Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon)
Allowing local school districts to deny charter school applications is not ideal, according to three GOP lawmakers.
HB 5175, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), would remove the provision of the law that allows the State Charter School Commission to undo school districts' decision to reject a charter school application.
“I think that this is an important effort to assure state law respects the will of local school districts and their property taxpayers on this matter,” Cunningham said during a Senate floor debate on the May 24.
But Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria) did not feel the same, asking the Senate floor to pay attention to what he was about to say.
“We all believe in local control and we understand the concept of local control, but there are times when special interest can impact what really happens,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he believes the charter school system has improved under state-level authority.
“I would encourage us to keep that power where the power and control is right now, and I will be requesting a no vote,” Weaver said.
Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) agreed.
He said Cunningham’s proposal causes the casual observer to doubt the system that has been in place since 2011 and pointed out that very few, if any, local school district decisions on charter schools have had to be overturned by the state.
Cunningham agreed that it has happened rarely. He knew the point Righter was attempting to make, but he noted that there were other factors at play.
“Placing a new school in a school district is a big deal that will potentially drain a lot of property taxes,” he said.
Cunningham couldn’t have said it better, Righter said.
Righter detailed the large amount of resident input that is required to accept a charter school in a district through a referendum.
“We have a grassroots effort by signing a petition and a majority of voters have to approve it..." Righter said. "Is that not the taxpayer control and involvement that you are referring to?”
Righter said that HB 5175 is a prime example of desperately searching for solutions in a white-knuckled fashion for a problem that does not exist.
“You have local control now,” Righter said. "This is an attempt to block taxpayers voices—the people who pay for the school districts.”
Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) also concurred. He spoke about the bill and his personal involvement with it.
“I was part of one of the first drafts on this many years ago, and... it seems that we have done everything we can to erode the freedoms and liberties given to taxpayers who want charter schools,” McCarter said.
He said competition is always praised, especially in sports and product pricing, but it isn't when it comes to schools.
“Here you have the competition, which... has proven to make our public schools better, being told by their competitors, ‘You don’t get to appeal,’” McCarter said.
The Senate floor vote would come down to one thing, McCarter said.
“We have a decision to make right now," he said. "Are we going to take up for the taxpayers or the local schools?”
HB 5175 passed 36-14. The bill will now move to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.