Lake County News-Sun

Court overturns ruling that put Grayslake charter school’s future at risk

By Lauren Zumbach

original article

The last day of 2015 brought a victory for a Grayslake charter school in a lawsuit that challenged a state commission’s decision to give the school approval to operate for five more years.
The Illinois Appellate Court ruled a lower court should not have overturned the Illinois State Charter School Commission’s decision to let Prairie Crossing Charter School remain open.

Officials at Gurnee-based Woodlawn District 50 are now deciding how to respond to the setback, school board President Chris Schrantz said in a statement.

“The Board of Education will meet to discuss the recent ruling and whether it intends to pursue further legal action,” he said.

Prairie Crossing (charter school) was established in 1999 despite opposition from the feeder districts, District 50 and Fremont Elementary School District 79 in Mundelein.

District 50 filed the suit against the commission and Prairie Crossing in 2014, asking the Cook County Circuit Court to reverse the school’s five-year charter renewal.

A Cook County judge decided in March that the commission erred in giving the charter school approval to operate for another five years.

Prairie Crossing was given approval to remain open while its school leaders appealed that decision, which the state’s appellate court overturned Dec. 31, said Geoff Deigan, executive director of Prairie Crossing.

The Cook County judge ruled District 50 should have played a bigger role in the commission’s decision on whether to reauthorize Prairie Crossing, but the appellate court disagreed and said the lower court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case, District 50 officials said in a statement.

Schrantz said the district doesn’t oppose charter schools. “We do, however, oppose the existence of a school that does not uphold the Illinois Charter Schools Law, which requires that charter schools place a special emphasis on increasing learning opportunities for at-risk students,” he said.

District 50 has argued Prairie Crossing cuts into the district’s share of state funding while serving far fewer low-income and at-risk kids.

Deigan agreed the state ought to reexamine charter school funding but said Prairie Crossing isn’t taking the district’s money, as funding is determined by the state with dollars following students.

Prairie Crossing officials have said they have tried to recruit more low-income families but are required by law to fill open seats through a lottery system.

The Illinois State Charter School Commission “did an unbelievable amount of review” before renewing the charter, Deigan said. “They looked under the covers of everything we do,” he said.

“Our hope is it’s over, but that rests in the decision Woodland and the board will make,” Deigan said. “It gets tiresome having to defend the right to exist,” he said.