Caps on charter schools need lifting

September 30, 2009

Recently the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization located in Chicago, released this eye-opening documentary, Charter Schools:  Changing Lives, after two of its members visited three of Chicago’s charter schools.  They were:  Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, Chicago International Charter School’s Ralph Ellison campus, and Pritzker College Prep.

Through film interviews and testimonials from students, the story emerges how charter schools are succeeding in terms of student  performance, often changing the lives of their students in positive ways.  Charter Schools: Changing Lives can be viewed at Illinoispolicy.org

With one out of two Chicago public high school students failing to graduate each year, it is obvious that its schools are failing, and the consequences are dire.  Dropouts are more likely to serve time in prison than earn $30,000 a year.

Although charter schools are allowing students to succeed in Chicago, those elsewhere aren’t so lucky. Despite community support for charters in Waukegan last year, the school board declined a proposal to open one.

A new Illinois state law has increased the number of charter schools in Chicago from 30  to 75.  Even so there are 13,000 children on waiting lists to get into one of the city’s 75 charter schools.  These schools are run by independent non-profit and community groups and are open to any student who applies. They allow innovation and provide parents with choices.

In comparison to Chicago’s traditional public school graduation rate of 50%, charter school graduation rates average 75%. The Chicago International Charter School, with a graduation rate of 90.4%, even tops the 83% graduation rate for students in the suburbs and downstate Illinois.  Such successes are often achieved with less public funding than traditional public schools

Shouldn’t all Illinois children have a chance at success?   Why should children be locked into failing schools with low graduation rates?

School districts outside of Chicago have near-total control over whether charters are able to open, even if the public supports them, due to the squelching of charter school proposals by teacher unions.  Reform is definitely needed in the charter school authorization process in communities such as Waukegan and Springfield.  Both are badly in need of better schools.

Caps must be lifted by Illinois lawmakers on the number of charters permitted in Chicago and statewide.  Only in this way will children living in disadvantaged areas of the state with failing schools have a better chance to succeed in life.

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