Charter School Showdown Is Today

Amid fierce debate, SRC will decide if new charters will get approval.

empty classroom

It’s a big day for Philadelphia schools. Late this afternoon, the School Reform Commission will decide whether  it will approve any of 39 applications to start new charter schools in the city.

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai wants the SRC to say yes. So does the Philadelphia School Partnership, which has offered to throw $25 million into the pot to fund the charters.  But most of the candidates for mayor say no.

The reason for the dispute? Worries that already-struggling Philadelphia public schools will suffer if more of the district’s budget is shifted to supporting charters. But charter advocates offer a counter-case: Their schools will provide a better education to Philadelphia students.

KYW Radio explains why we’re here:

The SRC must consider new charters under provisions that Republican state lawmakers tacked on to a bill allowing the city to collect an extra two dollars a pack on cigarettes, to help close a large budget deficit last year.

The tax was expected to raise $49 million, but the district stands to lose as much as $100 million if the new charter school applications are approved, which is why a number of school groups are demanding that no charters get approved.

The Notebook explains why PSP’s $25 million gift is viewed skeptically by public ed advocates:

The Philadelphia School Partnership, which falls squarely in the ed-reform camp, offered $25 million to help defray the added costs of approving the applicants who now run schools given high marks by the state’s School Performance Profile.

The District countered that those “stranded costs” over six years could reach a half-billion dollars, saying that each new charter seat would cost $7,000 a year – diminishing over time only through staff layoffs and, eventually, school closures.

The District faces an $80 million shortfall in order to provide its students next year with the same bare-bones, “inadequate” resources as this year.

PSP disputes the District’s stranded-cost figure. presents the case for approving at least some of the charter applications:

“If the district continues to expand high-performing charter schools while closing the low-performers, the aggregate performance of the district will sharply increase and the overall cost of charters to the district will remain the same,” PennCAN Director Jonathan Cetel wrote in an email. “That’s a win-win.”

Among the applicants waiting on Wednesday’s decision are three of the highest performing charter schools in the city: String Theory Charter School offers students a diverse curriculum including music, dance, creative writing, visual arts, science and technology and communication arts; Mastery Charter Schools operates six schools with state performance scores exceeding 70 (the average district score is 56.8); and KIPP Philadelphia Charter Schools operates four schools including KIPP West Philadelphia Prep, which has a 74.7 SPP score.

The approval of charters does not have the support of Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates, the Inquirer reports:

Five of six Democratic mayoral candidates have called for the School Reform Commission to reject 39 charter-school applications to be considered on Wednesday.

Only State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, long a charter-school champion, voiced no opposition to the vote.

Check out the Citified blog for more about the mayoral candidates’ views on the topic.

The SRC meets at 3:30 today in a special meeting on the charter applications.