Charter school supporters dominated the last public forum before a final vote on expansion, but opponents made loud, emotional pleas that charter schools are siphoning money from Chicago neighborhood schools.
“The lies need to stop,” Ronald Jackson bluntly told board members at Chicago Public Schools’ downtown headquarters. “The bottom line is it’s not about education, it’s about ‘moneycation’ and they need to tell the truth.”
Jackson, an Englewood resident, said that he considered sending his daughter to a charter school but found the institution was unable to cater to her as a special needs student. He told the board that although charter schools are great, he worries that profit is their main concern.
Jackson’s passionate remarks were typical of the evening’s heated debate.
The meeting was packed with parents from the United Neighborhood Organization, a charter operator; Chicago Teachers Union representatives; supporters of several existing charter schools; as well as opponents. Members of each group sported stickers, buttons or other identification of their position, and sat together.
Passions were so high that at one point a Chicago teacher confronted a former student, now a DePaul professor, for speaking in support of a chartered Montessori school in Englewood.
Tuesday’s meeting was a follow-up to a similar forum on Saturday on the South Side, that critics charged was chaotic and counterproductive.
“I think there was an atmosphere that made it very difficult to ask questions,” said Norine Gutekanst, a member of the Chicago Teachers’ Union. Saturday’s forum included a mariachi band and a parent dressed as superman. “It took on more of an atmosphere of a pep rally and less of an atmosphere for parents to voice concerns,” she said.
Tuesday’s forum was organized and orderly.
Gutekanst told the Board she thinks it’s unfair for CPS to give money to charter schools while neighborhood schools are in need of funding.
“I think it’s quite marvelous that the Montessori School of Englewood will have two adults for every 28 children,” she said. “Yet I think it’s unfair that my former neighborhood school, Whittier Elementary, is too under funded to hire new teachers.”
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools said most opponents don’t realize that charter schools get only a small amount of CPS funding, but report higher efficiency than neighborhood schools.
“Dollar for dollar charter schools get funded less per pupil and have outcomes in most cases that are better than public schools,” he said.
But John Kuijper, a former charter school teacher who now teaches at a neighborhood school, said those achievements are a hoax.
“This is a huge set up,” he said. “They’re able to get high achievement because they just skim the cream. It’s destroying neighborhood public schools by creating a perceived successful model.”
The board will take a final vote Jan. 26, on approval of seven charter school additions and modifications. Kuijper said he was disappointed with the low attendance of public education supporters at the forum and fears the board will vote in favor of expansion.
“My hope is that there will be justice for public schools and justice for neighborhood kids.”