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Philly school board unanimously rejects five new charter schools

District officials cited flaws in all the proposals, which would have created more than 4,000 openings in new charters, and transferred millions from the district to the independently-run schools.

The School District of Philadelphia headquarters at 440 North Broad Street.
The School District of Philadelphia headquarters at 440 North Broad Street.Read moreFILE PHOTO

The Philadelphia school board unanimously denied five new charter schools Thursday night, continuing its streak of rejecting proposals that would expand the city’s sizable charter sector.

District officials cited flaws in all the proposals, which would have created more than 4,000 openings in new charters, and transferred millions of dollars from the district to the independently run schools.

“We are focused on high-quality education for all students across the city,” board member Mallory Fix Lopez said after the meeting. “When you have applications that just have glaring holes in them, it just doesn’t seem to match high standards” that the board expects, she said.

Long contentious in the education world, charter schools have been the subject of heightened political debate lately in Pennsylvania, with Gov. Tom Wolf backing efforts to overhaul the state’s charter law.

School districts, which pay charters based on enrollment, have said rising costs from an inequitable funding system are squeezing budgets and driving up local property taxes. Charter advocates, meanwhile, say the governor’s plan would mean cuts for their students.

» READ MORE: Cyber charter enrollments are surging. School districts are picking up the tab.

In Philadelphia, where one-third of the district’s 200,000 public school students attend charters, the publicly funded but privately run schools often report more applicants than available seats. Yet some of the proposals that came before the board Thursday demonstrated insufficient parental demand, according to district evaluators.

In the case of Pride Academy Charter School — a proposed K-5 that would open in West Oak Lane — “it appeared there was more zeal heard tonight than was set forth in the application itself,” said Reginald Streater, one of three new board members sworn in last month.

District evaluators noted the proposal included an enrollment policy that runs afoul of state law.

Other schools that drew support during public comment Thursday included Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys, a K-12 proposed for West Mount Airy.

One supporter, Chantay Love, said that while charters may be divisive, the city needs a school “focused around the issues and circumstances of our young boys.”

Others who spoke in favor of some of the applications said the charters would offer more leaders and teachers of color.

Still, board members hesitated: The application for the boys’ charter, for instance, contained numerous problems with its academic and financial plans, according to the district’s charter office.

“While I do believe there is really an advantage for our boys in having separate schooling at points — especially Black boys — in this situation it does not contain what we need,” said board member Julia Danzy.

The school board declined to approve any new charters last year, deeming plans for a performing-arts school in West Philadelphia and a career-themed school in North Philadelphia inadequate.

In fact, the school board has never approved any new charters — the last two charters to open, Deep Roots and Hebrew Public, were OKd by the School Reform Commission and opened in 2018 and 2019. (MaST III also opened in 2019 but is run by a charter provider with other schools and a track record in Philadelphia.)

» READ MORE: As the Philly School District struggles to reopen, some city charters have brought kids back. But they haven’t rushed it.

Critics told the nine-member board Thursday the city didn’t need — and couldn’t afford — approving more charters.

“Charter schools are a business built on stripping money from disadvantaged public school students,” said Viktor Kagan, who graduated from Central High School last year.

During his 13 years in the district, Kagan said, his parents had repeatedly entered him and his siblings into charter lotteries — and never won seats. Meanwhile, the schools he attended struggled for adequate resources, he said.

Board members offered little comment as they voted to deny the charters, including two proposed by ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, which already manages five charters in the city. Two of those charters — Olney Charter High School and John B. Stetson Charter School — were non-renewed by the district in 2019 due to academic and operational problems; Aspira has appealed to a state board and also sued the School District.

» READ MORE: In charter-renewal fight, Philadelphia School District ‘paying for both sides’

It has since applied for two new charters that were rejected by the board Thursday — the ASPIRA Bilingual Business, Finance and Technology Charter High School in Olney and the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Preparatory Charter School in Hunting Park. The district’s charter office cited problems with both, including curricula that did not meet Pennsylvania academic standards.

It also flagged issues with Empowerment Charter School, a K-5 pitched for Logan, which did not present an adequate financial or academic proposal, the charter office said.