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CEO Rhonda Hopps on Chicago Public Radio on charter school funding


Many Chicago Charter Schools on Shaky Financial Ground Produced by Linda Lutton on Friday, August 13, 2010

A new report out today says half the city’s charter schools have run deficits in recent years.

The independent magazine Catalyst, which reports on schools in Chicago—found that two-thirds of the city’s charter schools are using private donations just to cover core expenses like teachers salaries.

The report raises questions about the financial sustainability of charters going forward.

About 33,000 Chicago students attended charters last year. Ten thousand more will join their ranks this fall.

Charter schools are public and get money from the districts where they’re located.

Rhonda Hopps is CEO of Perspectives Charter Schools, which she says is relying on private donations temporarily—until enrollment climbs at the school's five campuses, meaning more operating funds from CPS.

HOPPS: For charter schools to be sustainable over the long term, they’ve got to survive on the public money that’s raised, and if we do fundraise maybe it’s for special programs or for facilities expansion or something like that….But we need to be properly funded as well from the public side in order to make that happen.

Faced with a whopping deficit, Chicago has proposed cutting the amount it gives to charter schools by 6 percent next year.

Despite CPS budget shortfalls, Perspectives college enrollment is high


Chicago News Cooperative

Many Chicago Charter Schools Run Deficits, Data Shows

By SARAH KARP/Chicago News Cooperative
August 12, 2010

Even as the Obama administration promotes charter schools as a way to help raise the academic performance of the nation’s students, half of Chicago’s charter schools have been running deficits in recent years, an analysis of financial and budget documents shows, calling into question their financial viability.

On Monday, Chicago Public Schools released a bare-bones budget that included a cut of about 6 percent in per-pupil financing for charter schools — to $5,771 from $6,117 per pupil for elementary school students and to $7,213 from $7,647 per pupil for high school students. The cuts are a result of shrinking tax revenue and lagging support from the strapped state government. The city’s 71 charter schools, which enrolled 33,000 students last year and expect to enroll another 10,000 in the 2010-11 school year, stand to lose $15 million under the cuts.

It is difficult to compare the cuts with those that are being made at traditional schools because those schools do not receive money on a per-pupil basis, but district officials said they tried to make the amount of cuts comparable to those being made at traditional schools.

As a result, charters will become more dependent on private donors to provide the extras — more counselors, smaller classes, longer school days and up-to-date technology — that charter operators say set their schools apart from traditional public schools.

But even though Chicago’s charter schools brought in $21 million in private money from foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals in 2007 — the last year for which complete information is available — half have run an average of $700,000 in deficits in recent years, with some of the shortfalls reaching $4 million, according to an analysis of Chicago Public Schools data by Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine on urban education.

The data showed that two-thirds of the schools could not cover core expenses, like salaries, facilities and overhead, without private money. A third needed private money to fill more than 20 percent of their budgets. A recent study by Ball State University found that Chicago’s charter schools depend far more on private financing than those in other big cities, including Boston, Miami and New York.

Robert Runcie, chief administrative officer for Chicago Public Schools, said the district needed to take a “serious look” at the fiscal health of charters and was developing a system for stricter oversight. Four Chicago charters have been shut down since the 1990s largely because of financial problems.

Charter schools, which receive public money but are run by private for-profit and nonprofit organizations, were established to foster innovative educational practices by freeing the school from state and local regulations, for example, the requirement that all teachers be state-certified.

Chicago Public Schools officials and national education experts say that charters, to be considered fiscally sound, should be able to cover all their general operating costs with public money. If charters raise private cash, it should be just for additional programs, said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Advocates of charter schools say inequitable public financing is the root of the problem. Charters are forced to rely on private money because they receive less public money than traditional schools, said Larry Maloney of the Aspire Educational Consulting Company in Washington, D.C., one of the authors of the Ball State study.

“The question is, are we intentionally setting up charter schools to fail?” he said.

Opponents of charters blame the financial problems of the schools on the expense of extra bureaucracies. In addition to principals and assistant principals, the schools often have executive directors and financial officers on staff, all of which cost extra money.

“I think the charter school system was always built on a house of cards, and once the economy took a dive, it would crumble,” said Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union and co-chairman of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which now leads the union.

Union leaders have vigorously fought charter schools, which they consider privatization of public schools and a way for school districts to abandon their responsibility to children. Charter schools also have mostly nonunion teachers, although teachers at two charters in Chicago have recently formed unions.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, view charter schools as a way to spur innovation in public school systems that they say are too resistant to change. States that do not allow charters or restrict their replication jeopardize their chance to receive federal financing, Mr. Duncan said last year. “We want real autonomy for charters,” he said.

Mr. Duncan has also pressed x1charter operators to take over failing schools under the so-called “turnaround” strategy, which involves replacing the entire staff of existing schools.

Charter schools are a centerpiece of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 strategy, which was started in 2004 by Mayor Richard M. Daley and Mr. Duncan, who was then the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools. The program’s goal is to close failing schools and replace them with new ones, including charters.

The initiative has been controversial from the start, and charter finances are not the only concern. New schools have been spread unevenly across the city, and half of the 25 neighborhoods considered most in need of better schools have yet to get them.

In addition, teacher turnover at charters is high: Catalyst Chicago’s analysis of charter teacher lists found that half of teachers left from 2008 to 2010, a rate comparable to that in many of the most troubled district-run schools.

Charter school operators say teacher turnover can be good if it means that bad teachers are being fired. But education experts say that high turnover is often a result of poor working conditions, and charter teachers typically work longer hours for less pay than teachers in traditional schools. Experts also say high turnover causes an unstable learning environment.

Educators have said the real test of charters is whether they are driving improvement in public schools. The Catalyst Chicago analysis showed that most charter schools in the city outperform traditional schools in their neighborhoods, but only eight have reached the higher state average for student achievement.

A host of national studies have found that charter-school performance is mixed and, on the whole, no better than that of traditional public schools.

Charter operators say that there are other measures besides test scores. This year, a handful of the charter high schools called attention to the fact that almost all their students got into colleges.

Around the Calumet campus of Perspectives Charter School on Chicago’s South Side are posters and murals with the motto “College For Certain.” To reach that goal, Perspectives has college counselors dedicated to taking students on college tours and helping them navigate the journey from poor South Side neighborhood to leafy college campus.

In May, the school celebrated its first graduation, with 96* percent of the class having been accepted to at least one college, the school reported.

But the 6 percent cut in Chicago Public Schools spending on charter schools is going to make it increasingly difficult to fulfill the promise of college, said Rhonda Hopps, chief executive of Perspectives, which operates five schools. The proposed cuts would mean $710,000 less, based on current enrollment, to hire the additional college counselors Perspectives had planned to add. Ms. Hopps said she would try to find volunteers to fill the gap.

“I am worried about the direction of the cuts,” said Ms. Hopps, who joined Perspectives last spring as the school’s first chief executive. Her major task, she said, is to raise money.

Beth Purvis, the executive director of Chicago International Charter Schools, the city’s largest charter operator with 13 schools, said her board of directors believed that “public education should occur with public money.”

Leaning on outside sources might work in the short term, while charters are still the toast of the philanthropic community, Mrs. Purvis said, but the strategy may not work in the long run.

“We don’t want to just be in a community for 15 to 20 years,” she said. “We want to be in a community for 50 to 100 years.”

Sarah Karp is deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago, an independent publication on urban education. For more information on charter schools visit catalyst-chicago.org.

*Correction: The original version of this article gave an outdated statistic for the percent of students at Perspectives Calumet High School who had been accepted to at least one college. It is now 96 percent — up from 70 percent in March.

Anthony Davis, Most Outstanding Player at NBPA camp in Chicago Sun-Times


Chicago Sun Times

NBPA Camp: Day 3

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It was a successful trip to the NBPA Top 100 Camp for players representing Chicago. Three area players, Ryan Boatright, Anthony Davis and Wayne Blackshear finished in the top 20 in the camp in scoring while Sam Thompson and Jabari Parker were teammates on a the team that won the camp championship.

Davis, putting on an especially impressive display on Saturday, was named the camp's Most Outstanding Player. The Perspectives' big man scored 16 points in the first round of the playoffs, 20 in the semifinals and 12 in the championship game of the eight-team tournament. While his team lost in the championship game, he certainly made a strong impression on everybody in attendance.

"That was one of the most impressive performances I have seen since I got in this business," Scout.com's Evan Daniels said of Davis' Saturday performance.

Thompson and Parker put together a strong final day as well, leading their team to the title and each scoring double-figures in the championship game. Thompson finished with 12 points in the game while Parker added 10 as their Pistons team defeated Davis' Hawks team.

"I'm from Whitney Young, I'm used to winning championships," Thompson said with a smile on his face as he exited the floor.

Beyond the box score: Good scoring efforts came from most of the area players, but De La Salle's Mike Shaw never found his scoring touch. Still, Shaw played extremely hard throughout the camp and was especially good rebounding the ball.

"With Mike Shaw, I think he brings some other things to the table other than scoring. He is one of the better rebounders in the entire class of 2011," Daniels said. "I got to spend some time with his camp coaches and they loved his intangibles and everything he brings to the table. His rebounding is what stands out. He's really active and a pretty good athlete."

While he didn't get as many minutes as other players on his team, Notre Dame's Quinton Chievous had a good camp experience and was hot enough in one game to knock down three three-pointers in one half.

"Overall I'm really just trying to learn a lot," Chievous said. "I'm just trying to better my game and they teach a lot of things that I can bring back to Chicago for the high school basketball (season)."

Scoreboard: Boatright led area players in scoring and was sixth overall at the camp with a 13 point per game average. Trailing Boatright was Davis (11.7 points), Blackshear (10.7 points) and Tracy Abrams (eight points). Thompson (6.7 points) and Parker (4.5 points) had great scoring totals on Saturday in leading their team to the camp championship. Shaw (4.2 points) and Chievous (3.3 points) round out the scoring for area players. Blackshear went for a camp-best 27 points in one game, while Boatright had the camp's sixth-best point total in a game at 24 points.

Landmark graduation held at Perspectives in GAGDC News



Landmark Graduation Held at Perspectives-Calumet High Schools in Auburn Gresham

By Ernest Sanders

Gleaming faces of excitement and unbelief filled the 1500 seat auditorium (at capacity) as 110 graduating seniors traveled down the processional aisle to the celebratory musical selection, Pomp and Circumstance.

“My child did it,” exclaimed a proud parent. “I just can’t stop crying,” a dad evoked during the announcement of his son’s name during the exchange of the diploma. "Oh I am so proud of my baby," a grandmother expressed as a stream of tears flowed from her eyes. 

Formerly occupied by Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Calumet High School, Perspectives-Calumet High School graduates cleared hurdles of pessimism by becoming the first graduating class since the former Calumet High School’s last graduating class of 2006.

Because its incubation into the Calumet campus, Perspectives has provided its students a ‘College for Certain’ environment to ensure an unprecedented number attend various colleges and universities throughout the country. See a list of colleges and universities the students have been accepted to date.

A daunting task, Perspectives faculty and staff with support from stakeholders like Ernst and Young and the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation – GADC, overcame academic, health, social service and income support barriers by not only graduating its students, but also by projecting and accomplishing the following milestones: 

  • Perspectives projects that 100% of our Perspectives Calumet High School and High School of Technology seniors will graduate this year, and of those, 95% are expected to attend college next fall. 
  • More than 70% of the graduating class has already been accepted to at least one college. Nearly all the college attendees will be first generation college students.
  • Perspectives projects a near 75% graduation rate for students who attended one of the Calumet high schools over the past four years.
  • Perspectives improve the educational outcomes for students in Auburn Gresham, where the previous graduation rate in 2004 was 35% over five years, and where few graduates went to college.
  • To date, Perspectives-Calumet 2010 graduates have earned over $1.5 million in scholarships.

There are numerous other activities, programs, and committees that contributed directly to these impressive outcomes. These include direct intervention from the Perspectives-Calumet’s Transactional Advisory Committee and their recommendation of Perspectives Charter Schools to CPS; civic support from Aldermen Howard Brookins (D-21) and Latasha Thomas (D-17), and State Senator Jacqueline Collins (L-16) and State Representative Mary Flowers (L-31).

Other key highlights that contributed to the Perspectives’ success include four comprehensive strategies from Auburn Gresham’s Quality of Life plan. They are:

  • Improve the quality of education for people in all ages and help students and parents maximize the school experience.
  • Strengthen support systems for health and social services, safety and workforce development.
  • Make enjoyment of the art, culture and open space part of the Auburn Gresham way of life.
  • Promote Auburn Gresham through a broad-based publicity program.

It’s really evident that these accomplishments are the result of a village participating in the nourishment and sustainability of one of its most important assets. Congratulations to the first graduating classes of Perspectives-Calumet High Schools – Cal High and Cal Tech.

Click here to view a slideshow of the heartfelt moments of this historic event.

Perspectives Calumet marks first graduation in Catalyst Chicago


Perspectives Calumet marks first graduation
Posted By Sarah Karp On Friday, May 28, 2010
In New Schools

The ceremony at Perspective Calumet Charter School on Thursday was more like a victory celebration than a graduation. Amid cheers and applause, the outgoing seniors were reminded several times that they are special as the first graduating class.

"It is a great day for you, a great day for Auburn Gresham and a great day for Chicago,” boomed Rev. Michael Pfleger, the priest at St. Sabina Church, who kicked off the ceremony.  St. Sabina is located in Auburn Gresham.

Much has been made about the fact that standardized test scores of charter schools are not markedly better than regular Chicago Public Schools. This is the case of Perspectives Calumet Charter, which includes a smaller high school named CalTech, where the average ACT score is about 15.

Still, Perspectives Calumet executive director Rhonda Hopps says the school has a lot to celebrate with this inaugural graduation. The principals and staff have done a much better job of keeping students in school and getting them to college than at the old Calumet High School, she says.

More than 70 percent of the original freshmen walked across the stage Thursday and more than 90 percent of the students are headed to college, according to Hopps. Official drop out and graduation data won’t be released for another year as CPS tracks a five-year cohort of students.

The old Calumet High School only graduated about a third of their students and sent only a third of their graduates to college.

Members of the community advisory committee that decided to bring Perspectives to Calumet over other charter providers stood behind the podium like proud parents. They said that many told them Calumet was a lost cause. Perspectives success at graduating students proves everyone wrong, they said.

While the students seemed to take note of the larger significance of their graduation, they were mostly consumed with the emotions that most graduates face as they prepare for one of life’s big transitions. Through tears, valedictorian Sade Johnson congratulated her peers on surviving the past four years. “Through it all we stayed together and we grew to know each other,” she said. “Laughing, crying and having fun.”