North Philadelphia’s Wakisha Charter School is closing for good today, a rare shuttering of the school in the middle of the year. The school served sixth through eighth grades.
The Notebook reports that the Philadelphia School District has received 46 applications to create new charter schools in the city — with days left before the November 15th deadline to submit. (UPDATE: A school district spokesman says the actual number was 43.)
The number of submissions may reflect pent-up demand: The School Reform Commission hadn’t considered any new charter applications since 2007. Re-opening the process was a condition the Pennsylvania Legislature placed on its permission for the city to levy a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes to help pay for education. Now, however, the SRC is overwhelmed by all the applications.
Philadelphians exhaled last week when the Pennsylvania House approved a $2-a-pack cigarette tax increase in the city, a move expected to generate up to $170 million. Without that extra money, the district’s schools faced drastic cuts in October. No one was really happy about it. When it looked as if the bill would pass this summer, Newsworks’ Dave Davies wrote the legislative victory was “spectacularly depressing” — but at least it’s a solution for this school year.
It’s not like House Republicans suddenly changed their mind on a cigarette tax that was declared dead in late June and delayed again this July for nothing. A report in the Inquirer this summer detailed the reason many House GOP members flipped: An amendment in the cigarette tax bill allows charter school applicants rejected or ignored by the School Reform Commission a second chance with the state Charter Appeals Board. Previously, they had no avenue to appeal. (See the final version of HB 1177 below; it contains both the cigarette tax language and the charter appeal process.)
Dale Mezzacappa, a reporter at The Notebook, reports today that charter schools in Philadelphia get $100 million more for special education than they spend.
The Notebook did the analysis of the $100 million gap using statewide calculations from Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers (PDF). In all of Pennsylvania, charter schools take in $350 million for special education and spend just $156 million. Half of the state’s charter schools are in Philadelphia.
After a series of public meetings around the commonwealth, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has called for an overhaul of the state’s charter school system. In addition to adding an independent charter oversight board, DePasquale called for the restoration of charter funds to school districts.
The Inquirer’s Martha Woodall reports DePasquale said “several participants in the public meetings compared the current situation to the wild, wild west.”
My family and I moved out of Philadelphia last year. We did so reluctantly, and with a crippling heaping of guilt.
It wasn’t the crime, or the taxes, or the grit. No, we left for the same reason that untold thousands have decamped for the suburbs before us: the crummy state of the city’s public schools, a chronic and seemingly immutable fact of life in Philadelphia.
The failings go way beyond the typical struggles of a big urban district. In December, the latest national assessment found that just 14 percent of Philadelphia fourth-graders were proficient or better at reading, compared to 26 percent in other big cities and 34 percent nationally. Of the 25 largest U.S. cities, Philadelphia ranks 22nd in college degree attainment. Graduates of the School District of Philadelphia are particularly bad off; only about 10 percent of district alums go on to get degrees.
Still, it wasn’t the statistics that drove us away. It was the deflating sense that there was no clear and affordable path for our two young kids to get the education they need—particularly our son, who has some special needs. Despite our love for the city, our belief that Philadelphia is genuinely on the rise, and endless conversations in which we tried to rationalize staying, my wife and I decided we had to leave. The day the moving van arrived, I didn’t feel angry so much as I felt ashamed. That embarrassment is, I think, not entirely uncommon. And it’s a sign that the failings of the city’s schools are damaging Philadelphia even more than in the past.