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Where UNO charter schools’ money comes from

UNO pro-charter school rally Federal Plazwill march Chicago Public School Headquarters deliver 23000 postcards CPS  CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett.  Wednesday

UNO, a pro-charter school rally at Federal Plaza will march to Chicago Public School Headquarters to deliver 23,000 postcards to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Wednesday, May 8, 2013. | Scott Stewart ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: October 16, 2013 3:15PM

A s the largest charter-school operator in Illinois, the United Neighborhood Organization depends largely on City Hall and Springfield.

It also borrows money — from banks and on Wall Street — to pay its bills. Private fund-raising accounts for under 2 percent of UNO’s charter-school funding.

Here’s where the bulk of its money comes from:

The state, which approved a $98 million grant in 2009 to build new schools. So far, UNO has received $54.7 million of the state funding, which it won with the support of Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). It has used the money — which is now on hold, after Chicago Sun-Times reports on state money that went to contractors owned by brothers of a top UNO executive — to finish one school, build two others and start work on another.

Investors, including banks and Wall Street, which together are owed about $70 million. About $37.5 million of that came through the issuance of bonds in 2011.

The Chicago Public Schools, which gives UNO tens of millions of dollars a year to educate children whose families choose to send them to charter schools. The schools are privately run and have won the backing of politicians pressed to give people an option to poor-performing public schools.

UNO gets more than $6,500 a year per student from CPS. The school district funding — more than $35 million last year — accounts for most of the money UNO has to run 13 schools serving 6,500 students. It also goes to repay the money UNO borrows.

UNO projected that 624 students will attend the new UNO Soccer Academy Charter High School, which was to open in August at 51st and St. Louis. That timetable has been thrown into doubt after the state suspended grant funding last month.

UNO has pledged to use revenue from the new high school and two other charter schools it built with state money since 2010 to help pay off its debts.

That doesn’t appear to be a problem, says Carlotta R. Mills, an analyst for the Wall Street bond-rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

“From what I understand, they are able to pay debt service — certainly in the near term, in the next year or two,” Mills says. “Right now, I want to see if they are able to get the money from the state.”

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