Gov. Rauner, Don’t Call Yourself a Charter School Supporter Until You Fund Our Schools

The war between Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats in the state’s General Assembly has claimed its first charter casualty: Chicago’s Galapagos Charter School. More than likely, more will follow. That’s because charter schools are public schools, and in Illinois, that means they too are subject to our inadequate, unfair school funding formula and our record-setting budget stalemate.

If Chicago Public Schools takes the expected budget hit, “we’ll see dozens of charter schools not be able to open in the fall.” That’s what Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, recently told Catalyst Chicago. Broy estimated potential closures could leave 15,000 charter school students scrambling to find a new school at the last minute before school starts. If school starts at all, that is.

It’s quite an irony that one of the chief players responsible for this sad state of affairs, Gov. Bruce Rauner, years ago bought naming rights to Rauner College Prep, a campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

In a 2014 Chicago Magazine article, political reporter Carol Felsenthal noted Rauner’s “admirable record of pouring his own money into both CPS (Chicago Public Schools) and charter schools.” Now that he’s in office, with an agenda to promote, that has all changed.

These days, Rauner tells us Chicago’s schools are nothing but “crumbling prisons.” I wonder if that includes Rauner College Prep, where 93 percent of the first graduating class is still working toward a bachelor’s degree? Or Namaste Charter, where my first-grader brought home a bridge she made in STEM class last week and this week will be showing off the sculptures she created in an after-school art and science program?

Right now our school, like schools all over Chicago, has five different budget scenarios in play depending on how the budget impasse is resolved—or not.

All the spin about prisons is intended to whip up our classic Chicago-Downstate rivalry in the service of Rauner’s agenda. Rauner advocates rewriting state law so Chicago Public Schools can declare bankruptcy. But allowing the district to go bankrupt would require changing state law. Given the lack of cooperation between the governor and the legislature, a legal change to permit a CPS bankruptcy almost certainly won’t happen. Moreover, experts—and results from the handful of districts who have tried it elsewhere—suggest that bankruptcy would likely create more problems than it solves.

Rauner also refuses to pass a budget until the state legislature agrees to his “business-friendly” agenda. In other words, he won’t pass a budget until he gets what he wants on cutting costs of workers compensation and reducing the power of public sector unions of all kinds, not just teachers.

I’m with state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who recently said, “I don’t think we should hold the budget process hostage” while these policy fights are hashed out.

Though Chicago’s charter opponents cheered and congratulated themselves when the Walton Foundation recently announced it would no longer make grants here, I don’t think they should take too much credit for that decision.

Governor Rauner, I think it’s mostly about you. Your willingness to gut public education in the service of a larger policy agenda has lost you all legitimacy as a proponent of charter schools and education reform.

Charter schools are public schools, and when political stalemate puts public schools in jeopardy, it puts charter schools there, too.

It’s time to sit down with state legislative leaders and develop a budget that gets all schools ready to open in the fall. It’s time to develop a sustainable, equitable funding formula that will get our state out of the basement when it comes to fair, adequate money for schools, no matter how wealthy or poor their communities are.

Until that happens, Governor, don’t call yourself a charter school supporter.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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