Philly School District goes to Supreme Court in charter case

Posted: May 09, 2012

The Philadelphia School District has asked the state Supreme Court to consider overturning a recent Commonwealth Court ruling about charter schools that could have dire consequences for Philadelphia and other cash-strapped districts.

The lower court ruled in April that the district had illegally capped enrollment at the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, upholding Education Secretary Ronald J. Tomalis’ finding that the charter was entitled to $1.3 million that otherwise would go to the district.

The School District had refused to give the Palmer charter that amount for 2008-09 and 2009-10 to pay for students the school enrolled beyond the 675 specified in its charter agreement.

The charter school has more than 900 students in grades K-12. Its main campus is at 910 N. Sixth St.

A state law that took effect July 1, 2008, bars districts from capping charter enrollment unless the charter school agrees to it in writing.

Although the charter renewal the SRC granted to Palmer included the 675 limit, the school maintained it had not agreed to the cap and was entitled to be paid for the additional students.

But in its petition for appeal with the Supreme Court, the district argued that the lower court erred because the 2008 law does not invalidate authorized charter agreements containing enrollment limits.

The district’s lawyers also maintain that the Palmer charter did not file timely appeals to the cap and improperly asked the state to intervene years later by withholding disputed funds from the district and sending the money to the charter.

The Education Department sent the charter school the $1.3 million last year after a Supreme Court order.

The district’s petition to the high court said that if the ruling “is permitted to stand, public school districts throughout the commonwealth, including many facing adverse financial circumstances like those of the School District of Philadelphia, will be forced to divert money budgeted for other educational programs to pay to educate students in charter schools enrolled over their caps.”

Philadelphia’s 80 charter schools enroll nearly 46,000 students, and district officials have expressed alarm about the financial fallout if charters can expand at will.

The district must cut $26 million in expenses by June 30 and is facing a shortfall of $218 million after July 1. The SRC has been negotiating voluntary caps with 22 charter schools up for renewal.

Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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