Everybody is hopping mad about charter approvals
Amid tension and disagreement, the School Reform Commission approved five new charter schools and rejected 34 of the 39 applications, a decision that seems to satisfy no one.
On Feb. 18, while many activists present at the meeting loudly disagreed with the SRC for approving five new charters, representatives of the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) “walked out of the meeting in stony silence, refusing to comment,” according to The Notebook.
“PSP is the privately funded group that offered $35 million to the (Philadelphia School) District to approve more charters, saying the money would defray some of the ‘stranded costs’ that come with the creation of each new charter school,” The Notebook reported. “Anti-charter activists called the offer a ‘bribe,’ and it is still not clear what will happen now regarding the offer.”
The SRC commissioners said they considered each application on its merits and that their decisions would not negatively impact the budget.
Following the SRC meeting, Governor Tom Wolf released a public statement in which he said he continues to believe the district’s financial situation cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools. He said he was “committed to restoring cuts and delivering more funding to public schools across the commonwealth to ensure our children have the resources necessary to succeed. It is imperative for both our children and our economy that we reverse Pennsylvania’s public education deficit.”
"While five is far fewer than the 39 that originally applied, it is still five more charter schools than the district’s budget can handle. Only one SRC member, Marjorie Neff, demonstrated fiscal responsibility by voting ‘no’ on every application,” stated Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).
Jordan believes that approving these applications will increase the amount of the current budget deficit. “The district is already unable to provide our schoolchildren with adequate nurses, counselors, librarians, school support and safety personnel, classroom supplies and other resources. This is not a debate about the qualifications of the applying charter schools — this is about money.”
Among the mayoral candidates who agree that there should be no charter school expansion are Lynne Abraham, Judge Nelson Diaz, James Kenney and Doug Oliver.
"Today's decision is another reminder of why the SRC needs to be disbanded. We need local control of our schools and we need it now,” Diaz said. “At a time when our schools are in fiscal crisis, and at a time when the SRC has used that crisis to justify canceling contracts, to make major decisions as if cost were no object would be comical if it were not so destructive.
“Losing tens of millions of dollars is going to further cripple a school district that already can't afford basic supplies for our children. Every child deserves a quality education, and today's decision puts that goal further out of reach," Diaz concluded.
For candidate Lynne Abraham, the SRC vote puts Philadelphia’s entire public school system at risk. “Sadly, the SRC fails to take into account what all of this is doing to our educational system in general,” she said. “They also fail to see how insidious attacks on public education harm Philadelphia and our collective future. We have to look at the bigger picture.
“Rushing this vote tips the balance against the Philadelphia School District,” she added. “This entire matter should have been put on hold until a new mayor is elected, objective further study can be completed and proper funding is restored so across-the-board quality education can be assured.”
City Council-at-Large candidates that have joined the no charter expansion movement include Isaiah Thomas, Helen Gym, Sherri Cohen, Kristen Combs and Paul Steinke.
Several other elected officials support the PFT’s moratorium on new charter schools in Philadelphia: State Rep. Leslie Acosta; State Rep. Michelle Brownlee; State Rep. Shirley Kitchen; State Rep. Cherelle Parker; State Rep. Curtis Thomas; State Rep. James Roebuck; State Sen. Vincent Hughes; Councilman at-large Bill Greenlee; City Council President Darrell Clarke, and Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr.