Lone Charter School Proposal Pulled From CPS

Classroom Desks
dcJohn / Flickr
Classroom Desks
dcJohn / Flickr

Lone Charter School Proposal Pulled From CPS

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A South Side organization has withdrawn its proposal for the city’s first alternative school for middle-school students.

Project Simeon 2000, a non-profit group of Simeon Career Academy alumni, decided it was not the right time to bring the proposal before the Chicago Board of Education, said Project Simeon 2000’s John Michael Johnson.

Johnson said it became clear it was not the right time for the proposal after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have given CPS $215 million for pensions.

“In light of what took place downstate and how that would compromise the (district’s) budget, we would have become a lightening rod for some of the political activities going on,” he says. “We did not want to be caught in political football.”

But the group still hopes to one day open the school, Kemet Leadership Academy.

“We are not deterred,” Johnson said.

The withdrawal means there are currently no proposals for new charter schools.

Project Simeon 2000 had proposed the middle school for black and Latino boys who were deemed on the path to dropping out.

In response to the district’s December 2015 request for proposals, eight charter operators had asked to open a total of 13 new campuses. But in recent months, all but Kemet had pulled their proposals.

While it is unclear why each individual group pulled their proposals, charter advocates have pointed to what they call an increasingly hostile environment toward the privately-run, publicly-funded schools.

Chicago has 143 charter and contract schools that serve about 56,000 students. Over the past decade, CPS undertook one of the biggest expansions of charter schools of any district.

But in recent years, the pace has slowed at least partly because the school district is confronting budget deficits and has fewer students.

Chicago Board of Education members are are expected to approve a new teachers’ contract Wednesday that includes an agreement to limit the number of charter schools.

Johnson and other members of Project Simeon 2000 were confronted with all the criticism of charter schools at the proposal’s hearing last month. Students and parents came to ask the board not to approve Kemet because it would take more money away from existing CPS schools.

Johnson said his group did not want to be seen as the poster child for charter schools. He said Project Simeon 2000 is a grassroots organization of community people who want to curtail violence by reaching boys when they are young.

“We are people who are tired of sitting on the sidelines and seeing the destruction of our community,” he said.

Project Simeon 2000 wanted to put Kemet Leadership Academy in the old Morgan Elementary School building, but CPS officials had promised not to put charter schools into the buildings of schools shuttered during the historic closings of 2013.

Johnson said it became increasingly clear that, even if the charter was approved, Morgan’s old building might not be an option.

Johnson said the plan is to keep working on the proposal so the next time the district looks for charter proposals, Kemet is in even a better position to be approved.

Sarah Karp is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.