Chicago Charter Schools Could Win Big With New Education Funding Law

In this photo taken Feb. 16, 2012, a student at Noble Street College Prep does class works at the school in Chicago. Under an unconventional policy drawing fire from some parents and advocacy groups and sparking a debate over fairness, Noble Network, which runs 10 charter public high schools heralded as a model for the city by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, charges students $5 for detentions stemming from infractions that can include chewing gum and having untied shoelaces. School officials say the fees offset the cost of running the detention program and help keep small problems from becoming big ones.
In this photo taken Feb. 16, 2012, a student at Noble Street College Prep does class works at the school in Chicago. Under a tentative agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools, networks like Noble would not be allowed to open more schools. M. Spencer Green / AP Photo
In this photo taken Feb. 16, 2012, a student at Noble Street College Prep does class works at the school in Chicago. Under an unconventional policy drawing fire from some parents and advocacy groups and sparking a debate over fairness, Noble Network, which runs 10 charter public high schools heralded as a model for the city by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, charges students $5 for detentions stemming from infractions that can include chewing gum and having untied shoelaces. School officials say the fees offset the cost of running the detention program and help keep small problems from becoming big ones.
In this photo taken Feb. 16, 2012, a student at Noble Street College Prep does class works at the school in Chicago. Under a tentative agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools, networks like Noble would not be allowed to open more schools. M. Spencer Green / AP Photo

Chicago Charter Schools Could Win Big With New Education Funding Law

The state’s new education funding law promises to be a big financial boon for Illinois’ charter schools, with charters in line to receive an extra $122 million each year, the leader of a statewide charter organization argued on Thursday.

If Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter School, is correct, that would mean most of that money would come from Chicago Public Schools’ coffers because the district hosts 90 percent of the state’s charter schools. CPS could then be responsible for coming up more than $100 million to support city charter schools. That financial boost to charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, would exacerbate the deficit the district already faces this year.  

CPS officials said they strongly disagree with Broy’s interpretation of the new law, but they declined to elaborate.

The new education funding law, signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday, changes the way the state funds schools to direct more dollars to the state’s neediest school districts. One provision, added in the 11th hour to resolve a protracted political impasse, calls for charters to be funded at 97 percent to 103 percent of what the state calls “per capita tuition.” Per capita tuition is set by the Illinois State Board of Education and is generally the total budget divided by the number of students.

The old law only guaranteed charters a minimum of 75 percent of per capita tuition. The range was between 75 percent and 125 percent.

“That is a huge benefit there to finally have charter public schools funded at parity with district schools all across the state,” Broy said.

CPS officials did plan on paying charter schools more money in this fiscal year’s budget, but only by $35 million. If Broy’s assessment is correct, district officials could find themselves staring down another budget hole during the school year.

The exact math behind charter school funding is murky. This year, CPS plans to provide city charter schools about $11,700 per student. When you use the per capita rate, that amount could increase by $1,500 to $2,000. Broy said the state calculated CPS’ per capita tuition rate last year at $12,544, but it will likely go up in this year because the school district’s budget is increasing.  

At the very least, this provision is sure to reopen the long running debate over whether charter schools are equally funded. 

Sarah Karp cover education for WBEZ. Follow her on on Twitter at @WBEZeducation.