CPS on Verge of Deciding Charter Renewals

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education will vote on the renewal term lengths for 47 charter campuses at its meeting this Thursday, January 25.

By Hal Woods | January 23, 2024 |
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The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education will vote on the renewal term lengths for 47 charter campuses at its meeting this Thursday, January 25.

Why it Matters: The renewal process comes at a time of transition in Chicago public education with considerable leadership turnover underway -- with a new mayor, newly-appointed CPS Board of Education, and upcoming elections for the future elected school board.

Background:

  • During the renewal process, district officials scrutinize charter schools’ academic performance, financial practices, and compliance with other standards.

  • Chicago Board of Education members vote on the final renewal terms.

  • State law allows charter operators a renewal term of up to 10 years.

  • Charter operators can also be non-renewed (e.g., closed) by CPS. Non-renewals can be appealed to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

Catch Up Quick: Expect shorter renewals for most Chicago charters.

  • There’s been a trend toward shorter charter renewals that began under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

  • In January 2020, the school board renewed seven charter operators for terms of five or more years. But in the years since, only two have received a renewal of five or more years.

  • During the renewal process last school year, 11 of 13 charters up for renewal were granted terms lasting three years or less. In 2022, six of the seven charters up for renewal were given terms of three years or less.

What’s Missing: Data demonstrating the efficacy of the district’s new approach. No information has been shared indicating if the strategy to shorten contract-term lengths has led to improved performance from charter operators.

What They’re Saying:

  • Charter school advocates delivered 2,000 letters to Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office last Wednesday, saying they want fair terms for charter school renewals.

  • Mayor Brandon Johnson, a former educator and organizer for the teachers union, has historically opposed charter expansion. During the mayoral election run-off, Johnson said that charter school expansion “forces competition for resources and ultimately harms all schools.”

  • But he has also stressed he does not oppose charter schools — and he is strongly against closing schools, which is what would happen if a charter is not renewed.

Zoom Out:

  • The CPS Board voted last month to approve a resolution to “transition away” from school choice and shift its focus to neighborhood schools.

  • Although the resolution prescribes no specific action, it was a signal of what to expect within the district’s new five-year strategic plan, which is slated for release in summer 2024.

K1C’s Take:

  • It is extraordinarily unlikely the CPS Board will not renew any charter operators this week. Earlier this year, a Cook County judge ruled that CPS had to abide by a state-imposed moratorium on school closings in Chicago until 2025.

  • But the practice of shortened contract renewal terms is expected to continue.

  • Even if CPS staff support a longer term length for a charter operator, the CPS Board is the final arbiter.

  • CPS staff will not bring the Board a recommendation unless they are assured they have the votes to secure approval.

What’s Next:

  • The debate over charters and school choice will shift to next month’s in-person Strategic Planning Community Roundtables, allowing parents, students, educators, and community members to provide input on the district’s strategic plan.

  • CPS Board members committed to launching these roundtables in February, but no schedule has been released.

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It is extraordinarily unlikely the CPS Board will not renew any charter operators this week. CPS [has] to abide by a state-imposed moratorium on school closings until 2025. But the practice of shortened contract renewal terms is expected to continue.

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