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December 4, 2002

State Board Upholds Champaign District's
Denial of Charter School

Appeal Panel finds proposal not in compliance with State's Charter Schools Law

A state appeal panel has upheld the Champaign School District 4 decision to deny the charter school proposed by the Champaign-Urbana Charter School Initiative (CUCSI).

The Champaign School District voted in April to deny the charter. CUCSI subsequently requested an appeal through the State Board of Education. Illinois' Charter Schools Law provides that organizations may seek reversal by the State Board of local board decisions to deny charters. The State Board may reverse those local decisions if the proposals are found to be in compliance with the State's Charter School Law

CUCSI proposed to establish a charter school to serve grades kindergarten through eight open to students in Champaign School District 4 and Urbana School District 116. The Urbana district had previously approved the charter proposal.

The Champaign district's denial claimed that the CUCSI could not fulfill contingencies set forth in the proposal and that it did not conform to the Charter Schools Law in the following ways:

  1. The proposal would lead to a racially identifiable school, inconsistent with the provisions of the law and the intent of the proposed consent decree,
  2. The district is not in a position to absorb a diversion of $1.2 million to the charter school over five years, and
  3. The proposal's transportation plan is inadequate.

The three-member appeal panel conducted a hearing in October to give both parties the opportunity to outline their views. Based on that hearing and the written material submitted by the Champaign district and CUCSI, the panel based its final recommendation on the following points:

  • The State Board does not have the authority to determine whether the charter school would violate the recently established Consent Decree, but "it would not appear that there would be such a violation." The CUCSI proposal states that the charter school would be open to all students in the Champaign and Urbana school districts and "neither the school district nor CUCSI can accurately predict the racial pool of student enrollment..."
  • Budget -- No evidence was presented to indicate that the reallocation of funds would negatively impact the district financially. The total cost of the charter proposal would amount to less than 1 percent of the total instructional costs and less than ½ of one percent of the operating budgets for the district over the five years.

    The panel did conclude that the economic soundness of the proposed charter school is questionable. The proposed budget depends heavily on grants and loans and the scope of the program would need to be altered significantly if those loans and grants are not received. "The budget (also) fails to include several likely costs or expenses and in some areas does not appear realistic in assessing costs," the panel noted. The budget does not include a contingency plan for meeting expenses, it fails to show how the requested planning year would be funded, it includes no funds to provide special education programming, and the cost of building renovations is "not readily apparent in the budget.” Consequently, the panel found that the proposal is not in compliance with Section 27A-7(a)(9) of the Charter Schools Law.

  • Curriculum and assessments - The charter proposal lacks sufficient detail in describing the curriculum and measures of student assessment and includes conflicting information on how some subjects would be presented. The curriculum would be based on the Illinois Learning Standards, according to the proposal but it would not be developed until after the school was chartered. A general outline of assessments was included in the proposal, but performance expectations were included only in mathematics and reading. Goals and objectives in other subject areas were proposed to be developed only after the charter is granted, but the Charter Schools Law requires a full description of the proposed curriculum and assessments. The Law also requires a timeline for student achievement of performance standards and procedures for taking corrective action if student performance falls below those standards, yet the panel found that the CUCSI proposal did not describe the timeline for intervention if students fail to make progress. In the areas of curriculum and assessment, the panel found the CUCSI proposal does not appear to be in compliance with the Charter Schools Law.
  • Special Education - Under the law, if chartered by the State Board, the charter school would become solely responsible for special education services for enrolled students, yet the panel concluded that the proposal contained no plan for such services other than the citation "District will provide." "The charter school proposal does not address how such special education services would be provided, nor was such a description provided in response to questions at the appeal hearing," the panel noted in citing failure to comply with the Charter Schools Law with regard to special education services.
  • Enrollment criteria - When more students apply than can be accommodated, the Charter Schools Law specifies that "priority shall be given to siblings of pupils enrolled in the charter school..." The charter proposal states that priority will also be given for housemates. The panel noted that this may be an attempt to reflect a diverse household, but the law does not give a charter school discretion in establishing such a priority. The proposal also states that parents would be required to sign a "covenant", but the panel said it was unclear what the impact is on admission if a parent refuses to sign the covenant. Since the law requires charter schools to be open to any pupil who resides in the geographic boundaries, such a covenant may not be used as a mechanism to screen out students. Enrollment criteria stated in the proposal do not comply with the provisions of the Charter Schools Law, the panel concluded.
  • Transportation -- The required description of how the charter school will meet the transportation needs of students is not clear and therefore not in compliance with that requirement of the law, the panel stated. The charter school proposal indicated use of MTD tokens, but the oral presentation indicated these would be for field trips. Other testimony indicated that CUCSI would contract with the bus company for regular transportation as well as field trips. Still another section of the proposal indicated that vans would be used to transport students to and from after school programs.

The Appeal Panel concluded that the charter proposal submitted by CUCSI does not comply with the statutory provisions of the Charter Schools Law, citing specifically:

    • The charter school proposal is not economically sound for the charter school;
    • The curriculum and assessment plans are inadequate;
    • The needs for special education students are not provided for;
    • The transportation plan is inadequate; and
    • The enrollment criteria are not in compliance with the Charter Schools Law.

The Appeal Panel therefore recommended that the State Superintendent deny the request by CUCSI to overrule the Champaign School District 4 decision to deny the charter. State Superintendent of Education Robert E. Schiller reviewed the record and the Panel's report and notified CUCSI and Champaign district officials that he had signed an administrative order adopting the Panel's findings and recommendation.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777