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Hundreds of charter school supporters rally in Springfield

Updated: May 10, 2014 6:24AM



Responding to a slew of anti-charter legislation pending in Springfield, more than 1,500 Illinois charter school supporters rallied in the State Capitol Tuesday.

Nearly a dozen bills pending in the Legislature aim to curb the autonomy of charters, supporters claim; proposed restrictions include banning charters from using public money for marketing, imposing elected Local School Councils on charter schools and requiring that funding follow students who leave charter schools for district-run schools.

So the Illinois Network of Charter Schools bused about 1,500 parents and students from the charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by private managers, to get lawmakers’ attention — almost twice the number who rallied last year.

“We are here to make a noise, let them hear our voice for choices we have made to secure our children’s, our scholars’ future,” said Lucy Reese, mother of three current and former charter students, addressing the crowd in yellow shirts and scarves. “We need to make sure that those bills are halted, stopped where they stand. We need to make sure that our voices are heard so we can continue to go forth.”

Other proposals would abolish the commission overseeing appeals when local districts deny charter schools, centralize lotteries granting entry to charters and limit compensation for teachers and administrators.

Andrew Broy, president of the charter network, said charter supporters are especially concerned about a bill that would compel charter schools to comply with state and federal laws for special education and students who are still learning English. Some schools prefer a bilingual approach, while others like English immersion; the charters oppose a one-size-fits-all policy, Broy said after the rally, adding, “Our goal is, hold the schools accountable for outcomes but let them design the program for what the parents want.”

But state and federal laws must be upheld, said Jennifer Saba, who heads charter programs at the Illinois State Board of Education.

“To just have a program that thrusts kids into an English-only educational program doesn’t meet federal requirements to provide equitable access,” she said.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which drafted some of the legislation, said charters may find some proposed restrictions inconvenient, but traditional public schools face many regulations — and can’t turn away students.

“A district school can’t kick out a student that lives in the attendance area,” he said. “It’s convenient to kick out a kid who doesn’t meet the academic expectations of the people who run the school because it makes the school look better if you do that. The problem is that student becomes someone else’s responsibility.”

Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, addressed the rally.

“It’s good for you to be here, it’s good for people to see that charter parents, charter students are engaged and ready and not willing to give up their schools and not willing to give up this fight. So understand that what you’re doing here today is very important.”

Email: lfitzpatrick@suntimes.com

Twitter: @bylaurenfitz



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