SPRINGFIELD - The future of Illinois charter schools was a topic in the State Capitol rotunda, state lawmakers offices and on the House floor this week.
The Illinois Network of Charter Schools organized a rally of an estimated 1500 supporters Tuesday, then encouraged the rally attendees to lobby their lawmakers to urge more taxpayer support for charter schools.
The charter school crowd consisted of blacks, Hispanics, Caucasians, Democrats, Republicans and independents, children, parents and grandparents - all demanding more choice among Chicago public schools.
The next day on the Illinois House floor, controversy erupted during a debate led by State Rep. Linda Chapa Lavia (D-Aurora) concerning legislation eliminating the independent Illinois Charter School Commission.
While pleading her bill, Chapa Lavia erupted into a side discussion on lack of racial diversity on the Republican side of the aisle. When reminded of State Rep. John Anthony - a black Repubican from Plano - Chapa Lavia said "Oh they have a half, a half.." an assumed reference to Anthony's biracial ethnicity. The Aurora representative apologized twice after making the comment, but it was noticed beyond the Capitol - to national media.
While Chapa Lavia's racial comments drew considerable media attention, the Illinois Charter School Network is focused on the legislation she is shepherding through the legislature that is detrimental to the charter school system.
Chapa Lavia, who received $5000 from the Illinois Education Association's PAC last November, has filed 10 bills specifically dealing with charter schools. Her position on issues like charter schools is influential since she is the Democratic chairperson of the House Elementary and Secondary Committee, as well as sub-chairman of the Charter School sub-committee.
While Chapa Lavia has filed so many bills antagonistic towards charters schools, her name is listed as co-sponsor on HB 007, which would establish the School Choice Act in Illinois - allowing scholarships to pay for education expenses at non-public schools. The bill, however, is stalled in the House Rules Committee.
On their website, the Illinois Charter School Network lists bills Chapa Lavia has introduced, and the reason they believe the bills would be detrimental for charter schools.
Teachers unions do not favor charter schools, as they have differing expectations and do not necessarily have union members for teachers. Teachers unions view charter schools as a drain on public school funding and a danger to the union's collective bargaining rights.