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Charter fight goes deep

Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013

* Josh Dwyer at the Illinois Policy Institute recently derided Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, has contempt for the state charter school commission, even though she voted for its creation more than two years ago.

It was on full display the last time Jeanne Nowaczewski – the commission’s executive director – appeared in front of the House Education Committee. Chapa LaVia interrogated her, asking her if she financially benefits from the commission’s approval of charter schools and questioning the commission’s integrity.

It’s no surprise then that Chapa LaVia, along with Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, has introduced concurrent bills aimed at killing the state charter commission.

House Bill 3754 and Senate Bill 2627 would eliminate the charter school commission and instead allow the Illinois State Board of Education, or ISBE, to handle appeals by charter schools whose proposals are rejected by individual school districts.

That’s the way it used to work before the charter school commission was created. Unfortunately, it didn’t work well.

One reason was that ISBE only devoted one part-time employee to evaluating charter school appeals – a herculean task.

The other was that ISBE is predisposed to reject charter appeals. So says a report created by the Independent Charter Authorizer Task Force in 2010.

* Chapa LaVia used to be a charter school supporter until a “virtual learning” charter school wanted approval in her district

The state charter commission received 29 new charter school appeals from November 1, 2011, when the independent entity took effect, through June 30, 2013, according to a list of frequently asked questions about the commission posted on ISBE’s website in July. […]

In June, the commission voted to accept the withdrawal of 18 appeals by Virtual Learning Solutions, which wanted to partner with online curriculum company K12 Inc. to form the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley in 18 suburban school districts.

All eighteen school boards rejected the applications for the online charters, and Virtual Learning Solutions filed appeals with the charter commission in May. The commission, however, was poised to deny the appeals before they were withdrawn in June due to a one-year state moratorium on new virtual charter schools that took effect this April. Chapa LaVia also sponsored that moratorium measure, HB 494, and the governor signed it into law May 24.

“I think there’s still a great amount of concern over the [Virtual Learning Solutions and] K12 Inc. application, how that came through,” Laesch explained. “If you look at how much money the school districts spent, it’s well over $300,000 in legal defense for K12 Inc.”

* The Illinois Policy Institute’s Dwyer also opposed Chapa LaVia’s one-year moratorium on virtual charter schools

State lawmakers should not support HB494 – the bill proposed by Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, that aims to put a one-year moratorium on virtual charter schools in Illinois.

She represents one of the districts that would be affected by the potential opening of the Fox River Valley Virtual Charter School.

Chapa LaVia claims the law is needed because there is no process in place for approving, evaluating and funding a multidistrict charter school.

Unfortunately, she’s wrong. It’s all laid out in the state’s charter-school code.

In fact, a multidistrict virtual charter school must fulfill the same criteria as a traditional charter school to get its charter approved, must meet the same benchmarks on state tests as traditional schools, and is funded through the state charter commission like the other multidistrict charter school in the state – Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake.

* Scott Reeder, the Illinois Policy Institute’s “journalist in residence” also penned a column supporting virtual charter schools

My 7-year-old- Grace loves to draw and paint, and needs constant “atta girls” as she takes on difficult tasks such as playing a new piano piece.

She asks tough questions of her teachers – and expects answers.

On the other hand, my daughter Anna, who will be 5 in a few weeks, seems to always have her face glued to an iPad, working through difficult math puzzles and other educational games.

As soon as I arrive home from work, she begs me to allow her to log in to her school’s website to learn more.

My 2-year-old Caitlin likes to explore. She has her hands on everything – dogs, cats, shoes, clay. She experiences learning through touch.

No child is the same.

That’s why I was so disheartened to see the Illinois House Education Committee vote this week to approve House Bill 494, which puts a three-year moratorium on creating virtual charter schools. The bill’s sponsor has since backpedaled from such a long moratorium and has amended it to make it a one-year moratorium.

* But there is another alleged connection. From Progress Illinois

A series of new reports allege that the State Policy Network (SPN) and its web of think tanks, including the Illinois Policy Institute, are reportedly driving a “right-wing agenda” across all 50 states.

On its website, SPN, a tax-exempt organization, says it’s the “only group in the country dedicated solely to improving the practical effectiveness of independent, non-profit, market-oriented, state-focused think tanks.” SPN works to “enable these organizations to better educate local citizens, policy makers and opinion leaders about market-oriented alternatives to state and local policy challenges.”

But the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and ProgressNow’s new study, which includes a local report for Illinois, maintains that SPN and its affiliates in every state are big pushers of public policy backed by the pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other right-wing funders, including organizations with ties to the billionaire Koch brothers.

According to the national report, some of the issues the think tanks peddle involve privatizing education, restricting workers’ rights and rolling back environmental protections, to name a few. The network of think tanks typically use the “same cookie-cutter research and reports, all while claiming to be independent and creating state-focused solutions that purportedly advance the interests or traditions of the state,” the report reads. […]

The Illinois-based report showed that the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), which describes itself as a “nonpartisan research organization working to make Illinois first in economic outlook and job creation,” received almost $2 million from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund from 2005 to 2011. Other high-profile, out-of-state donors to IPI, which does not have to publicly disclose such funding information, include the Roe Foundation, started by SPN’s founding chairman Thomas Roe, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Coors family’s Castle Rock Foundation, among others cited in the report. Overall, IPI had more than $2.8 million in reported revenue and more $400,000 in net assets in 2011, the study found. […]

Moreover, the study alleges that IPI attempted to profit from the privatization Illinois’ public schools through new virtual charter schools. IPI fiercely opposed state legislation, HB 494, which successfully established a one-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools in April.

The moratorium stopped Virtual Learning Solutions from setting up the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley in 18 suburban Illinois school districts. Ted Dabrowski, IPI’s vice president of policy, is a Virtual Learning Solutions board member. Also, Eric Kohn, who is reportedly married to a staff member at IPI, is Virtual Learning Solutions’ treasurer, Chicago Now reported in June. If the charter proposal moved forward, Virtual Learning Solution’s online school endeavor would have resulted in a projected $16 million in Illinois tax dollars over a five-year period.

IPI, however, has denied that its staffers had any financial interest in the online charter school proposal.

The Illinois report is here.

* Speaking of charter schools and the Illinois Policy Institute, Bruce Rauner hater Jon Zahm dug up a little noticed story from earlier this year about how Rauner College Prep - a Chicago charter school - dealt with an underperforming student

They get to play by their own rules in these schools. If a student is underperforming, rather than motivate them and improve their performance, they get a letter like this:

    To Whom it may Concern,

    NAME REDACTED is a student who was required to repeat the eleventh grade at Rauner College Prep because he failed to satisfy all of our promotion requirements. Because he is a reclassified student, the credits he earned during his first attempt in the eleventh grade have been deleted. If the student were to transfer to another school, those credits would be repopulated as earned credits.

So, the parents are essentially faced with two choices: Let the kid retake 11th grade, or transfer to a public school with at least some credits from 11th grade.

If the kid transfers, the school bearing the name of a Republican gubernatorial candidate can move an under-achiever off its rolls. And then the public schools will get the blame for failing him or her.

Rauner, of course, has said he gave half a million dollars to the Illinois Policy Institute.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Chavez-respecting Obamist - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:08 am:

    Hey Rich, you might want to re-do that last line.

  2. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:15 am:

    There’s a lot of money to be made in education. Unless of course, you’re a teacher.

  3. - walkinfool - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:19 am:

    Chapa LaVia has taken a moderate, balanced approach to charter schools. She has openly supported a limited rollout to see what works well and can add to our delivery of education. She has also tried to limit what could be destructive if allowed to go out of control.

    Of course “moderate” and “balanced” are translated to “evil” by the Illinois Policy Institute and the like.

    It’s all or nothing for them on every issue.

  4. - circularfiringsquad - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:20 am:

    Since CounsinBrucey’s “think tank” ( a term that should offend anyone with a. a mind, b. a fish bowl) provides no docs I think we can least guarded about that the IPI schemers are up to
    We believe it Tilman who still has an unexplained role in the Dan Proft money laundering episode with Mr. & Ms. ReBooters

  5. - hisgirlfriday - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:29 am:

    Ever since I read a story some years back about how W.’s brother Neil joined with junk bond king Michael Milken to make millions off No Child Left Behind selling stuff to schools ( I’ve been pretty skeptical generally to attempts by “reformers” to “improve” education by taking money out of existing schools and programs and give that money to private contractors. Reading about the IPI’s ties to the virtual charter schools racket reinforces this skepticism.

  6. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    The bipartisan hustlers looking to gut the public schools are disciples of Willie Sutton: that’s where the the money is.

  7. - DuPage - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    @47th Ward,
    =unless of course, your a teacher= or, retiree, especially if the COLAs are slashed. I guess they figure they have to pay for the charter schools out of pensions.

  8. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    What is the distinction between a think tank that actually exists to brainstorm, theorize and research public policy and an organization that simply exists to advocate in the media for its preferred ideology?

  9. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    Bruce Rauner and Schools …

    Losing tact, if it all comes out.

    Payton Prep, Rauner Prep, …Prep for the assult on Rauner’s hypocricy, and with the caps off, you would think someone/dome group might think this could be money well spent.

    Oswego 308, I believe, was one of those 18 school districts. Once I had heard about the “moratorium” possibility, I never followed to see if the Bill passed. Interesting read, indeed.

  10. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 10:53 am:

    Overheard outside the IPI office, located in the back room of the Genco Olive Oil Company:

    “Well I say yes. There is more money potential in for-profit education than anything else we’re looking at now. If we don’t get into it, somebody else will, maybe one of the Five Families, maybe all of them. And with the money they earn they’ll be able to buy more police and political power. Then they come after us. Right now we have the unions and we have the gambling and those are the best things to have. But for-profit education is a thing of the future. If we don’t get a piece of that action we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now.”

  11. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    Let’s see if Rauner trolls or PPC Rauner himself (great handle, Willy) show up here in the comments section, like yesterday. They have thin skin, for such “tough guys.”

  12. - Frank - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:05 am:

    A great collection of investigative journalism here. It would be nice if Illinois’ two largest newspapers were covering this story. Oh, wait…who owns the Tribune and Sun-Times?

  13. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:09 am:

    Scott Reeder, you’re virtually a real journalist — I’m sure you can appreciate the value of private schools.

    You don’t need that bad ol’ gubmint catering to your every desire, do you?

    K-12 is big money. The hedgies aren’t in “for the children.” They’re in it for the score.

    Same with the cheap hustlers like UNO, Bruce Rahner, Rahm Emanuel and Paul Vallas. K-12 is a big score, what with the real estate, the contracts and the testing products.

    One of the best books you’ll ever read, by Diane Ravitch:

    “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”

    If the cheap hustlers are such philanthropists, why don’t they do it on their own dime? “For the children.”

  14. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:14 am:

    Maybe BGA can investigate? Oh wait, they’ve been bought too.

  15. - Anonymouse - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:14 am:

    @Carl - I think it’s largely based on whether or not they’re on your side of the issue.

    In all seriousness, though, this is a big national story that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the media. We’re seeing a huge redistribution of taxpayer resources to the private sector and very little is known about a lot of these companies and their ties.

  16. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:19 am:

    - Grandson of Man -,

    It writes itself, but thank you for the kind words.

    That is the “battle”, however.

    Will “Bruce Rauner” be able to hide “PPC Rauner” with the phrases, “political baloney” and “advocating”, while all that money, be it for pensions PPC made money from, or charter schools PPC has a name on, including that “encouraging” letter to students who may need help.

    PPC and Slip and Sue.

    It “is” who they “are”, $500K media buys or not.

  17. - shore - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    Chicago magazine in their issue out this week has a cute chart showing the ties of the players in madiganworld. An infographic showing rauner’s ties and donations would help. It’s a lot easier to visualize than a drip here and a drip there of these donations.

  18. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    Do you have a link for that article, Shore?

  19. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 11:42 am:

    47, that was inspired. Sadly, too close to the truth.

  20. - olddog - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 12:20 pm:

    These latest charter school snits are the tip of a very large iceberg. Link here for a story that connects some of the dots, at least in Florida and Indiana, and shows exactly how education “reform” and school privatization got mixed up there with favoritism, doctored test scores and partisan politics:

    So far in Illinois we’ve been spared the worst of corporate school “reform,” but somebody really needs to look into the cozy little relationships and ideological agendas that are coming to light with the gubernatorial race and this latest little snit over online charter school certification.

  21. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 12:26 pm:

    Question to all of you who seem vehemently opposed to charter schools: Do you think public education is serving its students effectively? If not, what other option would you propose?

  22. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 12:49 pm:

    ==So, the parents are essentially faced with two choices: Let the kid retake 11th grade, or transfer to a public school with at least some credits from 11th grade.==
    Awful. And, assuming they choose to transfer, then Rauner College Prep eliminates one of the lower test scores from its pool for the next standardized test, allowing it to claim that it increases the average student’s test scores.

  23. - Anon - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 1:20 pm:

    Anon 12:26 - Easy. Provide public schools many of the same funding and curricular flexibility as most charters.

    Reeder is right, no child is the same, but public schools, for better or worse, have to be everything to every child with fewer and fewer resources.

  24. - olddog - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 2:04 pm:

    === Question to all of you who seem vehemently opposed to charter schools: Do you think public education is serving its students effectively? ===

    Answer: Yes.

    Here’s why: The most objective, well-designed studies consistently show the public schools are educating more children now than ever before while maintaining test scores.

    What other option would I propose? None is needed. The present mix of public and private education serves us well.

    There are plenty of studies for those who care to consult the literature, but a 2008 study by Christopher Lubienski, Corinna Crane and Sarah Theule Lubienski of UIUC titled “What Do We Know About School Effectiveness? Academic Gains in Public and Private Schools” is especially appropriate to your questions. The abstract is as follows:

    “Recent reforms play on the widespread assumption that private schools are more effective than public schools at boosting student achievement. Recent studies have challenged this assumption, igniting a debate that couldn’t be settled with one-time tests of student achievement. This new study examines school effectiveness by measuring student gains over time in public and different types of private schools, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. The results show public school students keeping pace with private school students in general and out-gaining students in Catholic schools, refuting claims that private schools are more effective. (7 pp.)

    “Critics have challenged previous studies’ use of NAEP data to refute the widely held belief that private schools are inherently better than public schools. To answer the critics, the authors conducted a new study, based on a rich longitudinal data set. The results deliver another blow to the assumption of private school superiority.”

  25. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Nov 19, 13 @ 3:28 pm:

    “thank you for the kind words”

    You’re welcome.

    In this recent poll, voters don’t hate public employees and unions as much as PPC/Red State Rauner wants them to. In this poll, there is strong support for public workers.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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