FOUR CANDIDATES in the mayor's race are urging the School Reform Commission to just say no to new charter schools.

Democratic hopefuls James Kenney, Lynne Abraham, Nelson Diaz and Doug Oliver all signed on to a letter yesterday from the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools calling for the SRC to reject all 39 applications ahead of its vote today on the applications. The only Democratic candidates for mayor who haven't endorsed the letter are state Sen. Anthony Williams, a vocal charter supporter, T. Milton Street and the Rev. Keith Goodman.

The letter cites the financial impact new charters would have on existing schools.

"Even one new charter is one additional cost that the district has no real plan or the budget to cover," states the letter, also signed by Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. and several at-large Council candidates.

The letter from PCAPS, a pro-union group, also calls for the SRC to eschew a $25 million offer from the Philadelphia School Partnership, claiming the money would be better used to improve traditional public schools.

Education has become the No. 1 issue thus far in the mayor's race, with charters a big part of that discussion. Charters currently enroll more than 62,000 students - roughly one-third of the Philadelphia School District's total population - in 84 schools.

The district is facing an $80 million shortfall next year just to maintain the paltry status quo, officials say. The cost to add 15,000 new charter seats - fewer than half of the 39,000 proposed - is estimated at a half-billion dollars over the next six years.

The SRC is under tremendous political pressure from both sides of the aisle regarding the applications. High-ranking Republicans in Harrisburg have made it clear they expect several charters to get the green light, while reports say Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, has advised the panel not to authorize any of the proposals.

The city's new cigarette tax requires the SRC to accept new applications for the first time since 2007. It also allows any denied applicant to appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board.

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