Here’s a haunting statistic that we cannot repeat too often: Of all the school districts in the U.S., Chicago Public Schools has one of the longest waiting lists for admission to a charter school. There are 19,000 students on the list this year. That number has been rising since 2008, when 13,500 Chicago students languished on the wait list.
Next year, there will be some 23,000 children waiting, Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, tells us.
Take a moment to absorb that number: 23,000 students hoping for a better education than their neighborhood schools can deliver. That’s 23,000 students — and their parents — eager for the same opportunity now given to 51,000 children in Chicago, and to tens of thousands of others across the country. All these kids want is the chance for a better education.Wherever you live: How would you feel, and how forcefully would you demand better, if one of those 23,000 trapped students was your child?
In almost any enterprise other than the public education industry, demand would stimulate supply: More students clamoring for seats in high-performing charters would prompt operators to open or expand their own schools to meet the demand. That’s just smart business. But that’s not happening in Chicago. Why not?
CPS officials are wary about inflaming passions by approving too many new charters at the same time they’re closing neighborhood schools. Sure, we understand the political forces at play. But there’s a more urgent consideration: 19,000 students this year, 23,000 next year. And probably more in years to come. These children can’t wait — would you ask your child to wait? — until the political heat eases. It won’t.