The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Local LSCs Furious Over Legislator's Support for Charter School Funding

By Josh McGhee | February 8, 2016 9:40am | Updated on February 9, 2016 8:54am
 Several local LSCs plan to give the senator a letter criticizing her support of a charter school grant.
Several local LSCs plan to give the senator a letter criticizing her support of a charter school grant.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

ANDERSONVILLE — Local School Councils at Senn High School, Sullivan High School and Helen C. Peirce Elementary School are criticizing state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) for seeking charter school support money from the federal government.

The move comes after Steans lent her support to an Illinois State Board of Education grant  application through the Charter Schools Programs for State Educational Agencies, a U.S. Department of Education effort designed to provide money to establish and evaluate charter schools across the nation.

In the letter of support, Steans writes that she is "committed to continuing to work with the ISBE to support high quality charter schools in Illinois" and calls them "an important strategy" in educating at-risk children.

Joe Dunne, who has served on Pierce's Local School Council for the last two years, said the financial situation of Chicago Public Schools is at "crisis" stage and that officials should be focusing on finding extra funds "for neighborhood schools" rather than funding more charter schools.

Dunne said the issue has been brought up by various parents, forcing the LSC to "take action" by publicly demanding that Steans rescind her support.

Steans declined comment on the pushback by the LSCs but has long supported charter schools. Detractors say such privately-run schools siphon public funding from traditional public schools while supporters say charters do a better job of educating students and offer parents an alternative.

A letter calling on Steans to rescind her support for the federal grant was approved and signed by LSC members at Sullivan High School, at 6631 N. Bosworth Ave., in December. A similar letter was approved and signed by LSC members at Senn High School, at 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., and Peirce Elementary, at 1423 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., in January. Similar letters are being debated at other schools in the district, said Heather Gregg, a parent at Peirce.

Gregg said Steans should pull her support and other elected officials should "refuse the money as well."

"We would like to support the existing schools in Chicago especially in the face of a budget crisis," she said.

The grant would award an estimated $116 million between 12 winning agencies, according to grants.gov.

Steans' letter to U.S. Secretary Education Arne Duncan in support of the grant was included in the application. In the letter, Steans references her support of the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which was founded in the summer of 2011 and can authorize charter schools that don't win the support of local school districts.

"Illinois has worked hard to support and establish quality charter school programs throughout the state. The Commission and its members established a high-bar, rigorous route to appeal process which only approved a handful of appeals in contrary to to the dozens of applications it received," the letter said.

"I am committed to continuing to work with [Illinois State Board of Education] to support high quality charter schools in Illinois. Illinois' slow growth, high quality expansion of charter schools has increased the quality of education throughout Illinois and is an important strategy for ensuring the states most at risk students have access to educations that can improve their life trajectories," Steans said in the letter.

The commission was created without any start-up funds from the state. At the time, Steans, the chief sponsor of the bill creating the commission, said providing tax payer funds for the commission wouldn't have been popular, WBEZ reported.

“It was not going to make folks happy [to take] dollars away that could be going to the traditional public schools,” she told WBEZ.

In the letter criticizing Steans, which was given to DNAinfo at a LSC meeting, Peirce parents ask Steans to rescind her support of the grant adding that using federal funds to assist in the opening of a school without additional funding is "irresponsible."

"This grant provides no money for the operation or overhead of these schools. To divert funds from existing schools to enable additional schools to open, with the corresponding overhead required for facilities and administration, is a poor use of CPS funds resulting in less direct dollars being spent per student because of the these increased costs," the letter said.

The grant would be counterproductive to the "advancement and continued excellence of existing schools in our area."

"This LSC is adamant that the schools in our area be allowed to operate without the possibility of loss of funds and resources that we believe would be the result of this grant," the letter says.

Peirce parent Gregg said support for charters is particularly concerning considering CPS's underutilized school report, which was released in January.

"A few years back, there was a similar report on underutilized schools and after that 50 schools were closed. Now we have a new report of over 300 schools being underutilized and we have a grant supporting the opening of 24 charter schools," she said. "I believe that's the justification for these charter schools to open. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to open new schools during a budget crisis, where teachers are being laid off."

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: