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Overseer of charter schools in Chicago will take on similar role for Illinois

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
Denis Tangney Jr. / Getty Images

It may be deja vu for the head of the state’s soon-to-be emboldened charter department: 10 years ago, she provided legal advice to the state board that reviewed and certified charter school proposals.

Now, with that authority coming back to the state board of education after the legislature abolished the state charter commission last spring, Jennifer Saba will head a department newly charged with overseeing schools previously authorized by the commission.

Her appointment was mentioned during an operations committee meeting of the Illinois Charter School Commission on Tuesday, the latest trickle of information about the behind-the-scenes transfer of power taking place from the state charter commission, which will cease to exist next summer, to the state Board of Education.

Related: Illinois top educator wants to revamp state testing

According to her LinkedIn profile, Saba worked as the director of charter performance and accountability at Chicago Public Schools, where she monitored whether charters were hewing to their contract terms. Before that, she worked as the director of state policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, where she advised state legislatures on charter school policy.

Last spring, the Illinois legislature voted to abolish the charter commission, the body reviled by school districts but valued by charter promoters for offering a recourse to local denial of school proposals.

Next summer, the state board will gain oversight of 11 schools that the commission previously approved. However, the state board will not hear appeals, which, according to the bill to abolish the commission, will be heard by a court.

The state school board is currently weighing a set of proposed rules that would clarify other details surrounding its role. Those rules can be found here, and the public will have a chance to weigh in.

Related: Illinois abolishes charter schools commission, eliminating state appeals body for charters

Some of the schools authorized by the commission, like Bronzeville Academy Charter School in Bronzeville, are doing well in retaining students this year, according to enrollment data of the first two quarters of this school year reviewed at Tuesday’s meeting. Others, like Urban Prep West, which saw a 60% drop in students from the first to the second quarter of this school year, are struggling.

Once the charter commission and its staff shut down, a state office will oversee charter schools previously authorized by the commission. Details about that office and its role are still being worked out.

Before the creation of the charter commission in 2011, the state board oversaw charter appeals and authorizations through the office of its general counsel.

Corrected: This story has been corrected to reflect that Illinois had a charter office tasked with reviewing agreements and renewals, and that Jennifer Saba previously worked at Chicago Public Schools and is not currently employed there.

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