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Williams stands by charter-reform bill in meeting with parents

Public-school advocates rallied outside the state senator's SW Phila. office to protest his support of Senate Bill 1085.

STATE SEN. Anthony H. Williams reiterated his support for controversial legislation that would remove caps for charter-school enrollment yesterday in a private meeting with parents.

Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat, is the lone Democratic co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1085, which could come up for a full Senate vote in the next month. Critics say the bill, introduced by Lancaster County Republican Lloyd Smucker, would financially handcuff school districts by exponentially increasing the amount they pay to charter operators.

"We didn't get to this point because of charters," Williams said of the School District of Philadelphia after meeting with parents from the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools. While Williams talked with the small group for about an hour in his Southwest Philly office, about a dozen PCAPS members protested outside the office in bone-chilling temperatures.

After the meeting, he insisted that the bill is "being formulated, as we speak, with input from the district."

In addition to removing caps for charter enrollment, the proposal also would increase transparency for the independently run schools, allow charters to be renewed for up to 10 years from the current five, and give universities and colleges the authority to form charters without approval from a school board.

Williams said that many of the bill's opponents are anti-charter, but that he would work to address the district's concerns. He characterized the meeting with parents as a "fair exchange."

Tara Tillman, parent of a child at McDaniel Elementary School in South Philly, said: "For me, it was just usual politician talk. You just have to tell us certain things to keep us . . . on a soft note."