Mike Turzai “Very Disappointed” Philadelphia SRC Only Approved 5 New Charters
Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai says he is “very disappointed” that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted Wednesday night to approve only five of 39 new charter school proposals.
The Allegheny County Republican made clear by Thursday morning that the SRC’s vote could have consequences: He says it “makes it tougher” to have a discussion about reinstating the charter reimbursement line item in the state budget.
The phrase “charter reimbursement line item” might sound wonky, but it represents a potentially huge amount of money for the Philadelphia School District. Former Gov. Tom Corbett eliminated the line item in 2011, cutting more than $100 million annually from the city’s schools.
Public school advocates and education reformers alike have urged GOP leaders in Harrisburg to put the line item back into the budget. Many see it as the most feasible way to persuade Republican and rural lawmakers to provide more money to Philadelphia’s schools.
Turzai originally told us the SRC’s vote “negates” the conversation on reinstating the line item.
“If they’re not going to provide the charter schools for the parents and grandparents that want them,” Turzai said, “I think that negates the discussion.”
Jay Ostrich, a spokesman for Turzai, later walked back his statement, saying the speaker “misspoke” and meant that the SRC’s vote makes the conversation more difficult.
Turzai says he does not have a specific number of charter schools that he would like to have seen approved. But he says that 27 of the 39 proposed charters would have been managed by providers that have better academic track records than the average traditional district school. He says 16 have performed better than the average statewide school.
“I think that tells you very much about the overall quality of the applicants,” he said.
Turzai rejects the argument made by public school advocates that the school district cannot afford additional charters. The district estimates that it loses $7,000 annually for every student who moves to a charter school.
“That’s just about management of existing resources. Their budget [is] $3 billion a year. … State tax provides $1.45 billion of that,” he said. “In, fact, it’s a disingenuous argument. There was pressure put on by the governor and by the unions to not educate children in Philadelphia in charter schools who wanted that opportunity. Their parents and grandparents wanted that opportunity, and they were denied that.”
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