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Close bad Philly charter school; it isn't fit to educate city's children

With the school year only weeks away, parents of children who attend poorly run, academically inept Kephera Charter School need to know its fate immediately.

Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite and School Reform Commission Chair Joyce Wilkerson will hear the case of Khepera Charter School.
Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite and School Reform Commission Chair Joyce Wilkerson will hear the case of Khepera Charter School.Read moreCHARLES MOSTOLLER / For the Inquirer

The fact that there is any chance the Khepera Charter School in North Philadelphia may reopen  underscores a broader problem regarding oversight of all charters.

The School Reform Commission voted in June to begin the process of revoking Khepera's operating charter, which includes a public hearing that will begin Thursday. But this should be an open-and-shut case.

Consider the charter school's troubled record:

* Khepera abruptly closed early last school year because of financial problems.

* Teachers are still owed back pay.

* The school's landlord has gone to court to kick the school out of its building because of unpaid rent.

* The company that provides special-education teachers, substitutes, and counselors has filed suit, alleging it is owed $90,000 for its staffing services.

* Khepera failed to make $1 million in payments to the state teachers' pension fund.

* The school failed to submit annual financial reports for 2015 and 2016, as required by state law.

It is painfully obvious Khepera has no business being in the business of educating students. The 450 pupils who went to the K-8 elementary school last year deserve better.

A School District spokesman said the district's charter office had been assisting Khepera parents who have asked for help finding spots for their children in other schools. Other parents would be wise to start their own searches. Fast.

Khepera's story raises the broader issue that stricter oversight of all charters is needed. In fact, it's amazing that Khepera is the only charter school among more than 80 citywide that faces revocation of its charter.

There there are many excellent charter schools in the city, but a number of others are a financial or academic mess, or both. Officials at eight charters in Philadelphia have pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Department of Education audit of 33 charter schools in six states, including Pennsylvania, found weak internal controls at 22 of them, including conflicts of interest and transactions with related parties.

Academically, the performance of charters is mixed. Test scores and graduation rates at some exceed traditional public schools, but other charters perform worse than regular schools. The poor performance of many cyber charters is glaring.

School districts are supposed to regulate charters, but they need to be able to move quickly to fix problems and hold individual schools accountable. With the school year only weeks away, Kephera parents need to know its fate immediately.

Khepera is scheduled to receive a nearly $400,000 payment from the School District. It has submitted an academic calendar for the 2017-18 year and is requesting bus services for its students. None of that should happen.

The SRC needs to shut Khepera because it has failed to meet basic education and financial standards. All schools, traditional and charter, should be held to a high standard. Schools that can't meet that standard — let alone pay their bills — need to be closed if they can't improve.

Children's education should not be left hanging in the balance.