Is Nutter changing his tune on charters?

Posted: January 23, 2014

IS MAYOR NUTTER changing his tune on charter schools?

In June, as the School District of Philadelphia was readying to close 24 traditional schools while students fled to charters, Mayor Nutter went on national TV to defend the decision.

"My job is to make sure that we have a system of great schools all across the city of Philadelphia, that they are properly funded regardless of who manages them . . . and that the elected officials, certainly myself included, are providing the proper funding for a high-quality education regardless of what school a parent decides to send their child to," he said on MSNBC.

Compare that to his comments last week, when he criticized Gov. Corbett's appointment of Councilman Bill Green to the School Reform Commission - in part because Green has previously proposed "charterizing" the entire district.

"It is my hope that [Green] will come to better understand the importance of district-managed schools and that he will stand up and truly support our schoolchildren and teachers," Nutter said in a statement. He added in a news conference: "We must come to grips with the growth of charter schools."

Nutter maintains that he has always been a supporter of good schools, district or charter, and that his concerns about charter-school expansion are related to a change in how they are funded.

But the shift in rhetoric raised eyebrows nonetheless.

Helen Gym, of Parents United for Public Education, one of many people who criticized the mayor for his comments on MSNBC last spring, called his recent comments a "welcome change."

"It is a change in tone from the Mayor's Office, and what we're going to want to look for is how future actions match this shift and the defense of public schools in the city," she said. "We anticipate a big struggle as we move forward into budget season."

Gym said she isn't necessarily "surprised" at the change.

"The way that the political winds shift means that we shouldn't presume that someone's always going to stay in the same position and that cuts both ways for Bill Green and for the mayor," Gym said.

Asked last week if he has had a change of heart on charters, Nutter said, "No, I've been consistent.

"I've been a strong supporter of charter schools even before becoming the mayor of this city," he said. "I helped, as a city Councilman, for some to come into existence. The issue that I've expressed about charter schools is charter-school funding."

He said the Corbett administration's elimination of the charter-school funding line item in the state budget - which used to bring Philly $100 million - is the reason he is now concerned about their growth.

But that shift happened in the 2011 budget negotiations, before his comments on MSNBC.

Nutter at the time said the closing of district schools was necessary because they had become underutilized after parents moved their children to charter schools in droves.

"Parents voted with their feet," he said.


Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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