BELMONT CRAGIN — State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square) has introduced a bill that would block new charter schools from opening in the city so long as Chicago Public Schools is in financial distress.
Under bill HB3567, Illinois school districts that are in financial trouble, including CPS, would not be able to open new charter schools until they improve their financial health, which lawmakers hope will motivate districts to make investing in struggling neighborhood schools a priority.
"We need to prioritize. Our priority must be investing in the schools we have," said Guzzardi, who led a press conference Monday morning at Prosser Career Academy, 2148 N. Long Ave., a struggling neighborhood school that sits across from ITW David Speer Academy, 5321 W. Grand Ave., a charter school Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) described as a "nice, new shiny object."
Guzzardi, who introduced the amendment Friday, called Prosser a "prime example of what happens when you open up a charter school" near a neighborhood school in dire need of resources.
The state lawmaker said neighborhood schools like Prosser would get more resources if the bill were to pass.
Every year, the State Board of Education puts out a financial score card, outlining the financial health all of the school districts in the state. Under the bill, any school district that falls in the bottom two tiers would not be able to open new charter schools until its finances improve.
There are around 90 districts across the state, including CPS, that fall into the bottom two tiers, according to Guzzardi. The legislation would not affect charter school applications that have already been submitted, or any applications submitted this year. It would also not prevent charter schools from expanding.
Guzzardi was quick to point out that the bill is not a 10-year moratorium on charter schools, which is how charter school advocates framed the legislation. The existing moratorium on charter schools, an agreement as part of the Chicago Teachers Union contract, is up in 2018.
However, given the district's dire financial trouble, the lawmaker acknowledged that the bill could prevent charter schools from opening in Chicago for the foreseeable future.
"I understand that it seems distant that Chicago would get its financial house in order, but it seems to be obvious that until that time, until we have our finances straight, there's no need to be opening new, privately-operated charter schools. I just can't se the rationale for doing that," he said.
In addition to Villegas, Guzzardi was joined by a host of state and local officials at the press conference, including Omar Aquino (D-Chicago), Ald. Milly Santiago (31st), State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Belmont-Cragin), as well as local parents and representatives from community groups like Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
"I think it's a bill that makes a lot of sense. If the schools are struggling, if the enrollment is going down, especially in my high schools like Foreman and Kelvyn Park, how is it there's ways to find more money for charter schools?" asked Santiago.
"It's like a homeowner that wants to build an addition in his house but then he files for bankruptcy. That means he doesn't have any money to do extra stuff. The same thing is happening here," she added.
Vanessa Valentine, a parent and Local School Council member at Steinmetz College Prep, 3030 N. Mobile Ave., emphasized that the bill wouldn't only help struggling schools in Belmont Cragin like Prosser and Steinmetz.
"We're not here representing one school. We're here representing an entire community that's tired of seeing expansions in our neighborhood but then resources taken away from our schools," Valentine said.
Charter school operators and advocates argue that the publicly funded, privately run schools provide more quality options in the district, which is overrun with underperforming public schools.
In the case of ITW David Speer Academy, the charter school received more than 2,000 applications for just 150 spots last year, which The Noble Network of Charter Schools argues should warrant an expansion.
"Over 2,000 families applied for just 150 open spots at Speer for next school year. Yet this bill actively tries to limit that choice for parents and families, and unfairly singles out charter public schools at a time when all CPS students, including charter students, are making sacrifices to deal with budget cuts," said Cody Rogers, director of communications for Noble, in a prepared statement.
Guzzardi disputed the notion that charter schools like Speer outperform their public school counterparts.
"It's not as though they're giving these higher quality options that our own schools aren't giving," he said, adding that many studies support this claim.
"I think if we want to talk about how to improve the quality in our underperforming schools and schools district ... Let's invest in them. Goodness gracious. Let's put the resources in these schools that they need instead of splitting up the pie between a neighborhood school and a charter school."