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Chicago has too few high-quality schools

Andrew Broy President Illinois Network Charter School's speaks gathering during opening general sessinetwork's conference Monday morning Chicago. | Michael R.

Andrew Broy, President of the Illinois Network of Charter School's speaks to the gathering during the opening general session of the network's conference Monday morning in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt-For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 24, 2014 6:11AM

Your recent editorial on charter school growth in Chicago misses the mark (“Tread lightly with charter schools” on Dec. 17). The educational crisis facing our city has nothing to do with utilization rates or overcrowding. It has nothing to do with the district’s structural deficit or pension reform. And it certainly has nothing to do with how much CPS spends to board up closed school buildings.

Instead, the educational crisis facing our city has everything to do with the fact that we have too few high-quality schools of any type. Consider this: Chicago has 168 open-enrollment high schools. Guess how many have an average ACT composite score of 21, which is the minimum college readiness benchmark used by the College Board? Only two schools. Both are charter schools.

As we work to open more great schools to serve Chicago students, we must not forget the simple reality that most Chicago high school students are consigned to schools that are not preparing them for college. We also can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by meaningless fights over school type or governance models.

During moments of social change, there are always voices that call for moderation or attempt to explain away an unacceptable status quo. But considering the urgency of the need for more great schools, we shouldn’t give in to these temptations. Put simply, we must not succumb to what Dr. King called the tranquilizing pill of gradualism.

So CPS, if there are weak charter applications before you, by all means deny them. But don’t rationalize away the need to be aggressive in providing more opportunity across our city. Public schools will always be the gateway to opportunity and upward mobility. We owe it to ourselves and our city to keep that gateway open.

Andrew Broy, president,

Illinois Network of Charter Schools

Make CTA, Pace free

A modest (but very serious) proposal to bring an end to the Ventra madness, double or triple mass transit ridership, reduce air pollution and traffic, and in general make life simpler:

Eliminate fares altogether – that is, make CTA trains and buses free (and Pace suburban transit, too).

Before dismissing the idea, take a look at the numbers.

The CTA is spending over $450 million on Ventra. The goal of this high-tech system is to capture what is in fact a relatively minor amount of money – that is, the approximately $580 million in annual CTA farebox revenue, which is well under half the CTA’s total operating budget of about $1.35 billion. In other words, the CTA is spending almost an entire year’s worth of earned income to implement this ongoing fiasco.

For Pace, rider fares account for only about $70 million of the approximately $300 million annual budget – that is, less than 25 percent. The two services have a combined farebox income of about $650 million.

I would guess that the millions of drivers in the area served by the CTA and Pace currently purchase somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 billion gallons of gasoline per year. A 35 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax (rising over time as driving decreases) for the CTA/Pace zone would cover the earned income of the two transit services, making fares unnecessary.

This plan would do much more than that. It would, among other things, eliminate all the costs (and botched privatization schemes) involved in collecting, counting and securing fare money; make bus travel in particular more efficient and convenient; vastly increase transit ridership, thus reducing smog and congestion; and significantly reduce the cost of living for the many working poor who depend on public transportation. It would in fact tip the balance away from wasteful auto travel and toward environmentally sound rail and bus, creating an upward spiral of demand for more and better transit options.

True, it will raise fuel costs for drivers. But they will be making the choice not to avail themselves of free mass transit. At a time of planet-threatening climate change, amid the growing horrors of fracking and tar sands oil extraction, commuting by private automobile when other options exist must be treated as a luxury, not a right. Those who do choose to drive will pay for the privilege, and in return will enjoy less crowded roads.

Even if the new system worked, it would still serve a wrong-headed aim. The larger social goal is not to collect money more efficiently, but to boost transit ridership. And the best way to do that is to abolish fares. The Ventra debacle shows that the time has come for free public transportation.

Hugh Iglarsh, Skokie

Thanks for donating gifts

I teach special education preschool at a school on the southwest side of Chicago. We sent in letters for each of the kids in preschool through third grade for your Secret Santa program. This morning, I watched my students open their gifts. Everyone was so excited! One of my students received his favorite book and immediately sat on my lap and read it. It was beautiful. On behalf of my school and my students, I wanted to thank everyone who contributed. You made my students very, very happy. Merry Christmas, and may God bless you all!

Audrey Noonan, Evergreen Park

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