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D65 panel hears from charter school advocate

The head of a charter schools association told District 65's New School-Referendum Committee Thursday evening that a charter school could be a way to handle growing school enrollments in Evanston.

The head of a charter schools association told District 65's New School-Referendum Committee Thursday evening that a charter school could be a way to handle growing school enrollments in Evanston.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said charters are privately operated schools that are publicly funded under a contract with a public school district.

Regulated by the state, charter schools represent an alternative form of education featuring open enrollment, whereby any student may apply.

If more applications are received than the school has room for, then a lottery system is used to determine which students are accepted. Because of this feature, Broy explained, the charter school differs from a “magnet” school that may be selective in enrollment.

Presumably, a charter school would take the pressure off the district and would reduce the need for additional space at the district-operated schools. A popular alternative within the Chicago Public School system, charter schools typically enjoy freedom from many regulations that apply to other public schools and enable these schools to be more flexible and innovative than their district-run counterparts, Broy said.

In Chicago, for example, charter schools operate an average of 182 days a year, compared with 172 for traditional CPS schools, and the average school day is 7.46 hours long, compared with 5.24 for CPS schools. “Thus, every dollar spent in a charter classroom in Chicago yields 45 percent more instructional time,” Broy declared.

Although enrollment is open, Broy said that the district could establish geographical boundaries for a charter school. Thus, District 65 could specify, for example, that only students in Evanston’s 5th Ward, which has no neighborhood school, would be eligible to apply. That would give the district a 5th Ward school, even though students there could still elect to attend a district-run school if they wished.

Charter public schools have been started by parents, educators, community-based organizations, social service agencies, and universities, among others, Broy said. They are governed by boards of directors and must be organized as non-profit organizations, he added.

The committee listened to the presentation without promising further action on the concept. The committee was formed in December to determine the feasibility for building a new school based on space needs and community interest and support.

It is chaired by board members Katie Bailey, the board’s new president, and Jerome Summers, who has long advocated building a new school in the 5th Ward. Board member Kim Weaver is also a member of the committee, which also includes 10 public members.

The committee’s goal is to present its findings to the full board this fall.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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