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Seven new Phila. charter schools approved

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission today approved seven new charter schools - with some strings attached.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission today approved seven new charter schools - with some strings attached.

The schools won't open until 2009, and officials said their approval is tied to the cash-strapped district's ability to come up with funding for them next year.

Those approved for a three-year charter are: Arise Academy Charter High School, Eastern University Charter School, Franklin Towne Charter School, KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School, Philadelphia Polytechnic Charter School, Sankofi Freedom Academy Charter School, and Tacony Academy Charter School.

The commission also denied eight schools. They are: Camelot Charter, Cristina Elena Guzman Charter, Pathways in Education Charter, Philadelphia Charter for Business and Finance, Philadelphia Community Charter, RICH Charter, Leon H. Sullivan Opportunities Charter, and Woodward Haynes Academy of Sciences Charter.

Sandra Dungee Glenn, commission chair, said the seven best met the district's "strategic objectives."

Last week, the Office of Charter Schools asked the commission to deny all 15 applications on the table. A budget crisis, new chief executive, and explosive growth in charters all make this a tough time to approve new charters, said Cathy Balsley, executive director.

But Dungee Glenn said the approvals represented the best balance between the district's financial realities and advancing reform for the city's schoolchildren.

James Gallagher, another commission member, put it more bluntly:

"When there's no money in the cookie jar, you can't buy any cookies," Gallagher said. "It's the best we can do under the conditions we're facing now."

Commission members said they will still consider the charter school office's recommendation to have current charter operators and applicants apply to run 70 district schools that have repeatedly missed state standards and must be restructured.

The commission was unanimous in its charter decisions. Immediately after the 5-0 vote, representatives of the successful schools slipped into a hallway to make jubilant calls.

"We have a charter!" Jill Welsh-Davis, a board member of the Arise Academy Charter, shouted excitedly into her phone.

As of the night before the meeting, Welsh-Davis thought the school, which will serve 200 foster children, was sunk.

"I think the fact that they had the courage to stand up and do this today is quite a thing," Welsh-Davis said of the commission.

Vivian Nix-Early, board member at Eastern University Charter School, an early college high school, said she was relieved that the school will likely not lose grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"We all know what the fiscal situation of the district is," Nix-Early said. "The important thing is we have that piece of paper in hand."

Some did lament the loss of so much time. The commission deferred 11 charters last year, meaning some schools have been waiting since 2006 to hear their fate, and now must hold off opening for another school year.

Lamont Brown, who will head the approvedKIPP West Philadelphia school, urged the commission to allow them to open this fall. "We are wanted," Brown said. "We are ready now."

Gallagher urged the approved charters to take matters into their own hands by banging on state legislators' doors to seek help to open this school year.

"I would get in your car tomorrow," he told the charter operators. "If I can help you in any way, I will."

Timothy Daniels, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools, was frustrated by the commission's decision. In every other district in the state, a school board may not use money as a reason to deny a charter, but Philadelphia's school takeover law suspends that provision.

"There's no equal protection," Daniels said.