DOWNTOWN — Community groups charge that 21 proposed new charter schools up for approval next month would cost Chicago Public Schools $21 million the first year — and $255 million over 10 years.
The groups Communities United for Quality Education and Raise Your Hand have put out a study using CPS projections to estimate that 11 known charter sites would cost $12 million the first year and $187 million over 10 years. Conservative estimates for the remaining proposed sites, they said, would produce additional costs amounting to $21 million total the first year and $255 million over 10 years if all were approved.
Considering that comes after the Board of Education closed 50 schools earlier this year, citing a billion-dollar budget crunch, and imposed cuts on schools districtwide over the summer, Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand called that "mind-boggling."
"At this point, it's crossed the line so that you're wondering if everyone's on the same planet with the same fiscal facts," Katten said Monday. "I'm not sure if these people have any clue how bad things are at any of the district schools with the funding. They can't take any more cuts."
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has seen the figures and endorsed their findings, saying, "I'm guessing that's pretty accurate."
Fioretti, too, had trouble justifying new charters only months after schools were closed across the city.
"Our neighborhood schools are starving right now," Fioretti said. "They need money. We're having these charter schools come in, some of them with shady financing, limited experience and a lack of understanding of what education is all about."
The study charges that it's part of a systematic attempt to shift funding from so-called neighborhood schools to charters by making the neighborhood schools less desirable for parents and students and thus fueling the "need for 'choice'" in education. The groups had already raised issues about this year's charter proposals.
Fioretti agreed, saying, "This is really a continuation of the misplaced priorities by CPS. We need to focus on funding our neighborhood schools.
"We're seeing neighborhood schools suffering across this city," he added. "We're seeing closures by the mayor and CPS on these 50 schools. Yet they claim they can't deal with the overcrowding."
The study, admitting that some of its figures were estimates, while saying CPS hasn't responded to the findings, called on the City Council's new Office of Financial Analysis to examine CPS finances on the charter expansion.
But Fioretti said that was unlikely, calling the nascent agency "underfunded" and with "very, very limited authority." Looking over CPS finances, he said, was not in its originally defined duties.
Instead, Fioretti renewed calls for an elected Board of Education, adding, "There's no accountability at CPS."
CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said the district "is required by law to formally solicit and review proposals for new charters."
CPS prioritized charter proposals this year "that will create high-quality school options in overcrowded communities," Barrett said.
"Just as the district has worked to address the under-utilization crisis, we must also address the challenge of over-utilization facing certain neighborhood schools having more students than available seats," she said.
While CPS has received proposals from nine prospective charter operators requesting to open up to 21 campuses, "there is no guarantee those proposals will be recommended or approved by the board," Barrett said.
According to a set CPS schedule, the Board of Education has a Jan. 22 vote to rule on the 21 new charter proposals from nine separate groups. In addition, there will be a public hearing on charter expansion Jan. 7 at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark St.
The study also demanded that the board vote against the charter expansion Jan. 22.
Katten said a consortium of parent and student groups would hold a forum on charter expansion Jan. 14 at the Shields Middle School in Brighton Park, in addition to other actions leading up to the Jan. 22 vote. "We'll be doing a lot in January," Katten said.