A state appeals court upheld a ruling in favor of the Illinois State Charter School Commission, agreeing the commission had the authority to overrule the Chicago Board of Education's attempt to close three Chicago charter schools.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court issued an unpublished order Aug. 18 upholding a Cook County judge's findings in favor of the Charter School Commission.
Justice Margaret McBride wrote the order; Justices David Ellis and Cynthia Y. Cobbs concurred. The order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent, except under very limited circumstances permitted by the Supreme Court rule.
On March 23, the board filed three separate circuit court lawsuits against the Illinois charter commission regarding its decisions to grant state charters to three South Side charter schools —Amandla Charter School, Betty Shabazz International Charter School and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School. The Chicago schools board had voted late in 2015 to close the charter schools at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
The Chicago Board said its decision was based on the schools’ failure to reach academic benchmarks and arranged for students from the closed schools to transfer to nearby “far superior” public schools. Still, the Charter School Commission extended new charters to each school on March 17. The school board argued the commission exceeded its authority and sued to block the charter renewals. The circuit court sided with the charter commission and denied the school board’s motion, saying it failed to meet requirements to secure a stay.
McBride’s review noted the state’s charter school law, which details the provisions under which a charter can be revoked or not renewed, and said the law empowers the commission to reverse a school board’s decision. She said the school board’s argument, based on the academic deficiencies of each school, is tenuous because the law “appears to refer to initial charter applications, not decisions regarding revocation or renewals. Nevertheless, even if the provisions were applicable, we find nothing here to prove that the authorizer failed either of those requirements. …
“The Charter School Law is clear that it is concerned with more than just test scores and academic performance, and we find nothing in the Charter School Law that requires the revocation of a charter when a school fails to meet certain academic performance standards,” the justices wrote.
The appellate justices further noted the school board “conveniently omitted the end” of a provision it cited by striking a portion about promoting diversity of educational choice. While the schools were failing to meet certain academic standards, “the Commission found that the schools were improving, and that they were meeting various other goals of the Charter Schools Law, including providing education opportunities for at risk students, providing educational choices for students and parents, and encouraging parental and community involvement.”
The justices also rejected the school board’s argument that the commission and circuit court focused on the board’s fairness instead of the state charter law. Justice McBride said the commission determined the schools complied with state law and charter agreements. And the school board’s evaluation procedures and policies concerning whether to revoke or renew the charters were fair game for the circuit court.
The justices noted the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding the school board “failed to raise a fair question on the issue to obtain a stay pending review.”
According to Cook County court records, the Chicago Board of Education was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Franczek Radelet, of Chicago.
The charter schools and the Illinois State Charter Commission were represented by the firm of Odelson & Sterk, of Evergreen Park.