Naperville CUSD 203 sets hearing for online charter

Naperville (Ill.) Community Unit School District 203, which serves 22 schools in the far-west suburban community, including two of the top-performing high schools in the country, has scheduled a hearing for a proposed online charter school, which would operate in the district, the Naperville Sun reports.

Several other school districts in the Fox Valley have also received proposals, including U-46 in Elgin, Illinois’s second-largest school district, and Indian Prairie 204, based in Naperville, which also has a couple high schools on the top lists in the nation.

The District 203 school board will consider the 215-page proposal (PDF) for a virtual charter school run by the giant for-profit education company K12 Inc, which would go by the name “Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley.”

The board will listen to K12’s proposal at the hearing, which isn’t expected to be much more than a show-and-tell from the nonprofit shell of K12, known in Illinois as “Virtual Learning Solutions,” but the vote on whether to approve or deny the charter won’t happen until the board meets on April 15.

The board will then notify the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) of its decision, but even if the board denies the charter, K12 can appeal to the Illinois State Charter School Commission. The state has granted this body, which is appointed, the authority to override a denial by a local school board. The commission’s chair, Greg Richmond, holds a master’s degree in public affairs and is said to have played a significant role in the reopening of several schools in New Orleans as charters.

The commission’s creation appears to have been modeled after the so-called ALEC laws. (ALEC stands for “American Legislative Exchange Council,” a conservative-leaning group that favors parent-trigger laws and corporate reform of schools located mainly in large urban areas.)

The commission would hold a hearing within 45 days of any appeal, and its final decision is subject to judicial review if a complaint is filed within 35 days of the final decision. However, once the matter is before the commission, the local school board is basically out of the picture. It has no authority except by court order to prevent the charter from operating in the district if the commission approves it.

We reported on a similar override authority of a local elected school board’s power when we covered Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District’s closure of five elementary schools last year. One of the schools was converted to a charter despite the school board’s initial denial of the charter, because the county board of education overturned the local board’s decision.

If approved by either District 203 or the state commission, the charter school would create a contract with District 203, which would call for the district to pay the company $8,000 for each student who enrolls in the charter, according to pages after Exhibit B in the draft proposal.

The public hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, at 5 pm, at the District 203 Administrative Center, 203 W Hillside Road.

Editorial

We have read and will hear K12’s proposal before District 203’s board. But K12 seems to be taking action where Illinoisans have called for action.

A report that appears to carry the imprimatur of the ISBE asserts that “Illinois has fallen behind its neighbors in offering alternatives to students outside major population centers. All children deserve the chance at a brighter future with schools that work best for them.” Beware of anyone who tries to tell you that you’re “falling behind” other states, other countries, or other races. You know the next step is to reduce the quality of what you now have so their “solution” is the only “alternative.”

We cannot vouch for the report’s quality. However, many of the statements in the report are politically charged and use invalid analogies. For example, “Historically, prospective charters wishing to operate in a given district were required to obtain approval from that district’s existing local board. This is the equivalent of requiring a local fast food restaurant to obtain McDonald’s approval to set up across the street.”

No, it’s not. But we can’t wait to see if the good people of Naperville fall for this line! However, Illinois charter-school law has already made it unnecessary for prospective charters to get approval from local boards of education, as the school can just take the case up with the commission. Based on the published record, it sounds to us as though the commission has wrested authority from local elected boards for the education of children in their districts. So why do we elect them in the first place?

Look, public schools belong to the public, in our opinion, not to businesses, appointed commissions, or, frankly, even parents. All voting-age citizens elect the school board to take care of schools in every district in Illinois, whereas businesses, like restaurants, are left to fend for themselves among prospective customers in a competitive marketplace. But once market-based reform and charter schools pick up steam, it’s hard to stop them. In that environment, once it’s created, people will believe anything they hear or read, as long as the state board links to the report from its official website. Not much more I can say right now.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.