State charter school laws give Chicago charter school operators greater autonomy to innovate, in order to improve outcomes for students of all backgrounds. This added autonomy allows innovative charter school leaders to design budgets; to hire, promote, and manage staff toward improving student outcomes; and to develop school cultures around the specific needs of students. In exchange for these key freedoms, charter school operators embrace heightened accountability. Unlike most public schools, if a charter school isn’t delivering results for families, it can be closed.
Unlike district schools, charter schools must renew their contract with their authorizer to continue operating, usually every five years. In evaluating whether a charter merits renewal, non-renewal, or revocation, authorizers review each school’s academic performance, managerial and fiscal soundness, and track record of compliance with the charter contract terms.
In reviewing charter performance, authorizers generally confirm that students at each school are performing at a higher level than the district or state standard. In 2015, CPS strengthened its performance accountability framework with the approval of a new Charter School Quality Policy, which sets performance standards for expansion, replication, renewal, and revocation of public charter schools authorized by the district.
To demonstrate financial soundness and operations aligned with their charter contract terms, charter school operators must annually submit the results of outside, independent audits to their authorizers, who review these audits to confirm compliance with Illinois law.
Authorizers may revoke any charter agreement for material violations of the charter school contract or for noncompliance with Illinois law. Charter schools also face closure if they fail to meet or make progress to student performance goals, or if their operators are unable to demonstrate fiscal soundness. Unlike most troubled district schools, where low achievement is often allowed to persist year after year, unsuccessful charter schools can be promptly closed at the end of an individual school term.