Frequently Asked Questions
Here you’ll find questions regarding enrollment, curriculum, charter schools in general and other information that many ask quite frequently at PCCS. If you have a specific question that you feel should be on this page or you just want to know please contact us.
Some Facts About Prairie Crossing Charter School
Much has been written and said in recent months about the Prairie Crossing Charter School and the lawsuit brought by the Woodland School District. Much of that has been inaccurate, or at least incomplete. These facts hope to address some of the issues involved, in an effort to clear the air about PCCS and the allegations raised in that suit.
But first, some background. PCCS is chartered by the State of Illinois under the Illinois Charter School Law. (The statutory citation is 105 ILCS 5/Art. 27A.) Initially, the school was under the authority of the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”). In 2011, the state legislature created the Illinois State Charter School Commission (“SCSC”) as an independent commission with statewide authority over state-chartered schools such as PCCS. The ISBE first chartered PCCS in 1999, and renewed its charter in 2004 and 2009. In 2014, the SCSC renewed PCCS’s charter once again.
At present, the school educates in excess of 400 students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. The school has been recognized for both its excellent education and for its commitment to the environment. PCCS has received numerous awards and honors during its 15 years of existence. A list of those awards and honors are provided below.
Under the Illinois Charter School Law, a charter school must renew its charter agreement every five years. Over the years of its existence, and in its three re-chartering applications, PCCS has sought to address many issues relevant to its educational mission and related to its funding. The following are some of the more salient issues.
Much has been made about PCCS’s funding, and in fact obtaining those funds for themselves appears to be the main motivation for the Woodland lawsuit. In Illinois, non-charter public schools are funded in several ways. First, the district has the authority to levy property taxes. School districts also obtain operating funds through fundraising and grant opportunities. In addition, the state provides funds under its General Student Aid (“GSA”) program. For non-charter schools, the state earmarks GSA funds to help pay to educate at-risk students.
Charter school funding is different. Under state law, the state provides a per capita tuition cost (“PCTC”) equal to that of its feeder districts. ISBE uses the GSA funds to provide PCCS the PCTC for the school’s general operations. Apart from fundraising and grants, that is the entirety of the funding received by PCCS, because unlike Woodland and Fremont, and every other non-charter public school in Illinois, PCCS cannot levy real estate taxes.
For the 2014-15 school year, PCCS received approximately $3.7 million in PCTC from state funding. Apart from grants, fundraising and miscellaneous other revenue, that represents the entirety of the funds available to PCCS to run the school. To give perspective, Woodland received nearly $12 million from the state for that school year, in addition to nearly $73 million in property taxes and federal funding, and its fiscal 2015 budget was in excess of $80 million. It also bears noting that based on state funding law, on a per student basis PCCS receives approximately 10% less than Woodland or Fremont would receive if that same child attended one of those schools rather than PCCS.
Contrary to news reports and Woodland’s press releases, neither Woodland nor Fremont fund PCCS. State law does not require a non-charter district to give any money whatsoever to a charter school; funding of the latter is provided exclusively by the state through the ISBE itself. In other words, under Illinois law, state funding ‘follows’ the student; the state pays that money to the school in which the student has enrolled. Thus, the money received by PCCS from the state does not and never did belong to, and was never allocated or given to, Woodland or Fremont, nor has Woodland or Fremont ever paid any amounts to PCCS. Simply put, neither Woodland nor Fremont provides financial support to PCCS – neither has ever contributed a dime to PCCS.
Outreach and Diversity and At Risk Students
In each of its re-chartering decisions, the ISBE and SCSC asked the school to increase efforts at attracting a more at-risk and educationally disadvantaged student body. PCCS has consistently made such efforts, developing an annual outreach program since 2004. The school has submitted those plans to ISBE and later SCSC on an annual basis. Those chartering authorities have approved every one of those plans. As a condition of the 2014 charter renewal, PCCS developed an even more robust outreach plan. After vetting that plan, the SCSC once again approved the school’s outreach program.
To a great extent, those efforts have met with success. The state defines an at risk student as “[a] pupil who, because of physical, emotional, socioeconomic, or cultural factors, is less likely to succeed in a conventional educational environment.” The population of at risk students at PCCS has grown from 1.4% in 2009 to 24.75% of the student body in the 2014-15 school year.
Woodland contends, however, that this dramatic increase is not enough, and that the student body of PCCS should mirror that of Woodland. But the current charter agreement, issued after Woodland made that very argument to the SCSC, does not contain any such requirement, nor has it been part of any of the prior charter agreements. Nevertheless, as shown above, PCCS has increased its percentage of at risk students, and in fact has a significantly higher percentage of students with disabilities than does Woodland or Fremont. Further, the minority student population at PCCS has increased by 26% since the initial charter and 12% from the most recent prior charter in 2009.
Several factors inhibit further growth in these populations. First, unlike non-charter public schools, the state mandates a maximum number of students that a charter school can serve. The current PCCS charter agreement caps enrollment at 432 students. Second, the state requires that when there are more applicants than seats available, PCCS hold an open, non-discriminatory lottery to fill its open seats – a lottery open to all students in the Woodland and Fremont districts. By law, PCCS cannot ‘weight’ that lottery using factors that might increase the odds for at risk or minority students. In fact, PCCS is prohibited by law from even obtaining any demographic information whatsoever for the lottery, apart from the student’s name, address and grade level. And when PCCS has requested approval to weight the lottery, the ISBE has said that legislation currently does not allow for a weighted lottery.
Another factor: PCCS has on average only 46 openings each year, just over 10% of the maximum enrollment. For the most part those openings are available for entering kindergarten students; the balance is filled by upper grade students. As required by state law, however, siblings of currently enrolled students automatically fill many of those openings. In the 2014-15 school year, for example, 27 siblings enrolled, which left only 19 openings available to non-sibling students. That is about 5% of the total enrollment at PCCS. As a result, even if at risk students won all of the openings in a given lottery, a highly improbable statistical anomaly, the percentage of such students drawn from the lottery could only increase by about 5% each year.
Prairie Crossing Charter School and the Prairie Crossing Neighborhood
Some have asked whether PCCS serves only the Prairie Crossing neighborhood. The answer is no. Although the name of the school is Prairie Crossing Charter School, it is not a neighborhood school exclusively for, and has no affiliation with, the Prairie Crossing subdivision in Grayslake apart from its location. In fact, currently 258 families send students to PCCS; of those, 47 families, about 18%, reside in the subdivision. No one in the Prairie Crossing neighborhood receives preferential treatment in the lottery; as noted above, that would be a violation of state law. PCCS is a public school open to all students within its feeder districts, Woodland and Fremont. All are welcome to enter the lottery.
II. Charter Renewal
After PCCS filed its application for re-chartering in 2013, the SCSC held extensive public hearings, including one at PCCS in which representatives of Woodland and Fremont made presentations, and received written submissions both in favor of and opposed to PCCS’s application. The SCSC also held another public meeting in Chicago, at which it heard from all concerned parties, including Woodland and Fremont. The SCSC then had a robust and thorough discussion of the merits of the PCCS application, considered all issues raised by all parties, and all of the evidence introduced, including that submitted by parties who opposed renewal, and in 2014 voted to renew the School’s charter for another five years. The SCSC followed proper procedures in its deliberations.
One misconception regarding that re-chartering involves the vote, with the suggestion that certain members of the chartering authority opposed any form of renewal. In fact, all nine members of the authority voted in favor of renewal; the disagreements lay simply in the percentage of funding allowed to PCCS. Initially, the SCSC, by a 4 to 5 vote, declined to renew at 95% of the state PCTS rate. The SCSC then voted on a motion to fund at 100% of PCTC. On that motion, all five members who voted no on the first motion voted yes (assuring approval), and the four who voted yes on the first motion then voted no on the second. Thus, every member of the authority voted in favor of renewal, with no one voting to deny re-chartering PCCS. The sole disagreement was the funding percentage. On July 24, 2015, the ISBE certified that decision to renew.
III. The Current Litigation
Under Illinois law, a party aggrieved by the decision of an administrative body, such as the SCSC and ISBE here, has a right to appeal the administrative decision. That right is circumscribed, however, and any appeal must strictly follow the procedures set out in the Illinois Administrative Review Law (“ARL”). The ARL requires that a party seeking to challenge an administrative final decision must file its appeal within 35 days after that final decision. The failure to do so means that the courts do not have jurisdiction to entertain the appeal.
In this case, Woodland sought to appeal the decision to approve PCCS’s re-charter application. But Woodland filed its appeal before the ISBE certified the SCSC decision to renew the charter. That certification, issued on July 24, 2015, represents the administrative agency’s final decision, and it is from that date that the ARL’s filing period began to run. Because Woodland filed its appeal in May, shortly after the SCSC voted to renew, its appeal did not comply with the strict requirements of the ARL. As a result, the court had no power to determine Woodland’s appeal, and the case should be dismissed without the right to refile. In other words, the decision to renew PCCS’s charter is final and no longer subject to any sort of appeal. A motion to that effect is before the court now.
PCCS will appeal any decision to the contrary, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider Woodland’s challenge. And, should it be necessary, PCCS will also appeal the decision to reverse the SCSC and ISBE grant of PCCS’s charter renewal application, arguing that the court applied the wrong standard of review to the SCSC deliberations. To explain: Illinois law (as is true of federal law and the law of every other state) gives great deference to administrative bodies. They do so because those bodies have greater experience and expertise in the matters that they review and decide, much more so than the courts, which do not delve into these areas on a daily basis as does the administrative agency. The Administrative Review Law, then, tells judges that they should defer to the decisions of an agency unless that decision is “clearly erroneous.” In essence, that means that to reverse a final administrative decision the court must find that agency had no basis to decide as it did. It does not matter under the ARL that the judge might have decided differently than the agency; it means that unless the agency’s decision is wholly unsupportable, the court should sustain it against an appeal.
In the case of the PCCS application, as discussed above, the SCSC held numerous and lengthy open hearings, allowing all parties to have their say. The SCSC reviewed the PCCS application, found that the school had met all criteria under the law for re-chartering, and granted that application. Nothing in the record before the SCSC or the ISBE even suggests that it should have held otherwise. As a result, the court was obligated to defer to that decision. The court’s failure to do was plainly in error, and there is a very good likelihood that, if the lower court does not dismiss the case for the reasons discussed above, the Illinois Court of Appeal will reverse the court’s decision and uphold the re-chartering of the PCCS.
HONORS AND AWARDS
PCCS has received the following awards and honors since its inception in 1999:
- 2014 — Named one of the top 50 School Districts in Illinois (#29).
- 2013 — USDOE National Blue Ribbon Schools Award.
- 2012 — USDOE National Green Ribbon Schools Award.
- 2012 — ISBE Academic Excellence Award.
- 2011 — ISBE Academic Excellence Award.
- 2010 — ISBE Academic Excellence Award.
- 2009 — ISBE Academic Excellence Award.
- 2009 — Featured in Chicago Magazine as one of the best charter schools in the area.
- 2008 — Awarded LEED™ Gold by USGBC (1st constructed school building in Illinois to do so).
- 2007 — National Charter School of the Year by The Center for Education Reform.
- 2006 — BP most valuable resources by for going beyond in math and science and environmental leadership.
- 2006 — Illinois Network of Charter Schools “Charter Up!” award for our innovative Farm to Table program.
- 2005 — ISBE Academic Excellence Award.
- 2004 — ISBE Academic Excellence Award.
Is PCCS a public school? What is the tuition?
Yes. We are a Free Public School that provides a personalized Kindergarten through 8th Grade education for students that reside in the Woodland (50) and Fremont (79) Districts.
Does my child have to test in?
No. There are no entrance exams.
Isn’t that a school just for Prairie Crossing Residents?
No, Regardless of what the real estate folks tell you! The real answer is when we have more applications than we have available seats we hold a lottery and all interested in attending PCCS, including Prairie Crossing residents, have to apply for the lottery drawing just like every other child who resides in the Fremont and Woodland districts.
I am thinking about registering my student for the lottery, who do I contact to get information about the school and possibly take a tour?
Great Question! Our Executive Assistant will be happy to help you get started. We do hold open houses throughout the year and we give individual tours for those offered a open seat and are looking to find out more about our award-winning education.
Can’t everyone come to PCCS?
Unfortunately, no. Our Charter contract with the State only allows for a maximum capacity of 432 total students. Currently, PCCS limits our Kindergarten classroom size to 22 students per class. In 1st through 8th grade we have found that maintaining a classroom size of 24 students per class provides a more intimate and personalized experience for the students. Under this model we have a total of 428 seats from Kindergarten to 8th grade.
Do you have busing?
Not yet. Although PCCS is a public school, we do not qualify for the appropriations of busing funding from the State like traditional public schools do. Instead, we have had good success with the carpool system we currently use. We help families partner with other neighbors to work out carpool arrangements that fit their individual needs. We do guarantee that if a student cannot find transportation to our school, the school will provide transportation so that the child may attend our school.
Do you “siphon” money from the neighboring school districts?
No. In Illinois, the money the State provides for public education follows the child. Charter Schools are not eligible to receive any property tax funding that other public schools are able to. Therefore, the State formulates a Per Capita Tuition Cost equal to that of our surrounding districts and reimburses PCCS 100% of that rate for the students that attend our school. On a balance spreadsheet it looks like charter schools receive more per student from the State than non chartered public schools but that is because those that claim we “siphon their money” usually forget to include the property tax funding they receive. Sometimes they forget to also recognize that it is not “their money”- it’s the State’s and it follows the child to the school they attend. In reality, PCCS receives less funding per child that attends our school than if that same child was enrolled in our surrounding district schools.
What is the school’s position on PARCC and standardized testing?
We will continue to teach our students using the instructional practices that have resulted in academic excellence at PCCS for a number of years. The PARCC will help identify areas to improve our teaching, but we will not focus undue effort on teaching to this or any other test. Our student body’s academic achievement over the years speaks for itself and while all assessments are reviewed for their value to improve student performance, they do not solely guide our daily practice. At PCCS, any standardized test is just one snapshot into the academic life of a student. Teachers use a variety of formative and summative evaluations in order to achieve a more robust academic picture of the individual student. For PCCS’ position on standardized tests please click here.
How do you decide on placing children in looping classes or multi-age classes?
Several factors are taken in account by the teachers as they create class lists for the next year. Some of these include the composition of the new classroom, the personal strengths and needs of the student, and parental preference. All of these factors are considered to make the best placement for the child.
What are and Why do you do CP and SLP projects?
Service learning connects classroom and/or academic learning in a way that helps meet community needs. In service learning, students apply a broad range of skills and knowledge from different subjects to a problem or project that will help the community. It involves self-reflection and analysis – this reflection is essential to service learning. As we strive to create natural leaders at PCCS, all grades participate in Service Learning Projects.
In 7th and 8th grade these projects elevate to a Culminating Project where the students spend 18 months on a specific need of a community and work to resolve on a number of real issues. The results have ranged from changing legislation on a statewide scale, helping local residents, and providing alternate forms of energy for the school and in their community.
What books are read at each grade? Can you provide me with a book list?
Books and other texts at a variety of levels and complexity are read at each grade level. A book list can be obtained by contacting your classroom teacher. Book aren’t our only resources, besides relying on the natural surroundings outside, PCCS continues to introduce new innovative resources in the classroom in order to provide a unique learning experience for all students.
What curriculum do you use? Where can I find it on your website?
A list of curriculum used at each grade level can be found in the grade level curriculum guides on the curriculum page of the website. The Deans also can help answer any questions you may have in regards to the curriculum. They can be reached by contacting us.
How do you use the environment to teach math?
Math, Science, History, Arts , Music… in fact all of the disciplines can be found in the natural environment all the time. For Math, it may be the angle of the sun during cold and warm seasons, how a shadow reflects and in what direction and why, how much rain falls and then runs off of an impermeable surface compared to a permeable surface and/or the depth of soil that may be needed for a successful garden plot. All of these represent equations with answers and they all tie into our natural surroundings. The possibilities are endless and being outdoors provides an ever increasing palette for inquiry and wonder. When appropriate, we use the environment to teach concepts that can be readily observed and explored.
Do you have pull out classes?
If students qualify for tutoring in the area of reading or math, they may be pulled out of the classroom at appropriate times. Additionally, students who qualify for special education and related services may be pulled from the classroom as per their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Do you have a gifted program?
There is not a specific program for gifted. Our teachers differentiate the curriculum to make sure the students are challenged at the appropriate level. As a result 85% of our graduates enter high school in Honors or AP classes.
Can my student with special needs attend?
Yes. With a full complementary range of services our team supports students with varying needs including students deemed eligible for special education and related services. Contact our Director of Special Education and Student Services for more information
Charter School Questions .
Why is your school day and school year longer than other public schools?
We have a longer school day and longer school year, with 45 minutes more instruction a day and two weeks more instruction a year. Not only is this mandated by Charter School law in Illinois, it also helps our students excel further than our surrounding districts.