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Nonprofit seeks charter legislation support from school boards

State Rep. LindChapLVi(D-Aurora) is sponsoring legislaticoncerning online charter schools.  |  Sun-Times Medifile

State Rep. Linda Chapa La Via (D-Aurora) is sponsoring legislation concerning online charter schools. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: February 15, 2014 6:25AM

A nonprofit coalition of unions, community organizations and faith-based groups is making the rounds asking administrators and school board members from 18 local districts to support legislation that would disband the state charter school commission.

Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice is planning to attend school board meetings throughout January and February to ask for public support of two bills introduced in November by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester).

John Laesch, an Aurora resident who volunteers with the organization leading the campaign, said so far the district officials he has spoken with on the phone have shown “genuine enthusiasm” for the legislation.

“There seems to be, one: awareness and knowledge of the House bill; and two: support,” Laesch said Monday.

Those bills would get rid of the Illinois State Charter School Commission and give some of its powers back to the Illinois State Board of Education.

For example, if a local school board denied a charter school proposal, revoked a charter or did not renew a charter, the State Board of Education would have the power to reverse the decision, if the charter met state requirements and the school was in the “best interest” of students.

The nonprofit Jobs with Justice group is targeting the 18 local districts that were part of a multi-district virtual charter proposal last year: West Aurora 129, Indian Prairie 204, Oswego 308, East Aurora 131, Yorkville 115, Naperville 203, Kaneland 302, Geneva 304, Batavia 101, Burlington-based Central 301, St. Charles 303, Wheaton-Warrenville District 200, Elgin U46, Plainfield 202, Carpentersville-based District 300, Sycamore 427, DeKalb District 428 and Valley View 365U.

All 18 districts voted down a proposal from Virtual Learning Solutions, a St. Charles-based nonprofit, to establish the Illinois Virtual School at Fox River Valley.

That school would have provided Web-based lessons to local students in kindergarten to 12th grade using curriculum from K12, a for-profit online education company that came under fire at local school board meetings for achievement issues in other states.

The responsibilities of the commission came into question last year when several local school districts feared the commission would grant the virtual school’s charter against the school districts’ wishes. Virtual Learning Solutions had appealed the districts’ decision and the commission was deliberating the case.

Ultimately, the legislature passed a law introduced by Chapa LaVia that blocked the formation of any new virtual charter schools until April 1, and the commission upheld the school districts’ decision.

School districts spent about $320,000 in legal fees to review the charter proposal, follow through with the appeal and to support the moratorium bill in Springfield.

Several districts also sent officials to Springfield to testify in favor of Chapa LaVia’s moratorium legislation, including Batavia 101’s Superintendent Jack Barshinger and District 300’s Superintendent Michael Bregy.

According to a letter from Laesch to the school boards, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice is encouraging board members and district administrators to support the new legislation and to seek additional support from elected officials, the Illinois Association of School Boards and the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice started attending school board meetings Monday night at Naperville 203, St. Charles 303, Geneva 304, Elgin U46 and District 300 to address district officials.

The group also is hosting a forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 23 in the Batavia Public Library to discuss charter schools and student performance.

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