Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where Would You Put Your Charter School?

If you were a charter chain operator or one of the boutique charter people looking to get a taxpayer-funded franchise in Illinois, where would you go right now? I'll tell you where I would go if I didn't have connections to the Emanuel administration in Chicago.

I'd go to Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Lombard, Downers Grove, Crystal Lake, and Pekin, and I'd go quickly. I'd go based on this recent vote in the House.

That's the vote on HB 3754, which coasted out of committee and is picking up co-sponsors like a giant democracy magnet.

The issue seems to be the concept of home rule--- that is to say, does a locally elected school board have any say about the schools in its district or not? Currently, the answer is no. If a charter operator wants to insert a charter, all he or she needs to do is get it through the unelected state charter commission, which thus far has only tested the waters in areas where the everyday people don't have much political power over their schools.

Here's where all the charters are in Illinois at the moment. 

Seriously, I'd make a beeline for Glen Ellyn. I'm not saying Glen Ellyn doesn't like its schools; I'm sure the elected people out there love their schools. I'm sure these elected people love them, and these elected people love them, as well as these elected people, and probably the overwhelming majority who decided to live in these communities so that they could send their children to the many schools in these districts.

There's a democratic process in place for public education in these communities. You can run for school board, make your case, and let the voters ratify your ideas at the ballot box.

A charter operator can basically bypass this process, in Illinois, if he or she doesn't get the desired vote. If the elected people decide not to fund your dream school, you can appeal to the appointed state commission, and those people can decide to insert your school into any school district at an exaggerated cost to the pre-exiting public schools. Which of course impacts the programming at those schools. Every time a charter gets added to a district, the cost comes out of the programming at the schools already running. It's how "choice" becomes a decision that you actually make for other people.

Sandra Pihos, Michael Unes, and Barbara Wheeler have indicated, with their recent votes, that there's a green light, as far as they're concerned, for the appointed state commission to overrule any of the local people in the school districts they represent. Usually home rule is an important concept to Republicans, but in these three districts, home rule is not an operative concept. It's more important to have charter schools no matter what locally elected people say.

That's my interpretation of the committee vote, and I think it's accurate. I think it's actually pretty fair to say that the state charter commission would get no political pushback from Pihos, Unes, or Wheeler, if the commission decided to insert an UNO school, or a Gulen school, or Noble Street, or any other charter school anywhere in these legislative districts. Can you imagine the hypocrisy if they did interfere? There's no way they would lift a finger to fight for their home school districts, not after that committee vote.

If Sandra Pihos, for example, tried to push back against a commission-authorized charter school in her district, it would only confirm that the Republican position on charter schools is that they're good for other people's children.

So I'd do it. I'd go to Glen Ellyn, make my best case before the elected people, and then just hand it over to the state while the commission still exists. Really, any of the school districts in Legislative Districts 48, 91, and 64. Choice trumps home rule in these areas. Act fast.

Of course you could also just run for school board in these committees and shape the schools according to your vision, but that's so ten years ago!

I'm being serious. This guy  in particular should go to Glen Ellyn immediately and make his case, and if he's not persuasive, he should go to the commission. It would all be very clarifying for those of us looking at the issue.

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