The Reasons Why Charters are Not Necessary in the City
By Tim Meegan
Roosevelt High School teacher delegate
We believe the drive to “right size” the district and the drive to privatize the public schools through the proliferation of charters are one in the same.
We know that the district’s enrollment has decreased by roughly 30,000 students from 2000 to 2010, while enrollment in charters has gone up 50,000 in the same time period, and that most underutilized schools are located very close to recently opened charter schools, which have drawn off students from neighborhood public schools (see map 1).
Furthermore, we recognize the deceptive practice of CPS when it repeatedly and erroneously suggests that the City has lost 145,000 students, leaving CPS an excess capacity of 100,000 student seats.
We know that the formula used by CPS to calculate under-utilization is deeply flawed:
During a meeting with seven parents and community representatives on Nov. 13, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett acknowledged the utilization formula has problems. This was before an independent analysis by the parent group Raise Your Hand found that the CPS formu.la greatly exaggerates the number of under enrolled schools and under-reports the number of overcrowded schools. When that analysis was presented to the CPS utilization commission in December, Commission Chairman Frank Clark said he didn’t dispute the data
and called the analysis “excellent.” (1)
We agree with CEO Byrd-Bennett when she says the district lacks credibility and there is a trust gap, but we maintain that CPS continues to actively ignore and disrespect parent and teacher input, while continuing its deceptive practices.
We know the vast majority of underutilized schools, as well as the vast majority of charter schools are located on the South and West sides in neighborhoods of color (see map 2).
We know charter schools do not outperform traditional public schools, and we know research has shown they perform worse than neighborhood schools in certain student populations.
On average, charter school students can expect to see their academic growth be somewhat lower than their traditional public school peers, though the absolute differences are small. Other subgroups, however, including Black and Hispanic students as a whole, have learning gains that are significantly smaller than those of their TPS (traditional public school) twins. (2)
We know there are significant profits to be made in creating charter schools: the New Markets tax credit
allows bankers and hedge fund operators to earn a 39% credit over 7 years, plus interest on all loans, doubling their money while using taxpayer funds as collateral.
We know that while undocumented immigrants struggle to realize the American Dream in our public schools, wealthy foreigner investors can simply buy visas to the United States by investing in charters: Wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools.
The reason? Under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects.
In the past two decades, much of the investment has gone into commercial real-estate projects, like luxury
hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations.
Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.
‘The demand is massive - massive - on the school side,’ said Greg Wing, an investment advisor. ‘On the investor side, it's massive, too.’
Two years ago, Wing set up a venture called the Education Fund of America specifically to connect international investors with charter schools. He is currently arranging EB-5 funding for 11 schools across North Carolina, Utah and Arizona, and says he has four more deals in the works.
And that's just the start, Wing says: ‘It's going to be explosive.’ (3)
We know that most members of the Board are either current investors in charter operations or are former bankers and charter operators themselves. We know that through the use of EMOs, a charter operator is entitled to skim off 15% of a school's public funding for administrative costs, then create a subcontractor that can skim off an additional 15%, thereby subverting as much as 30% of a school's public funds from the students it is supposed to serve.
Charter holders and EMOs create subsidiaries in order to shuffle real estate around among themselves. With each reshuffling, the value of the real estate increases and the profitability of the parent corporation and its subsidiaries increases as well. UNO is particularly adept at this financial slight of hand.
We know charter schools aggressively fine students for minor misconduct, make recovery credit prohibitively expensive, and even deny credits earned unless poor performing students voluntarily transfer, in which case said earned credits will be restored (Rauner College Prep), all in the name of pricing out poor students who are more likely to score lower on standardized tests: Charter schools differ from district contract schools in that they create specific profiles and market themselves to specific families. The process of marketing and recruiting students makes it possible to target students who are less costly to educate.
Although charter schools are not allowed to charge fees, they can make it difficult for low-income or single-parent families to enroll by providing limited or no transportation, requiring parents to volunteer at the school,
or establishing a complicated application process that requires interviews and parent information meetings.
The implementation of strict disciplinary policies that result in suspensions and expulsions of students can further structure enrollment by removing or “counseling out” students experiencing difficulties. (4)
We know that charter schools have appalling rates of faculty turnover due to low wages and inferior working conditions as compared to public schools with union employees. While 67 percent of CPS first year elementary teachers returned to their school, only 54 percent of all teachers returned to their UNO campuses. A similar retention gap exists in high schools, with 75 percent of first year CPS high school teachers returning but, for example, only 65 percent of all teachers at Noble. This large turnover in charters influences teacher experience—charter teachers average about four years of experience, compared to 14 years for CPS teachers. (5)
We know that neighborhood school closures will destabilize the lives of students, causing their learning to fall behind by as much as 6 months (6), severing the bonds they have with adults in their lives who they trust, and leading to potential alienation, resulting in other negative social and educational consequences. Given the violence in Chicago and in schools nationally, and that stability is required to prevent violence, this is unacceptable. (7)
We know the Board has repeatedly over exaggerated its budget deficit since 2005 by hundreds of millions of dollars, and that it continues to willfully ignore a TIF program that annually siphons off $250 million in taxes from the students in CPS, and that is has refused to open its books to the public or submit to an independent forensic audit of its finances.
We therefore believe that the current crisis is manufactured, represents an agenda of putting profits over people, and is designed specifically to privatize a public resource for the profit of a few wealthy individuals.
We believe such privatization schemes have led to disastrous consequences for taxpayers in the past, such as the Enron collapse and the city's parking meter deal, and we believe public schools are too important to be sold off.
We therefore demand that Alderman Dick Mell of the 33 on charter schools from the rules committee before CPS is allowed to close even one “underutilized” school.
We demand that CPS close zero public schools and adopt a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.
Ohare meeting 2/23/13
(7) Rose, Ingrid. “Depth Psychological Perspectives on Alienation and Violence in the School System”
Dissertation in Clinical Psychology, Pacifica Graduate Institute
Rauner letter: http://edushyster.com/?p=1783