Latinos Press Education Hot Button

State political leaders were among hundreds of people who packed the Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation conference in Rosemont on Thursday.
The caucus takes on issues facing the ever-expanding Latino community. This year, the hot-button issue was education reform and charter schools. 
Supporters of education reform said other issues like crime and economic troubles are closely connected to keeping kids in school. State law allows for the creation of charter schools, which try to be innovative to attract students. 
"Good charter schools provide a good opportunity for students. But I don't think we can talk about charter schools without talking about the broader need for education reform in the state of Illinois," said Sylvia Puente, director of the Center for Metropolitan Chicago Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame.
Some at the conference argued for more charter schools downstate, which currently only has nine. 
"There's a large number of dropouts in the state, and we can use those (charter) schools to encourage them to re-enter school and hopefully obtain their high school diploma," said Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Illinois Board of Education.
Others argue that charter schools aren't living up to their hype. 
The Chicago Teacher's Union opposes more charter schools. They say charter schools don't perform at the same rate as public schools, they lack accountability, and existing charters that were supposed to share their innovative ideas with public schools never did so.
The General Assembly would have to approve any new charter schools in the state, which means the lobbyists on both sides should be out in force when the Legislature reconvenes in the spring.
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