My testimony at the CPS board meeting regarding the vote on charter school expansion

My testimony at the CPS board meeting regarding the vote on charter school expansion

The following is the testimony prepared for and given to the January 22, 2013, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education by 45th Ward Alderman John Arena. Mr. Arena was one of seven public officials who testified during the meeting, most critical of the Board’s decision to continue expanding Chicago’s charter schools in the year following the largest closing of the city’s real public schools in the history of the United States of America].

I hear it in the media and from CPS representatives over and over. “Parents want high quality education choices for their children.” But what parents actually say is simply “They want a high quality education for their children.”¬†Alderman John Arena (45) heard from Northwest side community members at the December Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting. More than 200 people attended the event that went past 10 p.m. The overwhelming majority of residents of the 45th Ward (and other northwest side wards) who testified at the meeting voiced strong opposition to the Noble St. and Intrinsic charter proposals.What is happening is the rhetoric of “choice” is being used to set up a false narrative. One that says that your neighborhood school does not provide a high-quality education so CPS will give you a “choice” that over and over again is represented by a privately run, publicly funded charter school. This is not unique to Chicago. It is happening across the nation. City after city are having their education systems turned over to unaccountable corporate entities that siphon public dollars away from the classroom to serve a profit motive.

The data that refutes the rhetoric that charters out perform neighborhood schools is continually dismissed. Ironically, adjusted for the disparity in funding shifts to charters over the past 10 years it is neighborhood schools that out perform charters dollar for dollar. Charter spending increased by 625% between 2004 and 2013. In the last two years alone, traditional CPS school budgets were cut by a total of $351 million, while charter school budgets were increased by more than $143 million to $570 million.

Despite these cuts we have seen our neighborhood schools produce and place students in the selective enrollment high schools at an impressive rate. Schools like AG Bell Elementary has a neighborhood program that places students on par with it’s Options program. But we do not hear CPS boasting about this. Instead Bell’s budget was cut by $800,000 this year. In the 45th Ward, Hitch, Prussing, Beaubien struggle with space constraints, position cuts and outdated facilities yet operate at level 1 and graduate students ready to take on the challenge of high school. What I do not hear is CPS answering the call to expand these schools that represent a real choice for a high quality education that does not require an hour commute. Instead, we are here today as this board considers 17 new charter campuses shortly after closing 49 neighborhood schools. There is no plan that rationalizes their placement throughout the city. In at least one case, Intrinsic, the applicant cannot even show a full year of accademic results to justify expansion. And they will be back before you over the next three years seeking a total of 5 campuses. It would seem they are beholden to a business plan, not a lesson plan. Just as there are strong and weak neighborhood schools I am sure there are proposals before you today that have merit. What we ask of you is to be very critical of these proposals. Hold them to the highest of standards. Fore if you do not, your vote here today will reveal an agenda that the tax payers of this city already suspect. Our public school system is for sale.

We ask that you push back on this misguided agenda. As the body charged with oversight of Chicago Public Schools demand that a thoughtful, rational Master Facilities Plan be created. One that distributes capital resources not as reward for political fealty but based on demographic need and an eye to the future. Use your voice to demand transparency from charter school operators. It does not sit well with tax payers that public funds go to pay the inflated salary of CEO’s of these charters. While the salaries of educators are diminished.

Use your vote to return resources that support struggling students who run a gauntlet to and from school everyday. Use your vote to return a sense of trust to populations that have seen the very centers to their communities stripped away. Parents make choices everyday to ensure a brighter future for their children. Please don’t force them to choose to abandon the centers of our communities. Do not choose to starve the very thing that can do so much to define a neighborhoods greatness. To my mind, that is the choice you will make today. Ald. John Arena

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