By Brady Cremeens -
About 2,000 people rallied at the Capitol this week in support of charter schools.
The students and their parents feel the charter school movement is threatened because of several bills introduced this year, including one to eliminate the state’s charter school commission.
Charter schools receive public funding but operate with more independence than other public schools. Students may be drawn from across a district rather than a specific neighborhood. Faculty at charter schools can join unions but often choose not to.
The latter point displeases teacher unions and has resulted in both the unions and their legislative allies lobbying hard for the measures.
“Right now there are 11 anti-charter schools bills pending, but we believe restricting charter school funding and growth is bad public policy,” said Jodie Cantrell, communications manager at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.
That sentiment was echoed by nearly everyone at Tuesday’s rally, which began at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and concluded in the Capitol rotunda.
School administrators, parents and students flooded the halls and offices of the Capitol in an attempt to have their voices heard and convince elected officials to stop restricting charter school growth.
“These bills make things harder administratively for charter schools and take away school autonomy,” said Chastity Owens, a school social worker in Chicago. “Charter schools are a good thing because it gives parents choice. The more choice they have, they can get their child to the highest quality school possible.”
Michael Nash, a Realtor and father of a student in a charter school, says that charter schools “provide some quality education in some neighborhoods where it’s lacking.”
“My son is a first grader at a charter school,” says Nash, “and he was my first time around looking for educational options. I feel like charter schools provide a greater structure and higher quality educational time for the students, as well as better after-school programs and school environment.
“The communication between students, staff, and parents is really good. It operates like a team. I know everyone there from the principles down to the custodians.”
Nerville Yimbu, a student at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, says that his own experience taught him that “Charter schools provide good education. Specifically, charter schools provide programs that help build on students’ skills and unique learning paths.”
He also thinks the pushback against charter schools may be because other groups feel endangered by their success.
“People think charter schools are a threat to other institutions,” Yimbu said.
Ken Johnson, dean of students at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, agrees, saying that “Charter schools pose a threat to the status quo, they’re new and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. It’s easy to see that many people don’t know the details about what charter schools bring to the table.
“The waiting list for our school is 500. That proves we’re providing something families desire.”
Johnson says that kids benefit when schools must compete for their business.
“We want more charter schools because it means more choice. It’s just like when two stores open close to each other; both must fight to keep their customers. In this case, our customers are our kids. We want them to have as much access to quality education as possible.”
Some contend charter schools are less bureaucratic than regular public schools.
“I have three kids that go to a charter school,” says Carla Powell. “We’ve been very happy with the school, and the ability of the school and the principal to make decisions on the fly – not to have to run every question through 300 boards and bureaucrats, but to really decide what’s best for our school specifically.”
Brian Herrera is the student council president at Aspira Mirta Ramirez, and says his school should get equal benefits as the public schools in his area.
“Our school receives less state funding compared to a public school. I don’t think that’s fair.
“I’d like to convince my state senator to oppose anti-charter school legislation because it stifles opportunity for good education.”
— Brady Cremeens writes for Illinois News Network