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Chicago Charters Seek To Grow As CPS Enrollment Declines

As enrollment declines in Chicago Public Schools, 11 local charter school networks are seeking the Chicago Board of Education’s permission to add another 2,300 students over the next several years.

These requests to grow come as CPS has slowed the expansion of charter schools in the city amid a declining student population, CPS budget pressures and a provision in the Chicago Teachers Union contract that limits charter growth. Charter schools, which are publicly-funded but privately run, have come under fire for spreading thin the district’s limited resources.

A hearing on these enrollment changes is set for Monday afternoon. A vote is scheduled at the Aug. 28 Board of Education meeting. The charter operators need formal permission from the Chicago Board of Education, which grants these schools “charters” allowing them to operate. 

The most ambitious proposal is from Chicago Collegiate Charter Academy, which opened in the West Pullman neighborhood five years ago. It currently has permission to serve about 600 students in grades four through 12. But it wants to add an additional 770 students and start at kindergarten over the next three years, according to the requests.

Beth Carrera Napleton, the school’s founder, said more quality options in the area are needed. 

“The kids have a ton of potential the parents know it, but they’ve under-taught and aren’t achieving at rate they are capable of,” she said.

Chicago Collegiate offers a longer school year and day than traditional schools. It focuses on getting students into and through college, she said.

Perspectives Charter schools, one of CPS’ oldest charter networks, also is asking for some big changes. 

It wants to expand its high school at its South Loop Joslin campus and eliminate its middle school program there. Over time, it wants to add another 272 students, according to the requests. 

The nearly 20-year-old school is in a rapidly growing area with limited high school options. Perspectives’ officials said they want to provide more choices for neighborhood residents, who have recently been clamoring for a neighborhood high school.

Perspectives also wants to to add elementary grades to its middle and high school Math and Science Academy in Bronzeville. Perspectives officials say this will allow them to eliminate the achievement gap earlier. 

Perspectives’ had wanted to make these changes for this fall, but officials said delays means they will have to wait until next year, if approved. 

CPS also is considering proposals for eight new charter or contract schools to open next fall. The operators are due to submit full proposals next Monday. Few new charters have been approved by CPS in the last few years.

Along with the expansion requests, CPS also is considering requests by charters for a name or location change. For example, the scandal-tainted UNO Charter School Network wants to become the Acero Charter Schools. Also, the University of Chicago Charter School wants to move its Woodlawn campus into a newly constructed building. 

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation.

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