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CPS should embrace charter schools to steady district enrollment

Posted on: November 15, 2021

Enrollment decline in Chicago Public Schools continues its downward spiral.

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board recently wrote that “doing nothing is not an answer” – And we agree, parents need more high-quality public school options if we want families to stay in our city.

Numerous factors are affecting these enrollment numbers, including the latest census data that show Chicago is facing an overall population decline. It only makes sense that the district would lose enrollment as a result.

But while there isn’t one magic fix to CPS’ enrollment challenges, there are several tools at its disposal that can make an immediate impact—including the simple tactic of empowering parents with high-quality public school options to meet their students’ individual needs right here in our city.

Chicago’s charter public schools do just that.

Charter opponents will try to explain away their popularity and push false narratives that charter schools take away students from district-run schools. However, the math on this reasoning simply does not add up.  In fact, charter schools create enrollment stability for the district by keeping families in Chicago Public Schools. While Chicago’s charter schools are not immune to the declining population in the city and its impact on overall district enrollment, charter enrollment decline is happening at a much smaller pace than Chicago Public Schools. Charter schools saw an enrollment decrease of 1.4 percent (compared to 3 percent from district-run CPS schools). If both district-run and charter schools are facing a decline, it’s hard to argue charter schools are the problem.

Instead, charter schools should be presented to families as a public school choice that understands the needs of their students and communities. For example, North Lawndale College Prep saw an increase in enrollment this school year due to its autonomy and flexibility to make decisions that work for its community. NLCP listened to its families and became the only public high school to implement a hybrid model last fall that allowed its scholars to stay engaged throughout the pandemic.

We call on the CPS Board of Education to work with the charter school community to present families with more high-quality public school options that incentivize them to stay in the district. Remember, doing nothing is not an answer.