Thursday, July 9, 2020
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IL circuit court can’t review charter renewal

A three-judge panel on the Illinois Appellate Court ruled on December 31, in an appeal from the Cook County Circuit Court, that the lower court didn’t have the jurisdiction to review the Illinois State Charter School Commission’s decision to keep Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake open, filed by Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50, according to a statement attributed to Chris Schrantz, president of the Woodland Board of Education.

An outdoor classroom at Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake, Illinois (school website)

The order of the Illinois Appellate Court says Woodland School District 50 should not have been permitted to participate in the charter school’s renewal proceedings, as Judge Thomas Allen of the Cook County Circuit Court had ruled, and that the district had no right to judicially challenge the commission’s decision to renew the charter school.

The circuit court of Cook County did not have jurisdiction to review the decision of the Illinois State Charter School Commission to renew the charter of Prairie Crossing Charter School because the agency’s enabling legislation did not adopt the Administrative Review Law to review decisions to renew a charter when the Commission is the authorizing agency; therefore, the judgment of the circuit court is vacated and this case is dismissed. Plaintiff local school board did not have standing to seek writ of certiorari to obtain review of the agency’s decision because it was not a party to the administrative proceedings.

In March 2015, Judge Allen ruled in Woodland’s favor and said the district could challenge the 2014 ruling by the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which forced the district to renew the charter for the Prairie Crossing Charter School. The district claimed the charter school wasn’t following Illinois law in that it had failed to increase student diversity, as its operators had agreed to do in 2009 when the charter was last renewed.

Judge Allen’s order, however, was stayed by the Illinois Appellate Court in July, pending the outcome of the charter school’s appeal.

The ISCSC in 2014 ordered the district to renew Prairie Crossing’s charter through the 2018-19 school year, despite knowing that the school served a low-income population of less than 1 percent, according to the 2013-14 Illinois State Board of Education report card. Despite evidence that the school had failed to live up to the terms of its charter, the ISCSC ordered another five-year renewal.

But, as shown, the Illinois Appellate Court did not make a decision on the merits of the case against the charter school. The decision was limited to whether the school district could challenge the commission’s ruling. On that matter, the commission is certainly on the right side of current Illinois law, even if the charter laws in Illinois don’t play to students’ benefit. (It wouldn’t be the first stupid law in this country about charter schools.)

“The Woodland Board of Education does not oppose the existence of charter schools,” Mr Schrantz said after the appellate ruling. “We do, however, oppose the existence of a school that does not uphold the Illinois Charter Schools Law, which requires that charter schools place a special emphasis on increasing learning opportunities for at-risk students. The Appellate Court’s decision did not address whether the charter school was or was not upholding that duty.”

The board can still pursue legal action in this matter, but that would have to come from the Illinois Supreme Court. Stay tuned.

Illinois has only four state-authorized charter schools, including Prairie Crossing, and all of them must survive a periodic renewal process.

The Prairie Crossing Charter School opened in 1999 and has used a curriculum focused on the environment, including classes with outdoor teaching sessions and lunches that don’t generate any trash. It has a capacity of a little more than 400 students and is located within the borders of Woodland District 50 and Fremont Elementary District 79 in the Mundelein area.

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

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