As public funding for Chicago charter schools increases, so do questions about accountability and governance within these publicly-funded--but privately-run--institutions.
According to the Chicago Public Schools' 2013 budget, charter schools will receive nearly $483 million in funding, up more than 13% from funding in 2012. The resources are significant for the expanding charter school network within the city--particularly Noble Network of Charter Schools--which serves nearly 8,000 students across a dozen campuses. The organization's most recent non-profit filing shows that Noble receives the lion's share of CPS funds allocated to charter schools, and they are expected to receive $69.9 million in 2013.
But a recent report raises red flags on the lack of accountability at one of Noble's charter schools. Marsha Godard, a parent at Chicago Bulls College Prep, told DNAinfo Chicago that she paid nearly $2,000 in fees to keep her son at school:
Godard said her son, Tavonta Gray, 16, had been suspended 15 times. Held back as a freshman last year, he was required to take a summer behavioral session in order to return this year—at a cost of $1,400. Godard estimated he has also rung up about $300 in fines this year along with additional ones last year.
Godard's son was fined for various offenses, including an unkempt appearance and not making eye contact. Other items in Noble's strict student code include "chewing gum, possessing soft drinks or energy drinks like Red Bull, eating chips, not tucking in a shirt after being warned and carrying a permanent marker."
This is not the first time the Noble Network has received criticism for the fees. In February, parents protested the Noble Network for charging fees as disciplinary action. According to the Chicago Tribune, Noble raked in approximately $200,000 in disciplinary fees in 2011 and almost $400,000 since the 2008-09 school year.
Under Article 27A of the Illinois Charter Schools Law, charter schools in the state "shall not charge tuition," but are permitted to charge "reasonable fees for textbooks, instructional materials, and student activities."
Angela Montagna, a spokeswoman for Noble, defended the fees, telling DNAinfo that it engaged parents. "When it's in their pocketbook, they're much more involved."
Chicago charter schools have also been the target of labor unions, who have argued that expanding charters is a union-busting tactic.