Ever since George W. Bush took the oath of president of the United States, he and his administration have instituted many federally mandated changes for public schools across the nation. Now, according to Margaret Spellings, education secretary for the Bush Administration, there may be more that directly affect the Chicago Schools and the state of Illinois. Currently, the states of Illinois, Michigan and New York have the lowest caps on the number of public charter schools allowed. Illinois has the lowest cap of 60, then New York with a cap of 100, and Michigan with 150.
At one of the charter Chicago schools in late January, Spellings stated that the president wants all school districts across the country to change their restrictions on the number of public charter schools allowed, giving school districts, like the Chicago schools, the ability to convert as many failing traditional schools to charters as they wish.
Chicago schools’ officials see this as a positive move. Over the years, they have aggressively pursued the conversion of failing schools to charters. The Chicago schools currently have 29 of their allowed 30 charter schools in place and running. With a current 185 low performing schools, the Chicago schools’ officials see conversion to public charter schools as a possible solution to improve the schools’ performance. Otherwise, their only option is to make major staff changes, since they can only convert one more traditional school to charter under current state guidelines.
Chicago schools’ officials believe that more drastic interventions are required to make these failing schools successful. Charters within the Chicago schools have more freedom over their curriculum, budgeting and scheduling than traditional schools do. They also have more accountability to the Chicago schools.
Opponents to the Bush Administration proposal for changing the state’s public charter school cap believe the president is going too far. Legislators involved in drafting Illinois’ cap are some of those opposed to the proposal. The state’s teachers’ union also is against the proposal.
Representative Monique Davis, who is a Democrat representing Chicago (and the Chicago schools) and vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee, stated in response to the proposal that the legislators of Illinois believe, as many others across the nation, that charter schools still are in the experimental stage. Expansion of the number of public charter schools should be held back until they prove themselves as a viable and successful alternative for the future. They just are not there yet.
Regardless of what the Illinois legislators believe, the proposal will soon be in Congress. If the bill passes, it takes the matter out of state hands, since the federal government can impose whatever mandates they desire when contributing federal funding to schools. This means the Chicago schools’ officials may soon be able to enact some serious interventions for their 185 low performing schools.
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