WBEZ | School Choice http://www.wbez.org/tags/school-choice Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Parents lose fight to keep military school out http://www.wbez.org/news/parents-lose-fight-keep-military-school-out-109044 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/military school.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">A group of Chicago parents lost a year-and-half battle to keep the city from converting their neighborhood middle school to a military academy.</p><p dir="ltr">At a press conference Tuesday at Marine Math and Science Academy on the West Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed that Ames Middle School, in the Logan Square neighborhood, will become a military academy.</p><p dir="ltr">The mayor&rsquo;s office originally said Marine would be re-located to the Ames building, but school officials now say Marine is not moving.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll said Wednesday that Ames will be &ldquo;another option for students who wish to pursue attendance at a military school.... And, it&#39;s likely that many students who live in the Ames community, but attend Marine, may choose to enroll there.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The Ames principal is scheduled to stay on, one source told WBEZ. Ames school will be affiliated with the United States Marine Corps, as Marine Math and Science Academy is. And current Marine Math and Science students who want to transfer to Ames will not have to go through the normal application process, the source said.</p><p dir="ltr">About two-dozen Ames parents and students protested outside Tuesday&rsquo;s news conference. They said Ames is a school with deep roots in the neighborhood, with before- and after-school activities, a clinic and a lauded parent-mentor program--all built with community sweat.</p><p dir="ltr">The parents <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/logan-square-parents-we-want-voice-military-school-proposal-103597">long suspected</a> plans to convert Ames to a military academy were in the works&mdash;even before 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado publicly <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20121126/logan-square/parents-protest-proposal-turn-ames-middle-school-into-marine-academy">proposed the idea</a>&mdash;but they were assured by school district officials that nothing would happen without their consultation.</p><p dir="ltr">The conversion of Ames to a military school will increase the number of military academy seats in Chicago Public Schools by 50 percent, according to the city.</p><p dir="ltr">The city has six military academies, more than any other school district in the country. The mayor touted higher-than-normal graduation and college-going rates for the schools in the announcement.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They are setting the standard for where we want the whole system to move,&rdquo; said Emanuel, who outlined the expansion of military academy seats as part of his strategy to give Chicago parents and students more choice. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The city says there is high demand for its military schools&mdash;six applications for every seat&mdash; though the current way high school applications work in Chicago tends to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/how-much-demand-there-chicago-charter-schools-no-one-knows-106418">exaggerate demand</a> for schools, with many students applying to multiple schools, including schools they don&rsquo;t actually plan to attend.</p><p dir="ltr">District officials said moving Marine to the Ames building was pushed by the alderman. A press release from the mayor&rsquo;s staff pointed out that Ames is under-enrolled and received the lowest of three grades Chicago gives to schools.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;(That) does heighten the sensitivity to making some change to try to improve that&mdash;we&rsquo;d like to have all our schools be Level 1 schools,&rdquo; said School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, who took questions about the decision. Ruiz said the alderman held public forums and conducted a &ldquo;professional poll&rdquo; that showed significant community support for the military academy. He said there are times when communities are divided over what they want. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But Ames parents said they&rsquo;d been lied to, citing a promise made at a December 2012 school board meeting.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/raw-audio-december-2012" target="_blank">There are no plans to change Ames Middle School into a military school</a>,&rdquo; School Board President David Vitale said then, telling Ames parents it wasn&rsquo;t necessary for them to come to every school board meeting to plead for their school&rsquo;s survival. &ldquo;Sometimes you have to stop listening to all the rumors in the neighborhood,&rdquo; Vitale told parents. &ldquo;And if you want, you can give me a phone call to find out if anything&rsquo;s changed.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">CPS officials say Vitale said publicly that plans could be in the works at a subsequent school board meeting, in July.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">At that <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-CiexfovUU">July meeting</a>, Ald. Maldonado presented a poll of 300 nearby-Ames residents which showed that 72 percent supported a military academy at Ames. &ldquo;The board looks forward to supporting you and your community with your objective,&rdquo; Vitale said then. &ldquo;We look forward to working with you and making this happen.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Ames parent Emma Segura was among those protesting the decision Tuesday. She said she has nothing against military schools in principle, but wondered about neighborhood students who can&rsquo;t get into the school&mdash;and lamented the loss of a bilingual program.</p><p dir="ltr">Segura said her son and nephew are both 7th graders at Ames, but worries that keeping the family together might not be possible when the military academy&rsquo;s more restrictive admissions policies take effect.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If one (child) stays here and then I have to send the other one (elsewhere), it&rsquo;s gonna be hard for me to cut myself in half and drive one here and the other one there. And for most parents that&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s gonna happen. If the kids don&rsquo;t get accepted to this school, where else can they take them?&rdquo; Segura wondered.</p><p dir="ltr">Marine Math and Science&rsquo;s website indicates that students applying for 9th grade need to attend an information session, meet minimum test-score requirements, have an &ldquo;A/B average,&rdquo; good conduct and be &ldquo;compliant with uniform policy.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The district said all current Ames students will be able to continue at the school, whether or not they meet Marine&rsquo;s admissions standards.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Ames building--constructed in 1993--will get $7 million in improvements before the military academy moves in. The money, from the city&rsquo;s Tax Increment Finance funds, will pay for new science and computer labs and classrooms for music and art.</p><p dir="ltr">Becky Vevea contributed reporting.</p><p><em>Linda Lutton and Becky Vevea cover education for WBEZ. Follow them <a href="http://twitter.com/wbezeducation" target="_blank">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Oct 2013 21:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/parents-lose-fight-keep-military-school-out-109044 Catholic schools get boost from Indiana vouchers, but critics remain http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/catholic-schools-get-boost-indiana-vouchers-critics-remain-108597 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Indy Voucher.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Just a few years ago, St. Stanislaus Catholic Elementary School in East Chicago, Indiana had fewer than a hundred students and was at risk of closing. But then in 2011 Indiana lawmakers passed a law creating the School Choice Program, which provides public money to low-income parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school. Since then St. Stanislaus, better known as &ldquo;St. Stan&rsquo;s,&rdquo;<br />has experienced a remarkable turnaround.</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly has increased our enrollment,&rdquo; St. Stan principal Mary Jane Bartley told WBEZ. &ldquo;Last year, we opened a second section of 6th graders and this year we opened a second section of third graders.&rdquo;</p><p>Enrollment at St. Stan&rsquo;s has since doubled and other private/religious schools throughout Northwest Indiana might soon get a boost as well. That&rsquo;s because Indiana lawmakers recently loosened the requirements needed for parents to become eligible to participate in the program. Sunday was the deadline for parents to sign up this year. 9,100 Hoosier students are already in the program, with a potential pool of more than a million, according to the Indiana Department of Education.</p><p>East Chicago, a small industrial city outside Chicago, is the only city in Indiana that has a majority Latino population, though African-Americans also make a up a sizable percentage. Catholic schools once dominated this city of 30,000 but as industrial jobs went away and the population dwindled most schools closed except for St. Stan&rsquo;s. But even with the added students and funds, Bartley says the school isn&rsquo;t out of the woods yet.</p><p>&ldquo;We never were able to afford, and we still cannot, school counselors or psychologists or really even teacher aides in all the classrooms,&rdquo; Bartley said. &ldquo;So, therefore, it&rsquo;s up to the classroom teacher to try to meet the needs of all children. I think our teachers are up to the task.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;<br />Opponents of the program had challenged the constitutionality of providing taxpayer dollars to parochial schools. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the law last spring arguing that since the money is going directly to parents, there is no violation between the separation of church and state.</p><p>&ldquo;That argument has been put to bed. The (Indiana) Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional. We&rsquo;re happy with the results,&rdquo; says Marissa Lynch, Field Director for the Indiana Choice Program. &ldquo;This is allowing parents a choice of where their child should attend school.&rdquo;</p><p>But some still worry that the program siphons away public funds from school districts.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s taking away from public education,&rdquo; Cheryl Pruitt, the Superintendent for the Gary Community School Corporation, said on WBEZ&rsquo;s Morning Shift Tuesday. Pruitt says private or religious schools are not monitored by the state the same way as public schools.</p><p>&ldquo;They are not held accountable at the same level as the public schools,&rdquo; Pruitt said.</p><p>According to Pruitt, the amount provided for each participating student, up to $4,500 depending on the family&rsquo;s annual income, often doesn&rsquo;t cover the entire cost of a private education. At some schools, the amount may cover only half of the entire tuition.</p><p>&ldquo;When we look at those really good private schools, that cost is more,&rdquo; Pruitt said.<br />But despite the costs being higher than the voucher amount, Lynch says parents are willing to chip in the additional cost to send their child to a private school.<br />Moreover, of the 9,100 families who are participating in the voucher program statewide, 81 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.</p><p>&ldquo;These are families who are making it work to go to the private schools,&rdquo; Lynch said. &ldquo;In a lot of the cases that I&rsquo;m aware of, many of the schools did keep their tuition at about $4,500 for that elementary or middle school. If the fees were more than that, the schools would have some sort of fundraising internally to have some additional scholarship for the students to meet that gap.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, the reaction from Hoosier parents has been mixed. East Chicago resident Keith Jackson uses voucher money to enroll his daughter at Bishop Noll Catholic High School in Hammond.</p><p>&ldquo;Private school is a better fit for my daughter,&rdquo; Jackson said. &ldquo;Charter or the public schools did not meet all of my daughter&rsquo;s needs.&rdquo;</p><p>But Nilda Rivera, who sends her two children to Catholic schools in Hammond, opposes the program. This despite the fact that she&rsquo;s eligible for vouchers.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a violation of church and state,&rdquo; Rivera said. &ldquo;I think they should use that money to fix up the public school system.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ NWI bureau reporter Michael Puente on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews" target="_blank">@MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 03 Sep 2013 15:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/catholic-schools-get-boost-indiana-vouchers-critics-remain-108597