STATE HOUSE Speaker Mike Turzai said yesterday he expects a number of new charter schools to be approved in Philadelphia.
Speaking outside a roundtable discussion he hosted for charter parents, the representative said 27 of the 40 applications for new schools are from charter operators who are outperforming the average district-run school, according to the state's School Performance Profile. He cited a strong demand for more charters, with as many as 40,000 kids on waiting lists in Philly.
The School Reform Commission is expected to vote on the applications next month.
"We ourselves saw folks that were already running schools that were applying, and they're already doing a better job than the traditional public schools are doing, and we are very hopeful that when the final decisions get made that a significant number of the charter applicants are approved," Turzai, R-Allegheny, said at Mastery Shoemaker School in West Philadelphia.
He cited Mastery, in particular, for outperforming many district schools "for less of a cost."
Charter costs have been a big issue for the cash-strapped district, with nearly one-third of its total budget now going to the independently run schools, which enroll more than 61,000 students in 84 schools.
"In the end, charter schools have been getting better results for less money, and I think that's got to be a part of moving forward where you want to put your focus," Turzai said, though he acknowledged that certain costs to the district must be addressed.
The powerful lawmaker met earlier in the day with Superintendent William Hite and School Reform Commission chairman Bill Green to convey that message. He noted that state legislators who approved a Philadelphia cigarette tax for schools want to see more high-quality options.
Green declined to comment on the meeting with Turzai, but said the SRC cannot ignore the impact of more charters on the district's already-skintight budget.
"You can't divorce charters and economics," he said. "Bill Hite has always been agnostic between the as long as it's revenue-neutral, and it's not."
The SRC accepted new charter applications for the first time since 2008 as a condition of the cigarette tax approval. Denied applicants will be able to appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board.
As for the roundtable, dozens of parents praised schools such as Mastery, KIPP, and MaST for offering a superior education to district-run schools. Vernestine Johnson, whose grandson is an eighth-grader at Mastery Shoemaker, said the school has brought out the best in him.
"The teachers take a lot of time," she said. "I mean, I feel like they're the extra parent - that they're here parenting my child just as well."