Charter schools become a debate issue in the Illinois Democratic primary for governor.

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By Mark Maxwell of the Springfield Illinois CBS station WCIA.

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — On the campaign trail and in his attack ads, Pritzker has adopted a critical stance against charter schools, claiming to support a moratorium to block their expansion. But in 2013, Pritzker spoke at Educare D.C., calling the newly launched school the “gold standard” adding, “This [school] is what I want for every child in America. Would this not be perfect?”

At the time of his remarks in July 2013, Educare was still a private school operating with the support of public funds. It’s teachers, similar to charter schools, are not union members. It’s funding, similar to charter schools, comes from taxpayers and private investors. It also had financial backing from one of Pritzker’s tax-free foundations, the Pritzker Children’s Initiative (PCI), according to a 2014 charter school application.

“Administration officials have already visited us,” Pritzker crowed, describing how his new school group was “optimizing public dollars.”

One Obama administration official would later leave the White House to join PCI as it’s director. Before taking a job at Pritzker’s nonprofit group, Rachel Schumacher helped to craft a federal block grant that provides public funding to groups like Pritzker’s. Pritzker pitched the D.C. location as a “showroom” to convince Washington lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers to expand the program nationwide.

“Our doors are open for other policymakers here, elected officials and advocates to come and see for themselves the impact of high-quality early childhood education right here in the nation’s capital,” Pritzker said.

Schumacher not only directs Pritzker’s nonprofit, she also chairs Educare D.C. alongside fellow board member Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and wife to Republican governor Bruce Rauner. Pritzker thanked Rauner at his 2013 “celebration” speech, addressing her as one of his “friends from Chicago.”

In 2014, Pritzker’s showcase school applied to become a charter school but was denied. Educare D.C.’s charter school application lists Diana Rauner as a prominent member of the charter school business plan. An annual report from the Ounce of Prevention group credits her for launching the first Educare school in 2000, a model which Pritzker’s campaign says he admired.

The 2014 charter school application form also credits a committed board of directors and investors, like Pritzker and his nonprofit, for “leading the charge to convert the PK-3 and PK-4 portion of this unique program to a charter school.” At a groundbreaking ceremony in 2011, Pritzker thanks other billionaire investors like the families of Warren Buffett, George Kaiser and the Kellogg Foundation.

“Why are billionaires interested in schools? Why does a guy rob banks,” Fred Klonsky asks rhetorically. “That’s where the money is.”

Klonsky is a retired teacher, a veteran of the classroom for 30 years, and the former president of his local teacher’s union in Park Ridge, a member group of the Illinois Education Association.

“Schools and education are a trillion dollar operation,” Klonsky explained. “There’s money to be made off of education. These aren’t charities. Just like public employee pensions, they involve trillions of dollars.”

In campaign materials and in public speeches, Pritzker is careful to describe his backing of early childhood education as “investments” or “support,” as opposed to charitable donations. This is by design, because these programs include a taxpayer funded return on investment.

According to the Network for Public Education, “charter schools are businesses in which both the cost and risk are fully funded by the taxpayers. The initial ‘investment’ often comes from the government or wealthy individuals. And if the business fails, the ‘owners’ are not out a dime, but the customers, who are in this case children, are stranded.” Klonsky says that definition accurately describes Pritzker’s early childhood education program.

In a political attack ad paid for by Pritzker, a narrator assails his primary opponent, state senator Daniel Biss, for his 2012 vote “to increase funding for charter schools at the expense of neighborhood public schools.” The ad also says “he’s supported by a pro-charter group who’s fought for school privatization.”

Biss campaign spokesman Tom Elliott hit back, saying, “The height of J.B. Pritzker’s hypocrisy is astounding. While he spends millions of dollars on sloppy attack ads against Daniel Biss for voting for a bill that provides funding parity for all school children in Illinois, Pritzker tries to privatize education so he can profit off the backs of underprivileged families.”

Democratic state representative Christian Mitchell, who is supporting Pritzker in the primary contest, reacted to the attack ads on Tuesday, saying, “I think demagoguing an issue as serious as education is a concern for all candidates involved. I respect the candidates involved, but it’s not what I would do.”

Mitchell also voted in favor of charter schools in the past. He has multiple high-performing charter schools in his 26th statehouse district and continues to support them. His stance is in line with a national movement within the Democratic party that surged during the Obama era.

“There’s sort of a ‘who are you with’ or ‘who are you against’ mentality in education right now,” Mitchell said. “For some folks, if you don’t support exclusively neighborhood public schools, forgetting high quality charters, you’re considered to be a traitor to the party. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.”

“All of these guys are trying to claim the wing of progressivism when none of them have a record that supports that,” Klonsky said. “I don’t think there’s anybody running for statewide office as a Democrat who can make a claim that they were defenders of neighborhood public schools and that they were opponents of charter schools. If they can make that claim, show it. Before you attack someone else, show us your record.”

A 2014 rejection letter from the D.C. Public Charter School board spells out how Pritzker’s school fell short of meeting the qualifications required to become a charter school. Educare DC’s denial letter cited a lack of financial transparency or a clear plan on how the group would spend public funding, a lack of local leadership, and insufficient evidence that the program would provide proper instruction for students with disabilities. The denial letter also pointed to “inconsistencies” in their capacity to serve special education students. The rejection letter also found the Pritzker-backed group had set their academic goals “lower than the charter sector average.”

The Pritzker campaign would not directly answer whether or not he or any of his foundations have given money to other charter schools. Instead, the campaign acknowledged one donation in particular for $2 million to Educare West DuPage, an early childhood learning center in the Chicago suburbs that has not transitioned over to a charter school. A review of a federal education database shows the school had 77 students enrolled in the 2015-16 school year. The Educare D.C. location has 157 pre-schoolers enrolled.

“J.B. has been a national advocate for quality early childhood education and care for over 20 years and last year he released a five-point plan that includes a focus on expanding programs that educate parents and children from birth through age five, like Educare, which gives children and their parents the tools they need to thrive,” campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said in an email.

“JB was praising the Educare model for early childhood learning and supports a moratorium on charter schools. As governor, JB will invest in early learning and care so that every child in Illinois gets the right start and the quality education they deserve.”

The Pritzker campaign said any attempt to compare the Educare D.C. charter program to the charter program Biss voted for would not hold up because the Educare D.C. program was not officially a charter school at the time of his remarks in 2013. But that response does not account for the decision to apply as a charter school, nor does it explain how the tax structure of this public-private school model, albeit it for pre-school children, is materially different than a licensed charter school.

In fact, a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton created a lucrative tax incentive for hedge fund investors seeking a safe bet to set up public-private schools in underserved areas. According to Hofstra University social studies professor Alan Singer, hedge funds “love charter schools” because they “are permitted to combine this tax credit with other tax breaks while they also collect interest on any money they lend out.”

Pritzker’s older sister Penny Pritzker, a former Treasury Secretary for President Obama, heads up Pritzker College Prep, a Noble charter school in Chicago. Bruce Rauner sponsored an affiliated school called Rauner College Prep. The Noble network scored a federal grant worth nearly $11 million from ex-Obama Education czar Arne Duncan, who also supported Pritzker’s early childhood program.

The website for the Pritkzer Children’s Initiative, a group backed by the Pritzker Family Foundation, also entices potential investors for the “high returns” they can expect from their Social Impact Bond program, another taxpayer funded education program for young children. The campaign admits the primary reason these social impact bonds attract investors is because they can get a solid return for their money.

In partnership with Goldman Sachs and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Pritzker invested in a $16.9 million social impact bond for Chicago Public Schools with a “Pay for Success” model that could deliver a return of up to $9,100 per student plus interest. He lists the investment in his economic disclosure forms filed with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. As the subordinate lender, Pritzker couldn’t collect that payout from CPS until after Goldman Sachs is paid out, at which time his campaign says he will direct the returns back into his family foundation.

“Those are contradictory motivations,” Klonsky said, raising questions about a candidate who is running for governor on a platform to overhaul education. For instance, how exactly would a governor juggle the competing priorities of repairing a chronically underfunded, underperforming Illinois school system with the temptation to preserve a nest egg revenue stream for himself or his own children?

Critics raise other concerns with the “Pay for Results” system, namely the exorbitant expense. $9,100 plus the interest accrued over several years is a much higher total cost than a typical pre-school. Advocates for the program point to studies that suggest a long-term savings for the state if it can ultimately help students stay on the academic track longer, avoid the criminal justice system or other costly detours. But those “savings” are structured to be paid right back to the investors, in this case, out of the coffers of Chicago Public Schools. Other education experts argue the results of this specific investment scheme are not yet borne out, so they lack the evidence to justify the cost to taxpayers.

A 2016 article in the Los Angeles Times detailed Pritzker’s investment in an identical program in Utah, which said the new class of bonds was based in fuzzy math.

In 2017, a review of Pritzker’s social impact bond program found the Chicago system underperformed expectations, resulting in only a partial return for investors. 

Klonsky says, “aside from the cost, it’s bad for kids with special needs because special needs covers a range of issues. Some of the problem kids take with them into schools are not curable. It’s who they are. If you’re a kid with autism, that’s who you are.”

Investors get a higher payout when students pass standardized tests or grade out of costlier long term programs, which can sometimes include special needs programs.

“Wall Street investors get a return on their investment for each kid that does not receive special ed support,” Klonsky explained. “You use a business model of investment in a program of identifying special needs kids? I taught in a small school. We would concentrate our attention on kids with autism. Those kids are going to need special ed support the entire time they’re in our school. They’re not going to be ‘fixed.'”

“To reward an investor for not having that kid receive the services, it just flies in the face of what counts as good practice,” Klonsky says.

The Pritzker campaign disputed that notion, saying the goal of helping students avoid special education aims to prepare them for kindergarten, and is not to be applied to the context of autism.

Klonsky says Pritzker’s political attacks against charter schools is evidence of a larger nationwide shift in the political conversation around privatizing education.

“After nearly 20 years of corporate-driven education reform, they have nothing to show for it.”

*This article has been updated to include a response from the Biss campaign. 

The loss of DNAinfo and an independent media.

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Anne and I were at a protest last week at Lurie Children’s Hospital to join our friend Pidgeon Pagonis and other intersex activists protesting unnecessary surgeries on intersex children.

As far as I can tell, DNAinfo was the only mainstream media present and reporting on it.

It is an example of why DNAinfo served as a valuable source of street level information.

The problem is that DNAinfo was owned by a right-wing union-hater, Joe Ricketts.

Media reporter Robert Feder describes Ricketts as “patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs, has been losing money on DNAinfo since he founded the hyperlocal digital news service in New York in 2009 and expanded it to Chicago in 2012. He added Chicagoist in March.”

But losing money in the short term has always been the business model of an internet company. It took Facebook five years to make a dime.

What Trump supporter Ricketts wouldn’t tolerate is journalists working for DNAinfo joining a union. So when his New York workers voted to join one, he shut the entire nation-wide operation down.

The loss of work for hundreds of writers and journalists heading into the holiday season is cruel. The loss of a street-level information source is a shame. We need more outlets for information, not less.

It is why I am concerned about what went on in Washington the other day where internet information is controlled by a smaller number of multi-billion dollar companies and where the government is threatening tighter controls.

Meanwhile, there needs to be a growing independent media.

As the journalist A.J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

 

Poll shows huge drop among those supporting charter schools.

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A poll sponsored by the Hoover Institute’s Education Next, which generally supports a corporate and conservative school reform agenda, shows falling support for charter schools.

The poll tries to find a relationship between the election of Donald Trump and support for charters.

But as a story in Education Week points out, Barack Obama and his Department of Education were also big supporters of charter schools.

The poll report suggests other reasons for the collapsing support for charter schools.

President Barack Obama, one of the most high-profile champions of charters, is out of office, and some of the most prominent liberal voices on the national stage—Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, have voiced strong opposition to charters.

National civil rights leaders—including the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives—also have taken a harsh stance toward charters recently, with the NAACP calling for a ban on any new charters opening.

Finally, expensive and high-profile political battles over charter schools, such as the failed effort last fall to raise the cap on the number of schools allowed to open in Massachusetts, may also contribute to the eroding of support beyond the Democratic party, said West.

On the issue of vouchers, which the Trump adminstration’s Department of Education and it’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, strongly endorse, support has remained flat.

Support for the policy—which is most popular among the various types of private-school choice programs according to the poll—remained essentially flat at 54 percent.

The same trend was seen on the question of allowing all families to use vouchers: Opposition fell while support went unchanged.

Note that the Illinois legislature is currently considering a $100 million transfer of public money to school vouchers.

See my brother’s blog post today.

Mike Antonucci, Peter Cunningham and the petty attacks on the Mass Teachers union following MTA’s win at the polls.

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Last November’s election had few wins for progressives.

But in Massachusetts, against all odds, the grassroots organizing of the rank and file members of the state teachers union, led by a reform union leadership, did get a win.

They beat back a corporate reform ballot issue that would have lifted the cap on charter schools.

The pro-charter folks spent $24 million, including $2 million from the Walton family, $500,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and $15 million from the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools.

Massachusetts banks and other corporations donated $500,000 for the cause.

A few hedge fund managers and corporation CEOs wrote checks for a $1 million.

The NEA, the AFT and the MTA spent about $15 million, making it the most expensive Massachusetts ballot measure ever.

So, count on the union-haters like Mike Antonucci and the charter-lovers like Peter Cunningham to hold a grudge.

They are still licking their wounds.

When a Boston charter school teacher was chosen the National Teacher of the Year, some rank and file members of the MTA were suspicious of the motives behind a New Business Item congratulating her. The NBI was defeated and within 24 hours the news was being reported by every anti-union and pro-charter blogger and tweeter in the universe.

The National Teacher of the Year is chosen by the Council of State School Officers.

I wasn’t present for the debate at the MTA meeting, but doubt it involved challenging the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee’s credentials as an excellent teacher.

Charter schools are full of excellent teachers.

No matter that the NEA will honor Sydney Chaffee, the charter teacher and this year’s Teacher of the Year at their national Representative Assembly this summer, as they honor the Teacher of the Year every year.

And so it was that when I tweeted that Chicago was now considered the charter union epicenter of the country, charter advocate Peter Cunningham launched into an attack on the MTA as being petty.

Apparently Peter has adopted the Trump tweeting style of ending his observations with, “How sad.”

And apparently the NEA, the nation’s largest teachers union, doesn’t count as a “big union.”

Some rank and file MTA members may have been suspicious that the proposed MTA NBI was presented as a provocation following the charter school expansion measure’s defeat at the polls.

Who knows?

Those like right-winger Antonucci and charter-lover Peter Cunningham have now joined forces to go after the MTA.

The teacher unions will keep doing what they have been doing: Organizing charter unions.

And apparently charter teachers are anxious to join.

Chicago is a union town, charter schools are no exception.

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I heard this morning that the teachers at Passages charter in Chicago won a late night agreement on a union contract. If they hadn’t, Passages would have been the first charter school strike in the United States.

“Chicago has become the epicenter of charter union organizing in the country,” complained Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

We’re number one!

Andrew should have known. Chicago is a union town.

WBEZ reports that the Passages contract gives their teachers a 21% pay increase. More details will be released later.

Chicago Tribune:

“It’s not about destroying charter schools,” (CTU President Karen)Lewis said. “Charter schools are here; they’re not going anywhere. So the key is, how do you make them a bitter pill to their management companies? It’s the management companies we have the issues with, not the charter teachers, not the students, not the parents. The key is, organize people to fight for fairer conditions of work, and then that’s good for everybody.”

The CTU, which represents traditional public school teachers, is supportive of the separate union representing charter schools. That union is the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers and a statewide affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Chris Baehrend, president of Chicago ACTS Local 4343, said, “A growing number of teachers are coming to a realization that when they are organized, we are in a better position to protect conditions in the classroom.”

The Chicago charter union said it represents about 1,000 teachers at 32 charter schools in Chicago, which is about 25 percent of charter schools citywide. That’s double the national percentage: About 12 percent of charter schools nationwide are under a collective bargaining agreement, according to Aviva Bowen, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

If the school privatizers are going to use charter schools as a weapon to destroy teachers unions, Chicago is as good a place to make our stand as any.

We are a union town.

NEA’s charter position is okay but a little like closing the doors on an empty barn. No mention of vouchers?

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NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia convened an organizational national task force on charter schools to reconsider the union’s statement adopted by the Representative Assembly in Los Angeles 15 years ago.

The wheels of the NEA turn kind of slowly. The past 15 years have seen a lot of battles around charter schools. The NEA board of directors will consider the task force’s document at their next meeting.

I posted a copy of the document last week.

In 2001, the last time the NEA took a national position on charters, there were around 2,100 charter schools operating in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Most were run by parent groups, nonprofit organizations and a few for-profit education companies. About a half million students attended them nationwide.

The landscape has radically changed.

Today, half a million students attend charter school just in California alone.

Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 3.1 to 6.6 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 3,000 to 6,500. In addition to increasing in number, charter schools have generally increased in enrollment size over the last decade. From 2003–04 to 2013–14, the percentages of charter schools with 300–499, 500–999, and 1,000 or more students each increased, while the percentage of charter schools with fewer than 300 students decreased. Similar patterns were observed from 2012–13 to 2013–14.

So there we were. It was September of 2016. Two months before the presidential election. We had fifteen years of the Department of Education run by pro-charter secretaries like Rod Paige, Maggie Spellings, Arne Duncan and now, perhaps worst of all, Betsy DeVos, and the NEA thinks it might have something new to say about charter schools.

The NEA’s main observation is that charters are no longer mom and pop shops and have become corporate managed and profit centers, threatening public neighborhood schools and public control of what should be a public institution.

The result of these efforts has been a massive and burgeoning sector of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards as public schools. Frequently the resulting charters are operated expressly for-profit, or are nominally non-profit but managed or operated by for-profit entities. These charters are nothing like the original conception of charters as small incubators of innovation within school districts. Most importantly, the growth of charters has undermined local public schools and communities, without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth.

I can’t argue with that.

Some of us have been saying it for a decade and longer.

I assume the NEA board of directors will pass it.

And then what?

Will the NEA and President Eskelsen Garcia follow her friend Randi Weingarten in school tours and seek a seat at the table with Betsy DeVos?

Or will they fight like hell against the Department of Education and its Secretary which has become the Mother of All Bombs when it comes to public, secular, neighborhood schools?

One observation: The Illinois member of the NEA task force sits on the Illinois Charter Commission, which has the authority to overturn local school district decisions to deny charter applications and which we have been trying to get the legislature to disband.

One more observation. Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are not just charter advocates. Their other tool in the fight against neighborhood public schools is the voucher.

There is no mention of vouchers in this document.

I hope we don’t need to wait 15 years for it.

NEA’s charter school policy statement.

The NEA’s charter school taskforce policy statement will be discussed at an upcoming NEA Board of Directors meeting.

Charter School Policy Statement
As Recommended by the Charter Taskforce to the NEA Board of Directors

Introduction

Charter schools were initially promoted by educators who sought to innovate within the local public school system to better meet the needs of their students. Over the last quarter of a century, charter schools have grown dramatically to include large numbers of charters that are privately managed, largely unaccountable, and not transparent as to their operations or performance. The explosive growth of charters has been driven, in part, by deliberate and well- funded efforts to ensure that charters are exempt from the basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools, which mirror efforts to privatize other public institutions for profit.

Charters have grown the most in school districts that were already struggling to meet students’ needs due to longstanding, systemic and ingrained patterns of institutional neglect, racial and ethnic segregation, inequitable school funding, and disparities in staff, programs and services. The result has been the creation of separate, largely unaccountable, privately managed charter school systems in those districts that undermine support and funding of local public schools. Such separate and unequal education systems are disproportionately located in, and harm, students and communities of color by depriving both of the high quality public education system that should be their right.

As educators we believe that “public education is the cornerstone of our social, economic, and political structure,” NEA Resolution A-1, the very “foundation of good citizenship,” and the fundamental prerequisite to every child’s future success. Brown v. Bd. of Ed. of Topeka, Shawnee Cty., Kan., 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954). The growth of separate and unequal systems of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools threatens our students and our public education system. The purpose of this policy statement is to make plain NEA’s opposition to the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools while clarifying NEA’s continued support for those public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by local democratically elected school boards or their equivalent.

Findings of NEA Charter Taskforce in Support of Proposed Charter Policy Statement_April 2017

 

 

This bill would stop charter school expansion in Illinois.

State Representative Will Guzzardi has introduced legislation that would all but stop charter school expansion in Illinois.

Guzzardi’s bill would block the opening of any new charter campuses in any school districts with the Illinois State Board of Education’s two lowest financial ratings.

CPS definitely qualifies for that.

Guzzardi’s argument is that if a school district like CPS can’t afford to run the school’s they have, they have no business paying for new charter schools which are paid for out of the district’s budget.

To illustrate the problem, Guzzardi held is press conference announcing the bill at Chicago’s Prosser High School.

Prosser has been hit hard by CPS budget cuts. Yet at the same time, Noble Charter Network opened at brand new school right across the street from Prosser with CPS funding.

Nearly one hundred school districts in the state would be covered by the bill.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) immediately went nuts over the Guzzardi bill. Their reaction suggests the bill has some legs and real support.

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The Illinois Network of Charter Schools is pushing back hard against the Guzzardi bill that would limit charter school expansion in cash strapped districts like CPS.

At the presser Guzzardi was joined by state and local officials, including Omar Aquino (D-Chicago), Ald. Milly Santiago (31st), State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Belmont-Cragin), Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th and home ward of Prosser) as well as local parents and representatives from community groups like Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Download and listen to our podcast: Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers.

By popular demand: Klonsky brothers on the air and live internet streaming.

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Due to popular demand, my brother, Mike Klonsky (who blogs at Small Talk) and I will be doing a live radio show, Hitting Left, on Friday, February 3rd at 11AM, CST.

Our in-studio guest will be Troy LaRaviere, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, former principal at Blaine Elementary and Rahm critic.

We and the good folks at WLPN, 105.5 FM Lumpen Radio, Chicago’s community radio station are trying this out as a pilot broadcast.

If you like it, let them and us know.

Proposed East Aurora charter would drain needed funds from the district.

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Source: East Aurora Report Card.

Tuesday night’s East Aurora school board hearing on a proposed charter school had to be moved due to an anticipated larger than usual turn out for a board meeting.

The 7 p.m. was moved to the cafeteria at East Aurora High School. The hearing portion of the meeting was part of the Greater Good Education nonprofit’s application process to open a charter school at a proposed location within East Aurora district boundaries.

East Aurora is a mainly Hispanic school district serving mostly low income students where services are already stretched thin due to Illinois’ reliance on local funding for public schools. A charter school in East Aurora would be locally funded as well, taking funds away for redundant services.

I will report the results of the hearing as soon as I hear.

The following story appeared in the Aurora Beacon News.