A reader writes:
Learn Charter Schools (controlled by the Walton Family, of Wal-Mart fame) already have a charter in North Chicago. The public schools are showing measurable student growth, especially at the junior high level. The charter school does not have to produce such data. The Learn group wants to open a second charter school. They presented “petitions” with many bogus names claiming to support their proposal. The school board and community voted it down. Learn appealed to the Illinois Charter Commission (a non-elected group), which in turn shoved this new charter down the throats of the North Chicago citizens. This move in all likelihood will eventually bankrupt the public school system there. If that happens, the public school students will have to be absorbed by the neighboring towns.
There are plenty of irregularities in this case.
According to district documents, the improvement charter school students see in scores is similar to those that attend district schools.
Each student attending the proposed charter school is estimated to cost District 187 $10,000 in tuition. LEARN has proposed decreasing enrollment for the first year and then going up to 500 students by the fifth year.
Those tuition dollars would compound the district’s already difficult financial position situation, Pollack said.
The district only managed to balance its budget this year because the state infused the district with an extra $5.8 million, according to district documents. A similar payment has not been included in the Illinois State Board of Education’s budget for next year.
“We’re very close to maximizing the cuts we can make,” Pollack said. “It’s simply not possible to do that and add a new charter school.”
The district would have to close at least one elementary school building and eliminate 15 positions beyond the 29 already proposed, according to district documents. Even with the cuts, the district projected it would run out of cash reserves by budget year 2019-20.
While White did not dispute that another charter school would have a negative financial impact on the district, he did dispute that the impact would be as dire as the district claimed.
He pointed to a 14 percent increase on per-pupil spending that has occurred over the last two years as the district’s enrollment fell. The district should be able to offset much of the tuition costs by eliminating services that otherwise would have gone to those students.
The LEARN Charter School Network did not return multiple requests for an interview.