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Public and Charter School Funding creates disparities, say Chicago advocates

changing classes“changing classes” by reallyboring is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Featured photo by Eric Allix Rogers, via creative commons.

By Tom Ackerman, Ale Hermosillo, and Joanna Nevarez 

Each year, more students enroll in public charter schools and leave their public schools behind – both nationally and in Chicago. 

Communities are impacted as more options are made available with the creation of new schools, and as resources are divided. And Chicago has been no exception.

In 2009, over 400,000 students enrolled in Chicago’s Public School. In 2018, CPS reported about 360,000 students currently enrolled, showing a decrease of about 50,000 students since 2009. 

Public charter schools, on the other hand, show an opposite effect with 37,000 students enrolled in 2009 and 65,000 in 2018. 

While there are additional variables in the broader picture such as students who leave the city to attend school in the suburbs – charter schools are growing and public schools are losing students within the city. 

Nationally, from the year 2000 to 2016, charter schools rose from 2% of all U.S. schools to 7%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

Ald. Susan Sadlowksi Garza (10th ward), also worked as a CPS elementary school counselor for 40 years. 

“Charter schools are traditionally owned by Investors or corporations,” she said. “They operate and receive funding from the states in which they operate. They pay their teachers less money than non charters and don’t give a lot of money for supplies/computers and educational materials. So the corporations/ owners turn a profit.” 

While many parents choose charter schools in hopes for a better education than what public schools currently offer, Illinois charter schools draw from tax dollars that would otherwise pay public schools.

Chicago native Bobbi Macdonald created a charter school system in Baltimore called City Neighbors Foundation that operates three schools. She said charter and public schools are fundamentally different in the two states but she was able to comment about the politicization over the educational trend.  

“In a way, charters are meant to push a conversation but the conversation has become about charters as being tilted towards the demise of public education, rather than about contributing to the ongoing, continual improvement of public education,” said Macdonald, now a doctoral candidate for the ED.L.D. Program at Harvard University. 

In 2011, City Neighbors claimed one of the highest attendances of any non entrance criteria high school in Baltimore. Macdonald focused on a collaboration with students and the community to foster personalized education and creative solutions at a time when she sought schools for her children to attend. 


Photo by Ellen Gradman via Creative Commons

In Chicago, however, a significant shift occurred when in 2014, CPS adopted a system-wide Student Based Budgeting model to determine each school’s budget. While CPS argues this budgeting is beneficial, it appears that schools located in communities of color are not benefiting from this new system. Consequently, charter schools tend to cluster in these same neighborhoods. 

These communities of color are now seeing a decrease in the enrollment of students in their neighborhood schools – many of which have served as pillars in their communities for years. Many schools have closed since the policy shift and more may continue to close on account of funding and reorganization. 

“…This school choice program said it was going to give students and parents choice, by offering a bigger menu of schools,” said Stephanie Farmer, a Sociology Professor at Roosevelt University who recently guested on the podcast CTU Speaks!. Farmer recently studied SBB and spoke about her research .

“You have selective enrollment, gifted, career academy, STEM programs, and charter schools… and when they began rolling out these schools in areas where they were losing population, swift declines of population… 62% of these charter schools are in communities with a 25% or higher decline in population, so that becomes the context in which you now have under enrolled neighborhood schools,” said Farmer.

This was the case for the Humboldt Park community, whose Lafayette middle school was turned into a private selective enrollment school in 2014, as a result of low enrollment. 

“Closing Lafayette will kill our neighborhood and our families,” Rousemary Vega said in an interview with CBS.

CPS enrollment has historically been predominantly people of color. As of 2018 more than 85% of their students were either African American or Hispanic. 

The graphics below show the demographic that was collected through CPS surveys and posted on their website. In 2007 Hispanic and African American students made up about 85.6% of the CPS student enrollment. In 2018, there was a drastic drop in the number of African American students in CPS. 

It appears as if the strategic placement of these charter schools may be the reason why CPS has lost about 11% of its African American students. 

Daniel Alvarez, an assistant principal at Jane Addams Elementary School in Palatine, said student based budgeting impacts students outside of the classroom, too.

 “I would say the biggest flaw (in CPS) is that there is no real pathway for students who need immediate social services. This is more of a district flaw than our school,” he said.

Many neighborhood schools that are dealing with enrollment issues find themselves in very similar situations. They are forced to prioritize certain staff, leaving their students without social services. 

Carol Caref, part of the CTU education policy team, said the funds are “inadequate.”

“Principal choices come down to whether the school should have a librarian or a PE teacher,” she said. “The only schools with increased funding as a result of SBB are overcrowded and have too many students per classroom.” 

These now underfunded or overcrowded schools are most likely going to continue seeing a decrease in their enrollments. Which may eventually lead to their school getting closed down. 

Others have advocated for charter schools in their right and ability to receive an equal amount of funding. “A charter school needs to have control of its own finances to run efficiently,” reads a statement from The Center for Education Reform

The statement also encouraged that charter schools can offer outside support to their student bodies that encourage enrollment, private funding, and consequently affect the already underfunded CPS, like social services.

These social services can include counseling, school nurses, and all positions outside of direct educators. These assets to a schooling system are essential to low-income and minority based schools such as Southside CPS schools. 

 It appears as if charter schools are encouraging  students from CPS into their schools, leaving their neighborhood school starved of resources. SBB was intended to make budgeting equal across all schools, yet it may be one of the reasons why CPS enrollment has decreased.  

Sadlowksi Garza added that aldermen are often left powerless when advocating for resources or changes regarding CPS in their wards. 

“I can lobby for things at particular schools but I don’t have a direct say in CPS funding,” she said. “But yes, there is a disparity. Northside schools have things that the southside/westside schools don’t have. Full computer labs…science labs access to programs. The quality of your education shouldn’t depend on your ZIP code. Every school should receive funding based on their needs.” 

Garza has argued for better resources at George Washington High School, of the 10th Ward, which received a new roof and science lab. 

It is clear the student based budgeting is not an effective budgeting system for Chicago or its schools. Chicago, unlike most cities, has clear racial boundaries across its communities. 

The fact that charter schools are concentrated in communities of color, destabilizes their neighborhood schools that have served their community for years. Replaced by charter schools, who are more focused on their investors than their students. 

 “Charter Management Organizations run these schools in a way that is beneficial to them, not in the interests of the students,” Caref said.

Data from National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Annual Publication, 2019.

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