ELECTED OFFICIALS and education reformers yesterday voiced frustration with the School Reform Commission's decision to approve five of 39 charter applications.
The commission voted during a raucous meeting Wednesday to grant charters to Independence, MaST Community, KIPP, Mastery and Freire. The approved applicants are the first stand-alone charters granted in the city since 2007 and will provide an additional 2,684 seats by 2019.
Despite the measured approach, those on both sides of the issue were unhappy with the outcome.
"It was plainly evident that there were an abundant number of charter-school applicants that were clearly well-qualified," House Speaker Mike Turzai said. "I don't even think it's open to dispute. By any standard measure, that number far exceeds five."
Turzai, who had advocated for more charters, said that at least 27 of the 39 applications deserved approval. He urged the denied applicants to appeal to the state.
"I just think that the commission bowed to the pressures of the governor, who wanted zero charters approved, and to those people that just don't want any charters. It's a missed opportunity," he said.
The five-member panel said it applied the charter law and evaluated the proposals on merit, but did not discuss the applications before voting, leading to questions about the rationale.
Gov. Wolf released a statement late Wednesday saying that he "continues to believe that the district's financial situation cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools." He said he remains committed to providing more education funding to schools across the state.
The district said yesterday that the newly approved charters would cost an additional $13 million over the next five years, but nothing next fiscal year because the schools will not open until September 2016. The cost is a relatively paltry sum compared to the more than $700 million for charters in this year's budget.
"I do not believe it will negatively impact district finances or district-run schools," said Matt Stanski, the district's chief financial officer. "Obviously, we know that we have a budget gap we're going to try and fill [this year]. We're hoping those problems will get solved through additional revenue."
The district is in the process of closing five underperforming charters and will seek to close more to help offset expected charter growth.
More than 62,000 students are enrolled in 84 charters in the city, not including cyber charters. Although the district had not granted any stand-alone charters since 2007, it had converted 20 district-run schools to Renaissance charters and enabled the expansion of several existing charters.
The SRC granted the five charters for three years instead of the usual five years, and required lower enrollment. By 2019, the schools would be able to enroll up to 2,684 students - fewer than half of the proposed 6,541.
Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said it wasn't clear why the SRC favored the five applications but denied others from the same operators.
"From our perspective, it was a missed opportunity to help more families who need better schools now," Gleason said.
He said PSP's offer of $25 million to the district for new charters still stands, but he questioned whether the newly approved charters would require additional funds. He also said limiting the charters to three years could make it hard for schools to get financing.
"It definitely will be more difficult for them," he said.