Another charter school cautionary tale


by David Safier

I'm an [almost] equal opportunity skeptic about the economic and political corruption related to charter schools. Case in point: Chicago's United Neighborhood Organization charter schools, their crony-laden construction contracts and all-too-close connection to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) got a $98 million state grant to start up charter schools. That in itself seems like an inordinate amount of money for the state to give to a charter school. But it's even more questionable when millions in construction projects went to two brothers of a high-ranking UNO exec without giving proper notification, in violation of the terms of the grant.

Even more eyebrows should be raised because UNO's CEO is a key political supporter of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Greasing the political skids. Giving lucrative contracts to family members and friends. These are all-too-common practices among charter school operators and Charter Management Organizations. Seeing it happen in Chicago, whose schools were once run by Obama's Arne Duncan and whose mayor is Obama's former Chief of Staff, just makes it worse.

By the way, the name of one of the schools getting construction funds is UNO Soccer Academy High School. Soccer Academy High School? Seriously?

The state has halted the funds pending an audit, and Mayor Emanuel says UNO should be "held accountable." Soft, cautious words and actions from politicians with too-close-for-comfort connections to the charter school group.