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Music Academy Short of Funds

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Music Academy Short of Funds

At Choir Academy on Chicago’s South Side, music fills the hallways all day long. That’s because at this charter school, music is a core subject, right alongside reading, history and math. Teachers say it helps motivate the 167 students to excel. But the program has run into some financial trouble. And as Chicago Public Radio’s Mike Rhee reports, the school may not be able to operate much longer.

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So it’s not all singing at Choir Academy. Courtney Mollan is in the middle of a social studies lesson with her 2nd grade class. Pretty typical for any school in Chicago. But about an hour from now, the kids will go upstairs for choir. They do this in the middle of every school day. Mollan says her students love music, and though they may not know it, she says it’s helping them learn.

MOLLAN: A lot of times we’ll be doing other classes and it’ll remind them of something that they learned in music. For example, fractions, that reminds them of time signatures. So they had already had exposure to fractions, where normally second graders are seeing fractions for the first time.

There is evidence the school’s approach is working. Students slightly outperformed the district in state testing last year. And scores over the last few years show clear signs of improvement in core subjects. But this week, Mollan says she’s worried all that could be lost. That’s because last Friday, the board told staff the school was more than $100,000 short of meeting its budget. There are a number reasons: a drop in enrollment, a prominent board member leaving, some accounting errors. Whatever the cause, Ms. Mollan says it’d be a tragedy if the school shut down.

MOLLAN: A lot of people have worked so hard, and have done so much, and obviously we have longer days and we don’t make the same salary that you make at public schools. I think a lot of the people here have really gone the extra mile to make it work and it would be heartbreaking for me, at this point, if it was not able to continue.

Like all other charter schools, Choir Academy relies on private funding in addition to state money. That’s according to Elizabeth Evans, director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. She says the private fundraising model does work, and has allowed unique schools like Choir Academy to be born.
EVANS: Unfortunately, in the long term, the sustainability of any model is going to depend on the reliable and adequate public funding stream. That’s true for the public school system overall and it’s also true for charter public schools.

Evans says she knows of no charter school in Illinois that’s closed due to funding issues. Meantime, Chicago’s public school district has offered Choir Academy a bail-out of sorts. It’s allowing the school to delay payment of its rent until the fall. That buys the school some time. Administrators now are moving to raise funds as quickly as possible. They’ve even turned a year-end celebration concert tomorrow night into a big fundraiser. The question is whether donors will agree Choir Academy is worth saving.

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