan was created through a partnership between government and business. This plan includes 70 new charter schools (well beyond the legal limit - ed.). According to the mayor, the plan was designed "to bring in outside partners who want to get into the business of education." The 2006-07 school year opened with a dozen new charter schools, bringing the total in the city to 47 schools operated by 27 private organizations. . . .

Charter schools are draining vitally needed funds out of the public school treasury.

Charter schools receive a per-pupil stipend, equal to the average per-pupil expenditure in Chicago's public schools. These funds are deducted from the public school treasury and turned over to private contractors including for-profit companies. This leaves our public schools even more underfunded. For example, in recent years Chicago has seen the closure of dozens of public schools and thousands of teachers laid off as public funds are diverted to charter schools.

In addition to the regular per-pupil funding received by all public schools, charter schools receive additional funds. In Illinois, $2,500 is given to businesses to write their charter proposals. Once a charter is granted, start-up funds are disbursed by the state that include money for classroom computers, a printer, overhead projector, TV and DVD player for every classroom, and office and classroom furniture for the schools. Schools also receive $400-$600 per student for books and supplies. District-owned building facilities are provided free of charge and CPS provides food service as well. In addition, the federal government gives charter schools funding for "charter school construction and infrastructure needs." ...

Charter schools are not accountable to the public in that they are typically free of oversight including school board control, union work rules, and state and local laws governing public schools. Illinois charter schools are granted an "automatic waiver from most state and district education laws, regulations and policies."

The elimination of public oversight includes eliminating the responsibility of charter schools to provide a modern curriculum. Instead charter schools promote a wide range of anti-social curricula and prejudices.

For example, Chicago's Urban Prep Academy for Young Men and Women's Leadership Charter School reintroduces inequality into our public schools by separating the sexes. Several military "academies," staffed by military officers who report directly to the Pentagon, have been granted charters to instill militarism and racism into our youth. Ariel Capital Management LLC decorates the classrooms of its charter school to resemble the Stock Exchange and structures its curriculum around the concept of "financial literacy."...

Charter schools are being used to break unions and impose lower wages on teachers and other school employees.

Illinois law exempts charters from the collective bargaining agreement and district work rules....

Renaissance 2010 specifically calls for 60 of its new charter schools to operate outside of the union. Chicago's Commercial Club Civic Committee said "the school union will not like the creation of a significant number of new schools that operate outside the union agreement, but operating outside the agreement is a key element of this strategy." Speaking to the New York Times about the nonunion schools Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan stated: "I like the competition and choice this will provide. I want Chicago to be a mecca where entrepreneurship can flourish."

The result of these attacks has been yearly rounds of layoffs and school closings. In the last two years more than 2,100 teachers have been laid off. At the same time, 10 schools were closed in 2005 and a dozen more this past summer....

Salary comparisons show that experienced CPS teachers offered positions in new charter schools can expect an average pay cut of 27% or more than $15,000. Most charter teachers work with one-year contracts or at will of the management. As if this was not enough, charter and "contract" teachers are prohibited by law from participating in the teacher pension program....

To defend the public schools, we must stop Renaissance 2010 and stop the privatization of our schools. We must demand an end to school closures and conversions to charter schools. We must demand increased funding for the public schools so that every child is guaranteed the highest quality education.