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Illinois (Chiefly Chicago) Charter Schools: From the 2014 Biennial Report

September 29, 2015

I have been reading the 84-page Illinois Biennial Charter School Report (2011-12 and 2012-13), which was released in January 2014.

Illinois has a charter school law that offers charters “significant flexibility” (pg. 3).

Here are some notable tidbits about how that charter school “significant flexibility” is panning out in Illinois:

Illinois traditional public schools outperformed Illinois (chiefly Chicago-located) charters on the now-defunct Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) associated with the unrealistic “100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014” No Child Left Behind (NCLB) goal (pg. 7; click on image to enlarge):

Illinois charters

Illinois traditional public schools also had higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates than did Illinois (chiefly Chicago) charters (pg. 8; click to enlarge):

Illinois charters 2

Charter schools were first allowed in Illinois via legislation passed in 1996.

By the end of 2013, Illinois had 64 charter “schools,” 47 of which were located in Chicago and were under the jurisdiction of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Keep in mind that the term charter “school” could mean a “school” with separate campuses– which in reality amounts to multiple schools. Thus, the 64 charter “schools” at the end of 2013 translated into 143 actual charter school campuses statewide, enrolling a total of approximately 60,000 students accounting for less than 3 percent of students statewide and approximately 13.6 percent within Chicago.

Also of note: Chicago charter “schools” in existence prior to 2003 could replicate (i.e., create multiple campuses), but those created later are restricted to a single campus per school. According to the January 2014 report, only 13 Chicago charter “schools” could create separate campuses.

Next, for some Illinois charter school data from the charter school study mega-store, Stanford-based Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). However, one should note that CREDO only compares charter schools to traditional public schools that send at least five students to charters– which means that CREDO results are biased right out of the starting gate. (For a detailed look at CREDO study limitations, see this April 2015 post by New York education researcher Andrea Gabor.)

As for that ever-present “achievement gap,” well, the glory only revealed itself if a student were Hispanic, and only in math. Otherwise, those gaps persisted (pg. 58; click to enlarge):

Illinois charters 3

And the report noted (surprise, surprise) that students in poverty fared worse regardless of traditional public school or charter attendance.

As for school-level comparisons, there is no consistent benefit for attending a charter school over a traditional public school. However, chin up, market idealists: Most Illinois (that is, Chicago) charters demonstrate “academic growth that is above their market average.” The fluffy good news there is that charters might someday not be so bad when compared with the statewide testing averages (pg. 59; click to enlarge):

Illinois charters 4

So, Illinois (chiefly Chicago) charters do not outperform the traditional public schools. Even so, charters must be “strengthened”– and the biennial report must include suggestions for helping the charters (pg. 60):

Suggested Statutory Changes

The biennial report must include “suggested changes in State law necessary to strengthen charter schools.” To address this required element, charter schools were asked to review a list of suggested amendments to the Illinois Charter Schools Law and indicate which suggested amendments they would support. As evidenced from the below chart, the number one requested amendment by charter schools—cited by 46 of 50 charter schools responding to the 2011-2012 survey, and 48 of 55 charter schools responding to the 2012-2013 survey—is to mandate at least 100 percent per capita funding from the authorizer.

Under the law, charter schools must receive not less than 75 percent and not more than 125 percent of the school district’s per capita student tuition, multiplied by the number of students enrolled in the charter school who are residents of the school district. All four state-authorized charter schools—Prairie Crossing Charter School, Southland College Prep Charter High School, and the Horizon Science Academies—receive a reimbursement rate of 100 percent of the resident school district’s per capita student tuition. On surveys returned by charter schools, CPS charter schools indicated that they receive toward the bottom end of the statutory range for per capita funding, or in some cases reported a belief that they receive less per capita funding than is required by statute. Outside of Chicago, the per capita funding provided to charter schools varies considerably from district to district, from the lowest-possible funding level (75 percent reimbursement in East St. Louis) to 100 percent tuition reimbursement in CUSD 300, Decatur SD 61, McLean County USD 5, North Chicago SD 187, and Rockford SD 205.

The Charter Schools Law provides for transition impact aid for school districts during the initial term of a new charter school, in order to offset the impact of the charter school on the district’s budget. Specifically, the law provides that a school district with a new charter school is entitled to receive aid equal to 90 percent of the per capita funding paid to the charter school during the first year of its initial charter term, 65 percent of the per capita funding paid to the charter school during the second year of its initial term, and 35 percent of the per capita funding paid to the charter school during the third year of its initial term. Unfortunately, because of the current fiscal climate, transition impact aid has not been available to school districts since fiscal year 2009. The absence of transition impact aid may in part account for lower charter funding levels and the reluctance of school districts outside of Chicago, especially smaller school districts, to consider a charter option for their districts.

Survey respondents also indicated in high numbers that they would support a change in the Charter Schools Law to provide additional operational funding in the forms of facilities financing, transportation funding, and state start-up grants.

Under the category of “authorization” a large number of charter schools (31 schools in 2012 and 35 schools in 2013) indicated their support for a change in the law that would allow authorizers to renew charter schools for terms of up to 10 years. The Charter Schools Law currently provides that a charter school may be renewed in terms of up to 5 years.

Finally, and not surprisingly, many charters indicated their support for changes to the law that would allow for the further expansion of charter schools, either through increasing the cap to allow more charter schools to open, or allowing all schools to expand to multiple campuses without applying for new charters.

Charters want more money, and they want to expand.

Charters do not outperform traditional public schools, so let’s create more of ’em.

Indeed, on the federal level, Chicago-ites, President Barack Obama and basketball-playing pal, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan plan to pump more money into charter schools because, according to Duncan in the September 28, 2015, Washington Post, “the sector has proven it can improve.”

Of course, the federal government does not audit the money it generously tosses the way of charters, nor does it study charter school academic outcomes. But Duncan is okay with that:

At the federal level, we don’t have a whole lot of leverage. But we can really challenge states.

You “can,” Arne, but you don’t.

As noted in the Washington Post article cited above, the Inspector General discovered that some charters receive federal money despite never serving a single student.

Federal funding for teaching no students.

That is indeed “significant flexibility.”

flex money


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.



  1. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Thank you for the information (facts). I wish the best for the folks supporting a community public school rather than the shut-down Dyett High School in Chicago. Thank you for revealing how the facts are manipulated by CREDO, and the truth behind numbers reported.

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