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Renaissance Schools Fund Announces New Venture And New Name

School Student (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

School Student (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (STMW) — The Renaissance Schools Fund, which for the last six years has poured enough startup money into new charter schools to triple their number in the Chicago Public Schools system, has announced a new $60 million venture fund to add 50 more charter schools.

Unlike the previous initiative launched in 2004 to raise funds aimed at closing failing schools and opening new ones, this time the fund will focus on replicating successful charters in Chicago and bringing in high-performing charter schools from out of state.

The group also plans to drop Mayor Richard Daley’s “Renaissance” moniker and take on a new name: New Schools for Chicago. The executives estimate the charters promoted through both funds will serve about 20 percent of the district in the next five years, an effort that they said has been met with enthusiasm by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.

“He’s very supportive of this,” said Phyllis Lockett, the Renaissance Schools Fund CEO, who will continue to head New Schools. “He has spent a lot of time in charter schools over the last few months and talked about his support of charters and the need to support high-performing schools. He sees charters as an important part of that.”

Under the initial $50 million fund, Renaissance gave up to $750,000 each to 70 schools. They include 58 charters, six magnet schools and six contract schools, which have CPS oversight. The fund helped start 13 charter networks, including funding eight campuses for Chicago International Charter Schools, seven United Neighborhood Organization schools and nine Noble Street charter high schools. With the new fund, charters will get $1 million to $5 million apiece over two to five years. This time, though, the money will be doled out as charters reach specific academic, financial and growth milestones.

With the additional money, fund executives hope to attract outside charters like California-based Rocketship, YES Prep from Texas, East Coast-based Uncommon and more KIPP — Knowledge Is Power Program — campuses. The latter is the nation’s fastest-growing and most academically successful charter group with a school in Chicago.

While they’ve made academic gains in struggling communities, KIPP and other large charter networks have come under fire recently for high student attrition rates, discipline issues and failing to meet states’ standards.

“These are not innovative charter schools,” says Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan University, who co-wrote a critical report on KIPP. “What we’re talking about are corporate schools or franchises.”

Whether charters are making significant academic gains remains a question, and until that can be resolved, CPS should hold off on adding charters, says Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.

“Reports show they’re not outperforming neighborhood schools, and they’re taking resources from neighborhood schools,” she said.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed