'Big Dollars, Little Sense': Community and Student Groups Debunk Charter School Mythology

Study shows that quality education for all is being undermined by privatization of Chicago's school system

Policies pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and decisions being made by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are swindling the parents, teachers and students in the name of privatization, charter school expansion, and corporate-backed education reforms.

That is the charge being levied by a band of student and community groups who on Tuesday released a new report, Big Dollars Little Sense, in which they examined the numbers used by CPS to justify the closure of public schools and the expansion of charter schools across the city.

Members of Communities United for Quality Education (CUQE) and Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS), who commissioned the report, along with other concerned parents, students and community members rallied outside the CPS headquarters Tuesday to present their findings to the city and call on the Board of Education (BOE) to take their objections seriously.

"It's not right that CPS is lying to the people to justify these charter expansions," declared one student, named Sarah, a representative from CSOSOS.

"BOE, after stealing $168 million from neighborhood schools, now wants 52 new charters," wrote the student advocacy group on their Facebook page. "Smells like privatization of public education!"

"At the level of state and federal education policy," writes Stan Karp at Rethinking Schools, "charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life."

In August, the BOE voted to cut classroom spending by $168 million for the 2013-14 school year which critics promised would have a "devastating impact" on the city's neighborhood schools. According to the groups, that decision was put forth just 16 days after CPS "quietly" released a new 'Request for Proposals' (RFP) for charter school expansion to supposedly relieve overcrowding in some of those same communities.

In response, the community groups conducted an independent analysis of CPS' rationale for charter expansion and the impact that it will have on neighborhood schools.

Among their findings, the report concludes:

  1. The plan is based on misleading information that CPS is promoting. CPS uses inaccurate and misleading data in order to justify charter expansion, such as using inaccurate boundaries for community areas to overstate the overcrowding crisis, and excluding additional classroom space such as mobile classrooms and leased classroom space when calculating community area utilization rates .
  2. The plan does not acknowledge that Chicago's charter schools do not produce better outcomes than traditional CPS schools. Traditional CPS schools are more than twice as likely to receive a top performance level rating than a charter school in Chicago .
  3. The plan continues CPS' trend of making huge increases to charter spending at the same time as it has made record cuts to neighborhood schools. In the last two years alone, traditional CPS school bud- gets were cut by a total of $351 million, while charter school spending increased by more than $143 million to $570 million.
  4. The plan is a bad deal for Chicago's taxpayers, adding millions of dollars of long-term and avoidable costs while neighborhood schools continue to suffer. According to CPS' funding formula, a single new charter school would cost taxpayers up to $2 .9 in upfront revenue that CPS automatically provides and could cost up to $2 million in additional expenses every subsequent year. The 12 schools that CPS is considering through the RFP process could collectively cost taxpayers anywhere between $13 .8 to 34 .8 million in a single year alone. These are not dollars attached to students; rather these are new expenditures that taxpayers would have to pay for. Additionally, because of CPS' new Student Based Budgeting formula, as new charters pull students away from neighborhood schools, financial resources for neighborhood schools would be further depleted over time.
  5. More targeted, cost-effective alternatives to relieve overcrowding exist. Some examples include redrawing attendance boundaries and making targeted investments to increase a school's capacity such as building mobile classroom units on site. These solutions could save taxpayers millions of dollars, while investing in existing neighbor-hood schools .

The Board of Education is expected to decide on any new charter schools in January.

Read the full report below or download it here:

Big Dollars Little Sense Report


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