More transparency will be required of Illinois charter schools



CHICAGO — Illinois charter schools will be required to make their student selection process public, because of legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn this week.

Gov. Quinn Thursday approved a law that will mandate publicly funded charter schools hold a lottery when they have more students apply than the school can admit due to space and the lottery must be videotaped and made public.

“Every child deserves access to a good school,” Quinn said in a statement released by his office. “With this new law, the public will now have more information and more say in how charter schools operate and spend public funds.”

The law also requires the local school district to be involved in the charter schools’ lottery process in an attempt to increase transparency and accountability. The charter schools must also submit quarterly financial statements and waiting lists of students who have applied for enrollment.

Aydin Kara is the principal at the Chicago Math and Science Academy and said the legislation is a fair attempt to ensure charter schools are operating at a high level.

“This is a good effort,” Kara said. “I believe each school should operate as transparently as possible, with an involved parent and community base. That should be the case as much as possible.”

Charter schools have more rules and regulations than traditional public schools, Kara said, but they are also more accountable.

“We have to be accountable, because if something goes wrong we jeopardize the renewal of our charter,” he said. “Failing to meet the requirements will cause some charters to close down. We believe we have to be on top of everything, complying with state and federal laws and also increasing our test scores and preparing our students for college.”

Kara also said his school is already in compliance with what this new legislation demands.

“I can’t speak for other charter schools,” he said. “But we’ve been videotaping our lotteries and making them public events for years. We think it’s a good way to get people excited about coming to school here and to ensure we’re handling our process properly.”

House Bill 3232 also requires that a governing board be established, independent of the organization that manages the school, to oversee each charter school and the selection process.

“I am glad we were able to bring the proponents and opponents of the bill to the table and strike an agreement in order to provide a better educational environment for parents, students and taxpayers,” House sponsor Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, said. “This legislation is about accountability and ensuring that public resources are used in a responsible manner. This bill helps to guarantee that the state resources earmarked for the classroom are protected and spent in the classroom, so our investments are best serving education in Illinois.”

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, suggested the charter school student selection process was in need of increased oversight.

“Inaccessible procedures, ethically questionable activities and policies that limit families’ fair access to taxpayer-funded schools have no place in public education,” Collins, the Senate sponsor, said in a press release. “Innovation in education does not require secrecy. I am pleased to stand with those in the charter school movement who understand and embrace their responsibility to the public.”

The governor’s office said the independent oversight board provision in the bill is intended to prevent any potential conflicts of interest in the operation of the charter school.

Additionally, both charter and traditional schools must now include a disclaimer when public funds are used for marketing purposes.

Lindsey Burke is an education policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation and said the law may be well-intentioned, but it adds another thing schools have to attend to besides educating.

“Whether its federal, state, or local regulations, schools are burdened often and regularly by all kinds of mandates handed down,” Burke said. “Schools have an awful lot of bureaucratic compliance that they have to deal with. This is an example of how our education facilities are being burdened with more red tape than is necessary.”

The law becomes enforceable for the 2015-2016 school year.

Brady Cremeens is a reporter with the Watchdog affiliate, Illinois News Network.