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State superintendent recommends move that would see Quest Charter Academy close at the end of this school year

Quest Charter Academy will close at the end of the 2023-24 school year, if the Illinois State Board of Education concurs with the recommendation of State Superintendent Tony Sanders next Wednesday.

Sanders and his staff recommend the rejection of Quest's appeal of the Peoria Public Schools District 150 board's January decision not to renew the school's charter.

"The incontrovertible evidence presented in this appeal shows that Quest has failed to meet both statutory requirements and requirements set forth in its charter agreement," Sanders and his staff wrote in a memo to the state board.

A memo from Sanders' office said Quest is out of compliance with a law requiring that at least 75% of instructors hold teaching licenses. He said the school also missed the academic performance goals set out in its charter agreement.

Sanders' recommendation contrasts with that of independent hearing officer Elizabeth Wagman. She noted the district previously renewed the charter in 2015 and 2019, and extended it in 2021, despite many of the same issues existing back then.

"While there was evidence of contractual and statutory violations and contradicting statements regarding students’ best interest, it seems arbitrary and capricious to non-renew the only charter school in Peoria," Wagman wrote.

But Sanders' staff disagree with that assessment. They note that Quest's compliance issues are enough to justify non-renewal of the charter without considering if it's in the best interests of the students, but the staff said Quest's 35% since the 2018-19 school year is telling.

"This significant enrollment decline, especially in its disproportionality to the district’s consistent enrollment, suggests that the charter school is no longer meeting the needs of District 150 students," the staff memo read.

C. Frazier Satterly, an attorney retained by Peoria Public Schools, cites seven different reasons for the school board's decision to not renew the charter in a response to the hearing officer recommendation. Those include the declining enrollment and teacher certification issues, as well as the charter school's low teacher retention, student transportation issues, and a lack of documentation for student discipline.

Quest Charter Academy was founded in 2010. It operates two schools serving about 400 students in grades 5-12 in Peoria.

If the charter non-renewal stands, Peoria Public Schools is required to place Quest students in higher-performing district schools for the 2024-25 school year.

The State Board of Education meets at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at 100 N. First Street in Springfield. Quest Charter Academy parents, students, and employees will rally in front of the ISBE office on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m., followed by a press conference.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.