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Charter school freeze hurts kids

Updated: March 18, 2013 6:48AM

A proposed moratorium on charter schools being considered by the Chicago City Council puts on hold the hopes of thousands of families.

The Council’s resolution fails to acknowledge a simple reality: Chicago parents are increasingly choosing to send their children to charter schools, and 19,000 potential students continue to languish on charter-school waiting lists .

Why do Chicago’s aldermen want to shut the schoolhouse door on those families?

Rather than considering symbolic resolutions that would have no force of law, we at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools suggest that the City Council instead focus on the real educational problem facing our city: the lack of high-quality schools of any type.

According to the Illinois Facilities Task Force, more than 224 Chicago school buildings are enrolled at less than 50 percent capacity, and many of those schools produce abysmal results for students. Most of Chicago’s schools were built when housing patterns and population densities were dramatically different, but the school system has never adjusted to our new reality. A holistic school facilities solution is possible that includes consolidation, phasing in new school options and expanding school facilities in targeted neighborhoods.

This will free up additional money that can be directed to effective programs. In particular, there are portions of our city, especially in heavily Latino neighborhoods, where schools are dramatically overenrolled. We should use new school options, including high-quality charter schools, co-location arrangements and similar models to reduce overcrowding and create incentives to school providers to locate in areas where the need is greatest.

Finally, the charter school moratorium repeats the mistake of focusing solely on utilization rates and enrollment figures when the real issue is how to create great schools. While we cannot close our way to quality, we have allowed the capacity challenges in the city to persist for far too long. We need to have the courage to stop the cycle of deferred decision-making and address the fiscal and facilities challenges facing our school system. These challenges simply must be overcome if we are to have the type of schools our children deserve.

Andrew Broy is president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

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