Charter schools have long been the subject of debate. Many critics feel that they’re being used as a privatized way to make public schools obsolete. While these schools receive funding from the same financial pool as public schools, they’re usually privately owned and operated. They also aren’t restricted to the same regulations as public schools. Recently, a report from a professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago has made some noteworthy connections between the city’s support of charter schools and the financial crisis currently crippling the public school system. 

Research shows that Chicago’s charter schools are more likely to be segregated as a result of lottery enrollment. They expel students ten times more often than CPS and encourage underperforming students to drop out for the sake of better overall performance records.

If that weren’t already enough, Roosevelt Associate Professor of Sociology Stephanie Farmer researched the 108 charter schools that opened in Chicago between 2000 and 2015 as well as their proximity to public schools that closed during that same period. Her findings are concerning.

“We were surprised to discover how much CPS has saturated charter schools in neighborhoods with declining school-age populations. We believe this decision is a strong contributing factor to the current strain on CPS’ finances,” said Farmer.

“The proliferation of charter schools in Chicago has forced CPS to stretch its resources across a surplus of schools in low-demand markets,” she continued. “CPS now has substantial off-the-books debt due to the public’s responsibility to finance all of these additional privatized charter schools.”

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The report found that 71 percent of charter schools that opened between 2000-12 were less than 2 miles away from 49 public schools that closed due to low enrollment just a year later. 20 charter schools have followed the same precedent since 2013.

Also, only 27 percent of charter schools filed an audit with the Illinois State Board of Education in 2015. Out of that small percentage, combined outstanding debt of $227 million was found, which only adds to the massive $6 billion debt taxpayers are trying to pay down to support CPS.

“The lack of rational planning and the haphazard manner in which charter school proliferation and saturation in depopulating Chicago neighborhoods has taken place undoubtedly has contributed to Chicago Public Schools’ fiscal problems,” said Farmer.

Farmer co-authored “Closed by Choice: The Spatial Relationship between Charter School Expansion, School Closures and Fiscal Stress in Chicago Public Schools” with sociology PhD candidates Ashley Baber from Loyola University and Chris Poulos from the University of Illinois at Chicago on behalf of the Project for Middle Class Renewal.

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