DOWNTOWN — The Chicago Board of Education Wednesday approved the creation of two charter schools.
Chicago Public Schools had recommended the board approve two new schools from KIPP and Noble, while rejecting seven others. KIPP reportedly will operate an elementary and middle school program inside Orr Academy High School, 730 N. Pulaski Road, while Noble aims to open near 47th St. and California Ave. The schools will serve students from Austin, West Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park and Brighton Park.
The board voted unanimously, though President Clark Turner abstained from the Noble vote and members Mahalia Hines and Dominique Jordan Turner abstained from the KIPP vote.
"My heart goes out because you hear as many parents for as against, so the only way I can make a decision ... is built around the data," Hines said, nothing that she obtained data from going to the neighborhoods affected and visiting schools. Other members of the board left immediately after the meeting finished.
The board meeting drew more than 50 speakers, many of them parents or teachers. Some donned "I <3 KIPP" shirts or cried as they discussed the experiences their children have had at neighborhood and charter schools.
Chicago Teachers Union and CPS leaders also were divided. Jesse Sharkey, union vice president, said it would be a "mistake" to approve the "politically-connected" charter schools, while CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said there was a "considerable community demand for high-quality options" like charter schools.
In the community around KIPP, 50 percent of families send their kids to schools outside the boundaries, Claypool said. Around Noble, he said, that number climbs to 66 percent for high-school-age students.
But critics told the board that expanding charter schools will lead to more students leaving neighborhood schools. That would lead to budget cuts at already underfunded schools under CPS' per-pupil funding model, they said.
"The administration has made policy in a vacuum to close down district schools and open charters," said Jennifer Biggs, of Raise Your Hand, a group that advocates for public schools. "Have some courage and own up to what you are doing instead of hiding it behind phony talking points."
Student expressed similar concerns, staging protests and walkouts where they called for better funding for neighborhood schools and criticized charter schools.
"I fear that our public schools don't have enough resources, and they deserve more funds to grow current programs," said Stephanie DeLeon, a senior at Kelly High School, not far from where the new Noble school would be built.
Those who want the board to approve the charter schools told the board that charters offer high-quality education and students shouldn't have to travel far for it.
"By eliminating the expansion of charters, you are taking away our freedom of choice," said Stephanie Bassett, a mom of three children who attend charter schools.
Outside, the meeting drew charter school opponents and supporters who faced off in a series of chants. A large group of students, who skipped school to protest outside the meeting, also voiced concerns about how their public schools are funded.
Those in support of the charter schools said parents should have choices where to send their children to school.
Students, who marched up and down the sidewalk, chanted, "Save our schools" and "Save our teachers." Afterward, they staged a "study-in" where they sat on the sidewalk and did homework or studied for their classes. Student organizers said they are concerned about funding cuts to Chicago Public Schools and are worried more charter schools will lead to further cuts for neighborhood schools.
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