As funding debate continues, parents still divided on charter schools

A student at Walter H. Dyett High School walks through the hallway in Chicago, Illinois, in this photo taken on October 5, 2012. The bipartisan education...
A student at Walter H. Dyett High School walks through the hallway in Chicago, Illinois, in this photo taken on October 5, 2012. The bipartisan education...

Marsha Godard paid nearly $2,000 in fees to Chicago Bulls College Prep for her 16-year-old son’s disciplinary offenses that included not sitting up straight, and violating the school’s uniform dress code. Godard, whose story we’ve highlighted before, said this week that the rise of charter schools is robbing public schools of necessary funding to help its students learn.

“Chicago public schools are not getting the resources necessary to succeed,” Godard told MHP in a phone interview. “If you aren’t giving them money to come up, how can you expect them to come up?”

Godard’s son is not the only student racking up fees for behavioral offenses: Noble Network reportedly brought in about $200,000 in disciplinary fees in 2011, and almost $400,000 since the 2008-2009 school year. A representative from Noble Network said the disciplinary fees were used to offset the cost to run disciplinary programs, such as covering staff members to run detention.

Godard said, in her perspective, the only difference between public schools and charter schools is that the charters are being funded more. According to the Chicago Public Schools’ 2013 budget, charter schools will see a 13% increase in funding this year. Noble Network, a Chicago network of charter schools that includes Chicago Bulls College Prep, is expected to receive $69.9 million. On the other hand, traditional public schools, according to WBEZ Chicago, are expected to lose millions in funding in 2013.

“The public schools aren’t failing, they just haven’t been given resources to succeed,” Godard said about the reallocation of funding. Her fear is that public schools will cease to exist under Chicago’s new push for charter schools, and she says she regrets buying into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “secret sauce” formula that created the push for charter schools in Chicago.

But the difference, some argue, is not just about education; it’s about real-world discipline. Rhonda Coleman, whose daughter is a student at Noble Network’s Gary Comer College Prep, said parents were informed before sending their children to Noble schools about the code of conduct and behavioral expectations. “We came on board knowing what to expect,” Coleman said, adding there was nothing hidden during the open house she attended before sending her daughter to Gary Comer, and she signed a contract acknowledging the school’s expectations. “I think when reality hits, then parents realize, ‘Oh my God, I have to pay.’”

Coleman said the structure and strict code of conduct is good preparation for students. “At work and at a job, you have to follow rules too,” Coleman said. “Why not prepare your child for the real world now?”

Godard still isn’t convinced. “All I heard about were behavior problems, but the teachers in the public school go above and beyond to work with students and parents on comprehension and learning,” Godard said of her nine-year-old daughter, who now attends a Chicago public school. She is still looking for another school for her son.