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Six things to know as the Illinois state board takes over as a lifeline for charters

Illinois state board members at the Nov.ember 2019 board meeting.
Illinois state board members at the Nov.ember 2019 board meeting.
Yana Kunichoff/Chalkbeat

Charter schools in Illinois that suffer setbacks locally will lose a route of appeal when the state charter commission shuts down next summer. But they’ll gain at least a partial recourse with the Illinois Board of Education.

The state board is planning how it will take over the charter commission’s controversial work of reviewing some charter appeals, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill abolishing the commission.

Public comment on the rules doesn’t begin until after the board approves them and submits the rules to the Secretary of State’s office.

At the board’s meeting last week, Superintendent Carmen Ayala and other administrators proposed changing various sections of the state charter school code. The board is scheduled to vote on the changes this winter.

The proposed new rules represent a shift toward a less friendly environment for charters in Illinois. Charter schools have become a contentious issue on the national campaign trail, including recently for candidate Elizabeth Warren, who was questioned by charter advocates.

Here’s what you need to know as Illinois moves forward with changes:

The state board will only hear some appeals

The state board will name an officer to hear charter school appeals of local districts’ decisions to close a school, or to revoke or not renew a network’s charter. That hearing officer will gather information, conduct interviews and make a recommendation to Ayala for a final decision.

This is not the first time the state board has overseen charter appeals. It played that role from 1996 to 2011 through its office of general counsel, before the charter commission’s existence.

For new school appeals, charters will have to head to court

Would-be charter operators seeking to open a new school and denied by their local districts will have no administrative recourse. Instead, their only appeal would be to file a complaint with the circuit court.

For existing schools, a different authorizer

The charter school commission currently authorizes 11 schools across the state. On July 1, the responsibility to oversee those schools will move to the state Board of Education. That means it will be responsible for deciding whether or not to renew schools’ charters when their terms are up.

The two schools most recently authorized by the charter commission are both in Chicago — a newly opened downtown high school run by Intrinsic, and a campus of Urban Prep that narrowly avoided closure with an appeal to the commission. The campus, Urban Prep West, saw a 60% drop in students from the first to the second quarter of this school year.

The state board will draw funds from charter schools and commission funding

Once the state board assumes the commission’s role, the board will be able to levy an annual fee of up to 3% on any state-approved charter school to help cover the cost of oversight. It also may draw from the State Charter School Commission Fund, which has been used to fund oversight of schools that the commission had approved.

Jennifer Saba, previously of the Chicago Public Schools charter office, will oversee the office that will review charter appeals

Saba will head a department newly charged with overseeing the 11 charter schools already authorized by the commission. Saba previously worked as the director of charter performance and accountability at Chicago Public Schools, where she monitored charters’ compliance with 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.

The public can weigh in after the board rules

After the state board approves the rule changes, most likely at a winter meeting, it will file them with the Secretary of State’s Office, which then sets a date to publish the rules. The first 45-day public comment period begins then, after which the rules are submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, and a second public comment period begins. Public comment may be submitted to the state board via email at, by phone, mail, or personal delivery to an agency employee.

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