District Overwhelmed by Charter School Applications

Asking universities for help reviewing submissions.

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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.

A letter sent to universities says that “budgetary constraints require the District to seek application reviewers who are willing to give of their expertise on a volunteer basis.”

With only six people, the District’s Charter School Office is severely understaffed.

The letter to the universities said that each team would combine internal and external reviewers and that no person would be asked to evaluate more than three applications.

The letter also asked for people who had “experience teaching or leading in public schools, but charter school experience is not required. Reviewers should have a working knowledge of the programming and staffing needs of a successful school. Currently, there is a particular need for reviewers with expertise in Special Education and [English Language Learner] programming, but all reviewers who meet the criteria above are welcome.”

Meanwhile, school choice advocates rallied Tuesday, pressuring the SRC to approve more charters, Newsworks reports.

A few hundred people listened to impassioned testimony from parents of students at Mastery, KIPP, Freire, and Boys Latin, and a student from Esperanza Academy.

“Your address should not determine whether you can get a great education,” said Elaine Wells, parent of two students at Boys Latin. “That is insanity.”

Some education advocates fear the measure could lead to unfettered charter expansion, which they say could doom a district that’s already standing on tenuous fiscal ground. The district estimates that it incurs $5,000 in stranded costs — dollars some describe as “lost to education” — for every child who migrates from one of its schools to a charter.

The debate continues.