ISBE shouldn't have approved new Chicago charter school

IL-FPS director Cassie Creswell spoke at the Illinois State Board of Education meeting today in opposition to the opening of a new charter high school on the Northwest Side of Chicago even though there is currently a moratorium on opening new charters in Chicago. This school would be run by Concept Schools' Horizon Science Academy - Belmont, which has an existing elementary school in Chicago. It was approved as part of the renewal of HSA - Belmont's charter by ISBE in December. 

You can sign a petition to oppose the school's opening here. And you can read the statement that IL-FPS and fourteen other organizations, including the Chicago Teachers Union, signed in opposition to the new school here. Creswell's remarks today are below.

Remarks for public participation, ISBE board meeting 5.17.2023

Hi, I’m Cassie Creswell, director of Illinois Families for Public Schools. An issue that Chicago parent and community organizations began advocating on almost a decade ago is the Illinois State Charter Commission, a body created to overrule local decisions on charter schools in order to push for expansion of publicly-funded, privately-run schools around the state, including Chicago. 

The first bill to abolish the Commission was introduced in the fall of 2013, just two years after the law to create the Commission was passed. It was introduced in part in response to the Commission’s approval of the Horizon Science Academy located in Belmont Cragin.

After five years of pushing, a bill to dismantle the State Charter Commission finally passed in spring 2019.

A crucial change made by that law is that if a local school board did not approve the application for a new charter school, that decision could no longer be appealed at the state level, not even to the State Board of Education that subsumed the other duties of the defunct Commission. Instead, it would be only subject to judicial review. “Final decisions of a local school board are subject to judicial review under the Administrative Review Law.”

The language that described the approval of new proposals explicitly removed a reference to the Commission and left that evaluation of new applications up to local boards only:


For all intents and purposes, Horizon Science Academy - Belmont is now establishing a new school. It will be a high school, not co-located with their original elementary school, but an entirely new campus. It will mean more than twice as many students as were enrolled at the elementary school. It will be opening an entire decade later than their first school opened, a school approved by a body that no longer exists.

The State Board acted in error to treat this as approving a standard renewal of the original school.

The approval of new charter school proposals is solely the responsibility of local school boards now. This decision should have been made by the Chicago Board of Education, which, by the way, currently has a moratorium on the creation of new charters.

The establishment of new charter schools should not be carried out under the guise of renewing an existing charter. This is bad practice no matter who is doing the approval.

But it is even more problematic when it is the State Board of Education doing this, given that the intent of the 2019 public act dissolving the State Charter Commission was to put the power to approve new charter schools only in the hands of local school boards.

ISBE should amend its approval and make clear that it only had the authorization to renew the existing charter school not create a new one. Given both the passage of time since the approval of HSA Belmont and the fact that the approving body no longer exists and that no body other than local boards have the right to approve new charter schools, the Horizon Science Academy should apply to the Chicago Board to open a new school.