The Illinois Charter Commission. An über committee with even less democratic oversight than the CPS board.

The Illinois State Charter Commission can almost be described as an über committee with even less oversight than Chicago’s mayoral controlled school board.

If a privately managed charter application is rejected by a local school board, even a board that was democratically elected as all but the CPS board are, than the unelected Charter Commission can overrule that decision.

And the district still pays the bill.

Not directly, of course.

But the state will deduct the cost of the charter operation from money that would go from the state to the local board.

This is precisely what is happening in Chicago with two charter schools operated by a group called Concept Charters.

Catalyst:

Concept Schools already operates the Chicago Math and Science Academy, a Level 2 school in Rogers Park that opened in 2004.

The approval of the Concept proposal means a new reality is taking hold in CPS, one in which the district does not have total control over charter school decisions. Because the operator was approved through the state commission, the charters will receive their funding through the state. The state, in turn, will deduct the money from the district’s funding.

Concept Charter is seeking to get a building in the North Side neighborhood of Bowmanville–typically called Lincoln Square–rezoned to allow the school to locate there. A slew of residents showed up at a community meeting to speak against the zoning change.

The Illinois State Charter Commission was established by the Illinois legislature in 2011.

In order to be appointed to the Commission a member must proclaim themselves to be pro-charter in the first place.

Angela Rudolph who is Vice Chair of the Commission, is also a charter school activist and member of Democrats For Education Reform, a corporate education reform group.

At the time the legislature passed the bill, Jim Broadway wrote:

Currently, charter schools are authorized by local school boards, but a board’s rejection can be appealed to the Illinois State Board of Education. An INCS spokesman said there have been 130 appeals and almost all of the 13 non-Chicago charters are a result of local boards’ charter denials being overturned by ISBE. 

Under SB 79, a relatively independent commission would be established as an “alternative authorizer” of charter schools. The commission would oversee the schools it authorizes, which would be funded by some of the state dollars that would otherwise flow to the school districts where they are located. 

A school board still could appeal the commission’s action under SB 79, but only through a process of judicial review. 

The commission would be funded by a 3% fee from the schools it authorizes, but would also be able to seek grants and private sector donations. Commission members would be appointed by ISBE from slates of candidates presented by the governor. 

The bill requires “statewide geographical diversity” among commission members, but seems to require conformity with respect to charter advocacy. It states: “All members of the Commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and a commitment to charter schooling as one strategy for strengthening public education.” 

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